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Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky: Piano Trios. Maxim Vengerov (violin), Lilya Zilberstein (piano) and Alisa Weilerstein (cello). Barbican Hall, London. 28.11.2006 (ED)

Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, op. 67

Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio in A minor, op. 50


One only has to see Vengerov’s name on the programme of a concert to expect virtuosic musical displays from the dazzling fiddler. How refreshing, therefore, that he  did not deliver vanity virtuosity, but integrated his undoubted gifts with those of his fellow performers in this concert.


Shostakovich’s second piano trio is comparatively brief in length and asks for equality of status amongst the players, but not initially as one might expect. The opening andante’s gradually increasing tempo allowed Alisa Weilerstein’s cello playing to be heard with distinction against the contributions of Vengerov and Zilberstein. All three explored tonal range and harmonics to indicate at a state of growing passion in the music, but Vengerov gave the lead in indicating that tonal purity was not to be a key attribute of the performance, and rightly so. The second movement was taken with jaunty roughness by all three players – Vengerov’s sheer attack making Zilberstein’s piano playing seem a little skittish in the interplay that was had with Weilerstein’s sarcastic cello. The movement’s end saw the piano lead all towards a driven conclusion. Drama marked out the third movement Largo, with the piano again setting the tone, this time through sombre repeated chords. As if to lighten the mood – which Shostakovich possibly did not entirely intend – subtle cross-rhythms came out in the playing as it continued, with much wry humour also.


Tchaikovsky’s mighty piano trio in A lasts for nigh-on fifty minutes, and is longer than any of his symphonies. Its sprawling form is set in two vast movements, the second of which being a set of twelve variations. The final of these could almost be a movement in itself, given its internal twists of melodic line and self-sufficiency of material. 


The first movement saw a much more standard battle for supremacy emerge than Shostakovich allowed for in his trio. The unison playing of the strings, although notable, was overshadowed by the dominant part of the piano. Under this influence the music attained an almost self-propelling forward motion that was not beyond highlighting elements of momentary brightness or introversion.


To form a contrast the second movement variations were launched as a dialogue against a background of piano accompaniment. The second variation showed much passion in Weilerstein’s cello playing that had a lot to recommend it. The brisk scherzo that followed was delicately fingered by all. The sixth variation stood out again for the tonal quality of Weilerstein’s playing, but bad luck was to befall her in the eighth variation when a string broke without warning and forced a brief pause in proceedings. The string replaced, the variation resumed with confidence that suitably enhanced the dogmatic and hectoring tone of the music. The ninth variation was a shifty lament seemingly only a thought away from Debussy at times. Cautious upbeat moods and a violin lead prefaced the openly virtuosic final variation that showed the composer’s enthusiasm, but to be truly successful could probably do with being shorter than it is. Nevertheless, if one wanted a trio to show off the virtuoso talents of three superb musicians then one could hardly ask for a better vehicle. Vengerov and Zilberstein are an established partnership, but Alisa Weilerstein makes a fine addition to their team. She is without a doubt a musician to listen out for.


Evan Dickerson



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)