On Friday last, at St Michael’s Church, the Milverton Concert Society’s audience was treated to a stunning evening of music performed by the Sitkovetsky Piano Trio. The Trio, founded in 2007, has since won international acclaim, and become a group of the first rank, performing at venues in all parts of the globe. Their leader and founder, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, announced before the programme began that he and pianist Wu Qian were joined for the occasion by guest cellist Sébastien Van Kuijk, though their subsequent performance gave no indication that they were not unused to playing together. On the contrary, the ensemble was perfect, each player appearing to show great familiarity with each other’s playing.
They began this Milverton concert with the best known of Josef Haydn’s 45 piano trios, No. 39 in G major, the only one to have acquired a nickname “Gypsy Rondo”, owing to Haydn’s use of gypsy themes in the final movement. This is a delightful and deservedly popular work, which the Sitkovetskys played with much affection. It became apparent in the opening two movements, Andante and Poco adagio, cantabile, that we were in the presence of some very talented and sensitive performers, delicately sharing between them Haydn’s gently alternating themes. It was in the final movement that they showed their great skill in working together, showing their virtuosic skills, rushing to the work’s final coda.
Ravel composed his Piano Trio in A minor between April and August 1914, at St Jean de Luz, in the French Basque country of his birth, though it had been much longer in its planning. The work is fairly traditional in its four movement structure, but Ravel creates a sound world which makes his trio so different than any that had gone before it. The textures are full and rich, using effects such as tremolos, glissandos, and harmonics, which make huge technical demands on all the players, as do the constantly changing and irregular 5/4 and 7/4 rhythms. The Sitkovetskys proved themselves more than able to cope with the challenges of this music, Wu Qian in particular showing dazzling skills at the piano, and such delicacy when at times playing between the two string players who were an octave apart. The sound the Trio produced was sometimes almost orchestral due to the close structures of the composition, and the way that Ravel uses the extreme ranges of each instrument. I don’t think I have ever heard such richness of sound from so small a group in this setting. The 2nd movement, “Pantoum”, was particularly exciting, as was the “Final” ending with a brilliant coda.
The Sitkovetsky Trio’s final offering was Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor. As with Ravel, this was Tchaikovsky’s only composition in this genre, and his only chamber work to include the piano. He had shown great reluctance to write such a work, but the result is one of his finest and most popular works, and the most difficult work for the piano in his entire output. Dedicated to the memory of his friend and mentor Nikolai Rubenstein, who died in 1881, this trio was written in Rome the following year .
The trio has only two movements, the second being an extended set of variations. The opening movement, “elegiac piece”, opens with a solo for the cello, beautifully executed by Sébastien Van Kuijk. This is the main theme, which returns at the very end of the work. It is a dark and brooding melody which the trio developed with great passion and intensity. It is in the following movement, a theme with eleven variations and a finale and coda, where each of the Sitkovetsky’s members were able to show to the full their individual skills. The piano opens with the rather majestic theme, soon to be joined by the violin and cello. The work then progresses though a series of variations in which the players seem to take it in turns to play the dominant role. We get further and further away from the lugubrious tone set by the beginning of the work, until in Variation VI, Tempo di Valse, the mood is positively joyous and the players really began to enjoy themselves, Wu Qian particularly powerful on the piano. The fugue, two variations later, is a remarkable and thrilling construction which they appeared to relish. Wu Qian again shone in the “mazurk a” variation, as did Alexander Sitkovetsky himself in the moderato section which followed. In the final section the mood is ecstatic and there was some beautiful and breathtaking playing from these three young artists creating a clamorous sound, but which was never but never lacking in clarity, in which Tchaikovsky the symphonist came through strongly, until finally, with a sudden return to the original minor key, the work ends with the funereal theme, again announced by the cello.
This was an extraordinarily entertaining evening of music, given by three young people who are most gifted exponents of their art. One can only thank Milverton Concert Society once again for providing us with the opportunity to hear performances by musicians of such a high standard as this.
Review by Chris Markwick