The general information about the Hermitage piano trio is surprisingly timid. But the very Russian names of the musicians – violinist Misha Keylin, cellist Sergey Antonov and pianist Ilya Kazantsev – suggest that the trio is named after the famous St. Petersburg museum.
The musicians are indeed all of Russian origin, trained both there and in the United States, of which they are now citizens. The Russian heritage was evident in a passionate yet polished performance Monday night at the Caruth Auditorium at Southern Methodist University. While Keylin’s violin sometimes turned to steel in the upper registers, Antonov always produced magnificent sounds from his cello.
Presented by the Dallas Chamber Music Society, each of the three works in the program was a standard bearer of national musical cultures. Written more or less 20 years apart, they were produced in reverse chronological order.
In fact, there are only subtle notes of Spanish idioms in JoaquÃn Turina’s 1933 Piano Trio in B minor (Op. 76). Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor (1914), which followed, showed everything the Spaniard had learned from the French, with whom he befriended for a decade living in Paris.
Exceptionally, the Turina trio frames a medium fast movement with two slow ones. After a dreamlike opening, however, the first movement becomes a bit more lively. The middle movement is a scherzo, with dull buzzing of the strings spelled out by a reflexive episode. The performance was lively and technically flawless.
As another spectator observed during the intermission, the Turina is a pleasant and well-crafted work, but the Ravel is a masterpiece. The latter achieved a captivating performance, more warmly Russian than coldly French, with daringly sculpted dynamics and generous rhythmic flexibility. The opening of the piano seemed to sway and sway on the water.
I will defend the best of Rachmaninoff’s symphonies, concertos and piano music among the greatest compositions of the 20th century. But his piano trio in D minor, the second of two titled Elegiac, it is the work of a young 20 year old who has just graduated from the conservatory, and it shows.
This elegy commemorates Tchaikovsky, who had been a great supporter of the young Rachmaninoff, but had died suddenly at the age of 53. The tragic significance of the first movement is not lacking, which arouses passionate emotion. The central variations continue, although there is a hint of pianistic wonder to be explored in the later Preludes and Studies-tables.
More passion is stoked in the finale, with massive piano chords that might fit better into an orchestral work. But the work ends quietly with just cello and piano, as if the silent violin represents loss.
Again and again, the piece trots a motif to repeat it once, twice, or even six times. Sometimes the reps work their way up or down, but sometimes they stay where they are. Some modulations are annoying. I can think of a lot of piano trios that I would much prefer to hear.
The Hermitage musicians played the work as if it were a great piece, however, even the most intense passages never lost control. A standing ovation was rewarded with a dazzling performance of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No.5.