Trio Amani

Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Arensky

Aula, Alte Kantonsschule, Zurich, 2020-10-24

4-star rating

2020-11-05 — Original posting


Trio Amani (Marina Yakovleva, Kateryna Tereshchenko, Lev Sivkov) @ Zurich, 2020-10-24 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Trio Amani (Marina Yakovleva, Kateryna Tereshchenko, Lev Sivkov) @ Zurich, 2020-10-24 (© Rolf Kyburz)

Table of contents


Introduction

Venue, date & timeAula, Alte Kantonsschule, Zurich — 2020-10-24, 11:30
Series / TitleBeethoven and Posteriority
Cycle on the Occasion of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th Birthday
OrganizerMusical Discovery / Musik an der ETH und UZH
SponsorLyra Foundation, Zurich
Reviews from related eventsRecitals in this venue; concerts in “Musik an der ETH und UZH“; in particular, concerts with these artists, on 2020-01-21 (Lev Sivkov), and on 2018-10-23 (Yakovlev, Sivkov, Tereshchenko)

Sadly, it was merely a hint at resuming concert life, after the lockdown in spring, and the restrictions that persisted throughout this summer. One concert of an already crippled series to celebrate Beethoven’s 250th anniversary. And then, the second wave of the pandemic caused the authorities to shut concert life down again. It’s a hard time for musicians and concert organizers. Let’s hope that the governments find a way to keep music alive. At the very least by giving it the same support as for the other branches in our economy. Music is a central and indispensable part of our culture, our lives, across the planet.


The Artists

On 2018-10-23, I attended a chamber music concert at the ETH in Zurich, featuring five artists. This concert was a re-encounter with three of these musicians:

  • Marina Yakovleva Häfliger (*1975, St.Petersburg, Russia), violin
  • Lev Sivkov (*1990, Novosibirsk, Russia), cello
  • Kateryna Tereshchenko (Kiev, Ukraine), piano

For biographic information see my earlier post. The Trio Amani is actually a string trio which emerged in 2014. It features Marina Yakovleva Häfliger, her brother Mikhail Yakovlev (viola), and Lev Sivkov. For this concert, Marina Yakovleva Häfliger and Lev Sivkov (both now members of the Philharmonia Zurich, the orchestra of the Zurich Opera) teamed up with the pianist Kateryna Tereshchenko, one of many students of Konstantin Scherbakov at the ZHdK (Zürcher Hochschule der Künste / Zurich University of the Arts).

The initially planned appearance of the Amani Trio in its original configuration is now scheduled in 2021.


Concert @ Aula, Alte Kantonsschule in Zurich (Trio Amani), 2020-10-24 (© Rolf Kyburz)

Program

For this concert, the musicians presented three compositions, spanning from Beethoven’s first piano trio up to Rachmaninoff’s late romanticism:

  • Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827): Piano Trio No.1 in E♭ major, op.1/1
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943): Trio élégiaque No.1 in G minor
  • Anton Stepanovich Arensky (1861 – 1906): Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, op.32

Setting, etc.

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic imposed a loose seating arrangement for a limited audience, wearing masks (except while performing), and a concert without intermission. For the purpose of (also) taking photos, I took a seat in the last row.

Instruments: The piano was the small size Yamaha grand that the Institution (Zurich University) placed in this venue. The Lid stayed open throughout the concert. Lev Sivkov performs on an cello by Miremont et fils from 1880.


Concert & Review

Beethoven: Piano Trio No.1 in E♭ major, op.1/1

It was only in 1795, when Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827), then aged 25, decided to publish his first official work, the 3 Piano Trios op.1 (No.1 in E♭ major, No.2 in G major, No.3 in C minor). The first one of these, the Piano Trio No.1 in E♭ major, op.1/1, features the following four movements:

  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio cantabile
  3. Scherzo: Allegro assai — Trio
  4. Finale: Presto

The Performance

It was a pleasure watching the close interaction between the three artists. From my perspective, Marina Yakovleva (as senior artist) performed at some distance from the other two (maybe also a precaution due to the pandemic), but kept both colleagues in her view. Lev Sivkov did not perform in the curvature of the piano (as many cellists would do). Rather, he sat as close to the keyboard as possible, facing Marina Yakovleva, and keeping close mutual contact with Kateryna Tereshchenko. The latter had visual contact with the cellist, only occasionally looked back at the violinist (e.g., to coordinate beginnings).

