Three's company: Trio Elegiaco
24 November 2015, Kimon Daltas
Mutual appreciation: Pierre Doumenge, Hannah Dawson and John Paul EkinsJean Wong ©
Formed to play for a specific occasion and a specific piece – from which it takes its name – the Trio Elegiaco could have parted as easily as it came together. But instead it looks like the beginning of a lasting partnership, writes Kimon Daltas.
‘I first heard Tchaikovsky’s piano trio on my parents’ vinyl turntable,’ says Pierre Doumenge, cellist with the Trio Elegiaco. ‘Gilels, Kogan and Rostropovich were playing. I must have been nine or ten and these names didn’t mean anything to me yet, but I recall being drawn in by the intensity and expression in their sound.
‘What is remarkable about this work is that the intensity is present in every single bar – in the whole 50 minutes or so.’
The other members of the group also have vivid memories of their first contact with the work. Hannah Dawson, whose regular gig is as second violin of the Sacconi Quartet, ‘fell in love with its unashamed passion and deep melancholy’, while John Paul Ekins discovered it as a teenager, via a Borodin Trio recording.
‘I remember being instantly hooked, playing it on loop almost everywhere I went. It is a work with the sort of unrelenting fervour and emotional content that allows the performers (and therefore the listeners) next to no respite, and as such makes it impossible to switch off or be distracted from once started.’
Earlier this year, at the Folkestone chamber music festival run by the Sacconis, Doumenge was filling for the quartet’s usual cellist Cara Berridge, who was on maternity leave. He and Dawson discussed forming a trio for one of the concerts to add some variety – and give Dawson a crack at the first violin position for a change. They tracked down Ekins to join and, given their mutual love of the Tchaikovsky, needing a substantial work to stand alone in the late night concert, things fell into place pretty naturally – and the title of the first movement, ‘Pezzo elegiaco’, inspired the name of the new group.
What is considered one of the peaks of the genre might have surprised its first audiences both with its dimensions and rejection of the usual structures, with its two long movements – Ekins notes the renowned critic Edward Hanslick writing that when it was played in Vienna for the first time, ‘the faces of the listeners almost expressed the wish that it should be also the last … it belongs to the category of suicidal compositions, which kill themselves by their merciless length.’
‘The fact that Tchaikovsky composed a piano trio at all is in itself remarkable,’ says Ekins. ‘In an 1880 letter to Madame von Meck, Tchaikovsky had confessed his firm belief that the piano was incapable of blending adequately with solo strings. In his opinion, the piano could only be suitably balanced by the full orchestra: otherwise, it should be heard alone.
‘However, when his mentor, supporter and friend Nikolai Rubinstein (who had composed five piano trios) died at 46 in 1881, Tchaikovsky set to work on this project, seemingly out of defense to his dear friend, to whom the work is dedicated.’
Having decided to go for it, the composer doesn’t give the strings an easy ride, with the piano being a constant presence, rarely taking more than a bar’s rest, and ‘full of thick textures and rich chords,’ says Ekins.
‘Stamina plays an important part too, particularly as the entire 50 minutes builds to an excruciatingly powerful and prolonged climax, and once must have sufficient reserves in store for that when it comes!’
The forthcoming Rhinegold LIVE recital is an opportunity to hear the Trio Elegiaco give its second ever live performance of the work – and perhaps to witness the start of something special.
Trio Elegiaco – John Paul Ekins (piano), Hannah Dawson (violin), and Pierre Doumenge (cello) – will perform Tchaikovsky’s piano trio in A minor (Op 50) before taking part in an informal Q&A conducted by Classical Music editor Kimon Daltas.
Sign up for a free ticket at www.rhinegoldlive.co.uk
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22 October 2015, Warsaw, Poland
Chopin Competition winner Seong-Jin Cho(Photo © Ramistudio.com)
Report by Stephen Wigler
Last night in Poland’s Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, the first of three Prizewinners' Concerts (the programme will be repeated tonight – 22 October - and tomorrow) marked the grand finale to the 17th International Chopin Piano Competition, the oldest and most celebrated of the world’s major instrumental classical music contests. The concert, which started at 7pm and lasted until nearly midnight, actually began with almost 90 minutes of speeches by several Polish dignitaries, including President Andrzei Duda, honouring not only the contest's six prizewinners, but also the memory of Chopin. He was not only his country’s greatest composer, we were told, but also the greatest composer who ever devoted himself to a single instrument: the piano.
The Prizewinners then gave performances before a wildly enthusiastic, sold-out audience. They were, in reverse order of appearance: the 21-year-old South Korean first prize winner, Seong-Jin Cho, who reprised his performance of Chopin’s E minor Concerto with the Warsaw Philharmonic and its music director, Jacek Kaspszyk; second prize winner, Canada’s 25-year-old Charles Richard-Hamelin, who performed a Nocturne and a Ballade; third prize winner 21-year-old Kate Liu of the United States, who performed three Mazurkas; fourth-prize winner, 17-year-old Eric Lu, also of the United States, who played a selection from the 24 Préludes; and fifth prize winner, Canada’s Yike (Tony) Yang, at 16 the youngest of the six winners, who played an Impromptu and the Barcarolle. Because he was said to be indisposed, the 23-year-old, sixth prize winner, Dmitry Shiskin, neither performed nor appeared on stage.
Of the world’s five major piano competitions (the others are Belgium’s Queen Elisabeth, Russia’s Tchaikovsky, Great Britain’s Leeds and America’s Cliburn), Poland’s Chopin is the oldest (founded in 1927 and held every five years) and generally considered the most important. Its prestige is less a matter of its prize money (the total prize money of slightly more than €100,000 is less than half of what the Cliburn offers) than its accuracy as a predictor of successful careers. Unlike other competitions, whose prizewinners often fade into relative obscurity ), the first prize winners in Warsaw, and a significant number of the finalists and semi-finalists, usually have gone on to lead important careers. On Tuesday, almost immediately after his first prize was announced, Cho was signed by DG for a debut album to be released early next month.
The International Chopin Piano Competition Prizewinners' Concert recorded live on 21 October 2015 is now available to watch online at Medici.tv