Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Glorious Chamber Music

Hearing great soloists play chamber music can be exhilarating. In the case of one of the most celebrated trios in recent history, the Rubinstein-Heifetz-Piatigorsky trio, the personal tension (even dislike) between Rubinstein and Heifetz paradoxically made for some sizzling and white-hot music making.

Last Sunday afternoon, the Tetzlaff Trio, made up of violinist Christian Tetzlaff, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff, and pianist Lars Vogt, gave us an afternoon of glorious chamber by Schumann, Dvořák and Brahms.

I wasn’t sure if the musicians were getting used to the acoustic of the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, but in Schumann’s Piano Trio No 2 in F major, Op. 80, the balance (from where I sat) certainly did not favour the cello. In many parts of the stormy opening movement (Sehr lebhaft), I could hardly hear the cello, even though I saw her working very hard. The piano sound blended very well within the ensemble. Things improved a bit in the slow movement (Mit innigen Ausdruck), where the beautiful cello playing of Tanja Tetzlaff was slightly more prominent. Strangely enough, I had no trouble with the balance of the musicians for the rest of the concert.

The musicians’ performance of Dvořák’s great Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 90, nicknamed the “Dumky” was sensational from beginning to end. Once again, Tetzlaff’s playing of the rhapsodic opening (Lento maestoso) was ravishing. In the second dumka, the trio expertly managed the many subtle shifts of colours and moods. The playing of one part, with a beautiful cello line, echoed by the piano and the violin, especially moved me. At the ending of the elegiac fourth dumka, there was a hushed quality in the music making, where there was a magical interplay between members of the trio. Throughout the performance of this great work, the musicians were at one in their interpretation, and were perfectly matched in their musicianship and virtuosity.

I liked the tempo the trio set for the opening movement of Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8, since it keeps the forward momentum of the music, and prevents the music from sounding heavy or grounded. On the whole, there was more warmth in sound from the strings than the piano. In the B section of the scherzo, I thought that the piano chordal theme could be a slight bit more prominent. In the extended cello and piano dialogue in the slow movement, I decided that Tanja Tetzlaff’s relatively more intimate cello sound perhaps accounted for the lack of balance between the instruments in the Schumann that opened the concert.

I was especially impressed by how Lars Vogt, normally a barnstorming virtuoso, subsumed his “soloistic” tendency and blended his playing so wonderfully within the ensemble. Of the three, I felt that Christian Tetzlaff played the most like a soloist, magnificent playing though it was. Tanja Tetzlaff’s sound was, to my ears, the most suitable for the intimacy of chamber music.

Within all the wonderful piano concerts February has to offer, this afternoon of chamber music was the perfect intermezzo. I can’t wait for what promises to be a sublime evening of Bach with Richard Goode next Sunday.

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