Acoustics, Sound

Not surprisingly, this small (and acoustically enhanced) hall proved to be an excellent venue for chamber music! Analytical, transparent, spatially well-defined acoustics, supporting all instruments equally well, across the tonal and dynamic range. Beethoven’s Trio certainly profited from the clarity and the balance. And for this work (and in this acoustics environment), the small Yamaha grand seemed almost the ideal choice.

Even with the open lid, the piano never oppressed the string instruments, despite its prominent role (typical for the young Beethoven). The sound was clear and light enough, thanks to Kateryna Tereshchenko’s light articulation. Both violin and cello were equal partners in sound, retained their individuality.

I. Allegro

Excellent tempo! Fresh, agile, light, especially on the piano. Beethoven did not write an introduction, but the writing (4/4) is such that it is easy to make the first 10 bars sound like Andante in split (alla breve) time. Here, however, the artists established an instant, joyful Allegro feeling. In the first part, soft dynamics (p) dominated, allowing especially the violin to exhibit its warm, characterful tone on the G, D, and A strings. A well-balanced performance, for sure.

I liked the expressive playing! Emote, but never forced or exaggerated. And I noted the subtle agogics. To me, the prominent example was in the cello, at the transition to the second theme (bars 31ff). And of course, the artists repeated the exposition, retaining the balance in the form.

II. Adagio cantabile

Already the initial presentation of the theme in the piano was so sensitive, talking, empathic in the agogics! Nothing was overdone, though, the flow of music (& emotions) remained calm, serene, peaceful. The string instruments followed that pattern, as they entered an intimate dialogue, while the piano retracted into an accompanying role. I liked Lev Sivkov’s calm, unobtrusive foundation, his inconspicuous vibrato. Marina Yakovleva’s vibrato was a tad more nervous, but not excessively strong. The serene atmosphere was only momentarily disrupted by the two resolute, “grippy” staccato bars.

Lev Sivkov kept his instrument relatively flat (unlike others, who appear to lean over the instrument). He almost seemed to sit under the instrument, merging with the cello into one body. The cello singing appeared to intensify, as the movement gradually retracted into the peaceful pp ending.

III. Scherzo: Allegro assai — Trio

An interpretation that I would characterize as subtle and light, yet full of verve and emphasis. Excellent in coordination, in the tight, harmonious interaction, full of fun, yet not too light. One could feel the focus, the concentration, the persistent attention. Only for a very short moment, at the transition to the Trio, there was maybe a split second (hardly noticeable) where there was a trace of uncertainty. However, the three musicians are all professionals, so this moment was over “before it really happened”. The transition back to the Scherzo was definitely flawless, though.

IV. Finale: Presto

It’s Beethoven’s first “opus”, yet already so typical for this composer! It’s as if he “let the horses loose”, letting the piano take over the clear, virtuosic lead role. Brilliant in the piano part, and brilliantly performed by Kateryna Tereshchenko! Music full of tension and drive, played as if the musicians were all sitting on the chair’s edge. Fast, though always controlled, never pushed, nor running away.

The artists didn’t repeat the first segment, which is OK in a Rondo movement. Without that repeat, the first couplet with its almost violent, raging outbreaks and the again virtuosic piano part was gaining extra weight. Indeed, it reminded me of Beethoven’s Rondo a capriccio op.129, “The rage over a lost penny”.

Just before the Rondo theme returns, the music retracts to pp. This was the one moment where I missed a fortepiano, as the modern instrument sounded a tad loud, compared to the pp in the two string instruments. The same reservation applies to pater pp moments, too. I can’t blame this on the pianist, though, and it didn’t affect the excellent impression from the performance. Particularly fascinating was the agile, intricate and virtuosic exchange of motifs, syncopated and on-the-beat. A masterpiece that the composer must have been proud of, and a compelling performance!

Rating: ★★★★½

Rachmaninoff: Trio élégiaque No.1 in G minor

1892, at age 19, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943) wrote his Trio élégiaque No.1 in G minor. This clearly is a youth work. Rachmaninoff never assigned it an opus number. It appeared in print only in 1947. The elegiac nature of the single movement made people suggest that it was an early elegy for Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893). However, at that time, the latter was still in good health, so this attribution is at least doubtful, despite the closing funeral march. The following year, 1893, then definitely after Tchaikovsky’s death, Rachmaninoff wrote his Trio élégiaque in D minor, op.9, in three movements. This is now referred to as Trio élégiaque No.2.

