Saturday, May 4, 2019

Joshua Bell, Jeremy Denk & Steven Isserlis - Mendelssohn, Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff & Ravel - 04/30/19

Mendelssohn: Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 66 
Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 67 
Rachmaninoff: Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G Minor 
Ravel: Piano Trio in A Minor, M. 67 
Joshua Bell: Violin 
Jeremy Denk: Piano 
Steven Isserlis: Cello 

Experience has taught me that I need pretty much a whole week to get over my jetlag upon my return to the U.S. from Europe. Needless to say, this is an additional challenge when I try to schedule performances on both sides of the pond, but I have also learned that a little bit of planning and compromising can go a long way, not to mention that sometimes things work out just fine by themselves.
That’s kind of what happened with my month of April, when the concerts that my mom and I had picked at the Festival de Pâques in Aix-en-Provence allowed for enough time for me to attend one of my not-to-be-missed concerts in New York City the following week. I am obviously talking about the long-overdue recital by three of classical music's brightest stars, namely violinist Joshua Bell, pianist Jeremy and Denk and cellist Steven Isserlis.
Although those are three musicians whose prodigious talent I had gotten to enjoy in various combinations over the years, if not decades, I had never had the opportunity to hear them perform together, which is not surprising since it is in fact their first tour together ever, never mind that they've know one another for decades now.
So about a year ago  as I was checking out the next season of Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series, it looked like our time had finally come, and in no less than wonderful Alice Tully Hall too. So I managed to grab one of the last tickets for it early last summer, and have been organizing my spring schedule around it ever since.
Last Tuesday evening, exactly one week and one day after my return to the Big Apple, body and mind fully back, I at last took my seat in the packed venue for a program of interspersed Romantic and 20th century trios by four tried and true composers. On the other hand, let’s face it, they could have played the most obscure works in the repertoire and we would have flocked anyway.

As if to express their joy of finally making beautiful music together and sharing it with the rest of us, the trio opened the concert with the exuberant melodies of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2, which they unsurprisingly handled swiftly and nifty. Not unlike his Songs without Words series from which the second movement clearly draws, this piece underlines the special singing quality of Mendelssohn’s music, which extends way beyond mere prettiness.
This of course was not lost to the seasoned musicians, and they made sure to bring out the opulent richness and meticulous intricacy of the composition, even in its quieter moments. There’s nobody like Mendelssohn to lift up any mood, and the sheer virtuosity of the playing could not but enhance the already thrilling experience.
In one giant leap for performers and audience, we moved from Mendelssohn’s infectious happy-go-lucky disposition to one of Shostakovich’s darkest works with his Piano Trio No. 2. One of my personal highlights of the peculiar piece has always been the stubborn staccatos and pizzicatos featured in the so appropriately named “Dance of Death”. And sure enough, on Tuesday night, the ominous and implacable presence of mortality came out to some truly dazzling effect.
At the peak of those turbulences, the sounds of the three instruments were occasionally accompanied by the sounds of the fired-up musicians’ shoes hitting the ground as they were battling Shostakovich’s restless mind. The whole thing was resolutely dissonant, fantastically macabre, unhealthily obsessive and utterly depressing. I loved it.
After Shostakovich’s unyielding anguish, and a well-deserved intermission, we stayed in Russia but moved to the much more soothing music of Rachmaninoff’s Trio élégiaque, whose impossibly lush Romanticism put some deliciously calming balm on our hearts and minds in one sweeping movement. Written when the composer was a 19-year-old teenager, it already showed an impressive maturity while still expressing all the intense emotions of the young.
The program finished on a French note with Ravel’s Piano Trio, which provided exceptional rich textures for the musicians to play. Adroitly injecting a wide range of influences, from Baroque and Classical traditions to Basque folk dance and Malaysian poetry, Ravel nevertheless preserved the conventional four-movement format of classical composition. Altogether, this was another exciting challenge that the three musicians sailed through with plenty of French flair.

The standing ovation was genuinely tremendous, but then died spontaneously after the second curtain call, effectively putting an end to any chance for the rest of us to get any encores. But those magical two hours had already been a terrific evening, and we resigned ourselves to being fully satisfied with it… if we had to.

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