I remember once reading an article by a famous string player, who held the snobbish opinion that chamber music containing the piano was an extension of “Hausmusik” for amateurs, and that the true Parnassus of the chamber music genre was the string quartet. Well, I wish that person had been in Sunset Center last night to hear Chamber Music Monterey Bay’s presentation of the Sitkovetsky Piano Trio. Not only did we hear playing of an exalted order in a program of unusual substance, but the presence of the piano added an enhanced dimension of sonority and excitement that often approached orchestral levels
The members of the trio, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, cellist Richard Harwood and pianist Wu Quian, are distinguished artists in their own right, and if you check them out on YouTube, you can observe them as featured soloists as often as you find them playing ensemble. Their playing as an ensemble was superb last night as we heard them perform with great charm and authority in three works by Beethoven, Carl Vine and Dvořák.
The big excitement dominating the evening’s program was the west coast premiere of a new work by composer Carl Vine – a Piano Trio called “The Village” written for and dedicated to the Sitkovetsky Trio. Based on an interesting and experimental premise, this work abandons conventional movements and stylistic genres and presents twelve independent episodes that combine and evolve like interesting personalities in a small village who are constantly meeting and interacting with each other.
Since Carl Vine is known to be an excellent pianist, it was no surprise that the piano part explored many different dramatic gestures contrasting with subtle coloristic devices that meshed well with the string parts. The opening moments of the work featured bold rising arpeggios in the piano against violent outbursts from the violin and cello (often playing as a duet in juxtaposition with the piano). This was music that drew us in to its core and held our attention for 16 minutes while enveloping us in moments of powerful energy as well as moments of mysterious serenity. This is music that is both idiomatic for its instruments and user friendly for the audience. This is a work I would like to hear again and again.
At the beginning of the program, the Sitkovetsky Trio treated us to a spirited and rich performance of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E-flat minor, Op. 70, No. 2, the highlights of which were the lovely and songful third movement and the powerful final movement in which pianist Quian made even the most rapid and difficult passages sound and look easy. This was a stylistic performance that kept us involved throughout.
The evening’s program concluded with a many-faceted performance of Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor, and it was a knockout performance with extreme precision and bold exciting playing by all three musicians. The Allegretto grazioso second movement with its infectious cross rhythms provided many moments of charm, the Poco adagio allowed us to hear more of the artistry of violinist Sitkovetsky and cellist Harwood, and the final Allegro con brio was Dvořák at his best.
After a rousing standing ovation, the players returned to the stage and performed as an encore the slow movement from Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat major. It was a heartfelt performance that sent us on our way from a lovely concert.