The Trio élégiaque No.1 is in a single movement, with the following annotations:

Lento lugubre—Più vivo—Appassionato—Tempo rubato—Risoluto—Tempo I—Più vivo—Appassionato—Alla marcia funebre

So far, I have heard this composition in a live performance once, in a concert on 2019-05-03. This short description is from the review on that concert.

The Performance

Lento lugubre —

Emerging from a “suspended” atmosphere, all ppp, with empty fifths, full of tension and suspense, the piano presents a theme that initially sounds like a mix of elegiac and hopeful, but then the emotions rapidly build up to a first climax in bar 17.

The piano then retracts into the accompaniment to a melancholic cantilena / vocalise on the cello, wonderfully singing in Lev Sivkov’s hands. That is soon joined by the violin, forming a duet-dialog, full of canon-like imitations. Marina Yakovleva’s violin felt very characterful on the D and G strings, often approaching the color of the cello. The vibrato was again a tad nervous at times. However, at the time of the composition, violinists may have vibrated much more. The occasional portamento definitely fitted the style of the composition.

Più vivo — Appassionato —

After a second climax (bar 33), the music ebbs away, and in the Più vivo (bar 36), the string tremolo creates an atmosphere of tension and suspense, while the piano tries introducing a hopeful theme. The suspense does not instantly lead into drama, but rather gives way to a segment of highly expressive singing in the strings. The emotions build up a heated, almost unbearably intense fff climax with the strings in unison at the Appassionato around bar 80. Russian music performed by Russians (and a Ukrainian, actually) in their element!

Tempo rubato — Risoluto —

A multi-faceted composition! After the climax, the Appassionato appears to give way to resignation, just to be interrupted by the violently rolling string figures in the Tempo rubato. But also that is just a short episode, leading into the Risoluto. Here, I really missed a “real” piano, i.e., a full-size concert grand. The small instrument lacked the sonority and the volume for the bass chords. Even the tuning occasionally seemed marginal in that range. The pianist is not to blame here. The instrument clearly was beyond its limits. Also in the descant, the piano sounded too small.

Tempo I — Più vivo — Appassionato —

The one advantage, though, was that in the broad, highly expressive climax, and then also in the Tempo I, the rapid textures on the piano weren’t in danger of drowning the string instruments in their sonority. Similarly, the long string tremolo in the Più vivo effortlessly kept enough presence. On the other hand, also the epic, final fff climax (Appassionato) was eruptive, but again would have profited from a real concert grand.

Alla marcia funebre

The final funeral march (Alla marcia funebre) felt surprisingly short. It’s merely a coda, retracting into sadness and resignation.

Rating: ★★★½

Note: my rating describes the (my) listening experience, not just the performance. And in this piece, the former was affected by the limitations of the piano.


Arensky: Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, op.32

The Russian romantic composer and teacher Anton Stepanovich Arensky (1861 – 1906) grew up in Novgorod, later studied at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. He became professor at the Moscow Conservatory, where his students included Alexander Scriabin (1872 – 1915), Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943), and Alexander Gretchaninov (1864 – 1956).

For most of the past century, Arensky’s compositorial oeuvre was largely neglected, if not forgotten. Many claimed that in his compositions, Arensky was merely an adept of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 – 1908) and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893). He composed in a broad range of genres, from opera, orchestral, chamber music to piano works. In recent years, there has been a revival of his works. Especially Arensky’s chamber music, which included two piano trios, two string quartets, a piano quintet, and several duo compositions. The Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, op.32 is from 1894 and features four movements:

  1. Allegro moderato — Più mosso — Tempo I
  2. Scherzo: Allegro molto — Meno mosso — Tempo I
  3. Elegia: Adagio — Più mosso — Tempo I
  4. Finale: Allegro non troppo — Andante — Adagio

The Performance

After Rachmaninoff’s late romanticism, this trio—albeit written two years later—seemed to return to “classic” (or classic-romantic) formal principles and expression. Also the role of the piano is closer to that in typical romantic chamber music. And this work also was far less affected by the limitations of the small grand in this venue.

I. Allegro moderato — Più mosso — Tempo I

The movement opens with a serene folk tune in the violin, later joined by the cello, soon building up to a short emotional highlight. More beautiful melodies, singing in the strings. Soon, in the second theme (Più mosso) the piano part is reminding of (and as busy as) many compositions by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847). A characteristic trait in Arensky’s composition seems to be in frequent, rapid changes in atmosphere and expression. This alone made the repeat of the exposition highly welcome! Actually it’s not just the piano textures, but also melodies and harmonies that reminded of music by Mendelssohn.

Interestingly, in the development part, I no longer meant to hear music by Mendelssohn, but rather found myself listening to Slavonic melodies and harmonies that almost could have been by Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904), and the subsequent, virtuosic piano part with its filigree runs and figures seemed to combine Mendelssohn’s agility with Dvořák’s so typically Czech tone!

With the recapitulation, Arensky left the “Dvořák tone” behind, returning to the more Mendelssohnian atmosphere of the beginning, with a grand, triumphant climax. The movement ends with a surprise: no confirming closure. Rather, it suddenly turns reflective, leading into a open ppp ending

II. Scherzo: Allegro molto — Meno mosso — Tempo I

A real fun movement—dancing, joking, joyful, with a virtuosic piano part, full of glittering runs. Brilliant playing by Kateryna Tereshchenko! The string instruments provide the enthralling rhythmic framework with complementary pizzicato and spiccato motifs. The violin spiccato motifs ascend to whistling heights, only momentarily joining into the piano’s virtuosic parades.

The Meno mosso part (a Trio of sorts) turns out a somewhat heavy, sentimental waltz. It’s more of a peasant dance, though, far from the lightness of a Viennese waltz. Humorous folk music, nevertheless.

III. Elegia: Adagio — Più mosso — Tempo I

The elegy starts with a melancholic melody on the cello, accompanied by hesitant chords on the piano. When Marina Yakovleva’s muted violin joined into the cello singing, it sounded almost indistinguishable from a cello’s descant register. In the melody one could sense Tchaikovsky’s influence.

The Più mosso releases the tension, the expectation that built up in the Adagio part. Here, the two string instruments create a Barcarolle atmosphere with peacefully undulating 12/8 movement. Meanwhile the piano is singing a serene, lyric melody. A nice, lucid spring serenade. The pianist’s right hand then takes over the undulating motion, left hand and cello (pizzicato, colla parte) add in arpeggiated chords, while the violin takes over the melody, high up on the E string (maybe a little metallic on Marina Yakovleva’s instrument?). That melody ascends into the sky, like a lark’s singing, then falls down, the atmosphere darkens, and after a general rest, a sad, if not remorseful Tempo I—mourning, resignation, darkness.

IV. Finale: Allegro non troppo — Andante — Adagio

A movement full of verve, emphasis, with violent, highly expressive outbreaks. Outcries that alternate with intermittent, elegiac sections featuring a slavonic melody. Intense singing in all three instruments. Elegy vs. earnest determination, if not rebellion. These mood swings seem characteristic for Arensky.

A rapid diminuendo and a general rest with fermata leave the music momentarily suspended. Then, the Andante instantly opens a window to a serene, heavenly scenery. A look into a starry night, thoughts wandering into a reality beyond? Slavonic melodies and a carillon playing at a distance? Gradually, the atmosphere darkens, the elegiac slavonic melody brings back melancholy, longing, memories. The music fades, retracts, until a short, determined Coda, a resolute Allegro molto closes the movement.

Rating: ★★★★½

Yes, there may be epigonal traits in Arensky’s music, in his textures, also in some melodies and harmonies. Nevertheless, I think that Arensky’s composition is very much underrated and deserves more attention! There is plenty of originality in the melodic inventions, contrasts, genuine expression and feelings. Wonderful, atmospheric music that talks to the listener’s heart. And definitely, one could sense that all three musicians were operating “in their home turf”. A splendid, emphatic performance!

Trio Amani (Marina Yakovleva, Kateryna Tereshchenko, Lev Sivkov) @ Zurich, 2020-10-24 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Trio Amani (Marina Yakovleva, Kateryna Tereshchenko, Lev Sivkov) @ Zurich, 2020-10-24 (© Rolf Kyburz)

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