Heritage Piano Trio most at home in Rachmaninoff for FOCM

By Lawrence Budmen

The Hermitage Piano Trio performed Monday night at Wertheim Concert Hall for Friends of Chamber Music. Photo: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.

Russian musical training has long emphasized stellar technique. The three players that comprise the Hermitage Trio certainly command note-perfect and powerful instrumental acuity. At their concert Monday night for Friends of Chamber Music at the FIU Wertheim Auditorium, their virtuosity was on full display and was best heard in a too-rarely-performed score by Rachmaninoff.

Each of the three members of the U.S.-based group, which has been playing together for a decade, have had major solo careers. Violinist Misha Keylin has concertized widely and recorded the complete works of Henri Vieuxtemps for Naxos. Sergey Antonov, a Rostropovich protégé, was the youngest cellist ever to win the Gold Medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition.  Pianist Ilya Kazantsev, a multiple competition winner, has soloed with orchestras throughout the United States and Europe. Together they form a well-drilled unit that seems more comfortable in Russian music than wider repertoire.

The Andalusian coloration touched by impressionism of Joaquín Turina’s Piano Trio No. 2 was given the full Russian treatment. With Keylin’s thick vibrato, Antonov’s voluminous tone and Kazantsev’s hard-edge touch at the keyboard, the score’s rather thin inspiration emerged with greater weight. The string players’ heavy bowing and Kazantsev’s power chording made the big tune in the Molto vivace scherzo sound less corny than it is.

In pre-performance remarks, Keylin expressed concern about the ongoing war and violence in Ukraine, where he has relatives. He also noted that Monday was the birthday of Maurice Ravel. Keylin explained that Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor was written in 1914 at the onset of World War I, making it appropriate for this troubled hour.

Adapting a lighter approach, the threesome brought out much of the languor in the opening Modéré. The playful figures of the second movement were taken about twice as fast as in most performances. Antonov’s spacious shaping of the grave melody of the Passacaille was aptly soulful. At peak volume, the three players sounded like ten times their number. The animated opening of the concluding Animé seemed like a sunburst coming out of the darkness. Kazantsev’s crashing keyboard spanning octaves in rapid strokes proved undeniably exciting. Still, this was Ravel with a heavy Russian accent, wanting a dose of Gallic elegance and elan.

Following intermission, the players were fully in their element for Rachmaninoff’s Trio élégiaque No. 2 in D minor. Written shortly after Tchaikovsky’s death, this is the work of a composer in his early twenties who has already found his musical voice and aesthetic. Adopting the same three-movement structure as Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, the 45-minute work is replete with passionate sadness. From the brooding cello solo of the introductory Moderato, the trio projected the music’s darkness and depth of intense emotion.

Rachmaninoff was a master of piano variations, and the theme of the second movement is very similar to the corresponding theme and variations in Tchaikovsky’s opus – obviously a tribute in memoriam. The piano takes the lead in this set as well. Kazantsev reveled in the whirling figurations against plucked strings, the Russian Orthodox chant like section and the balletic Russian dance variation. The players distilled the throbbing anguish of the final movement, bringing out every ounce of drama and fire down to the cello’s reprise of the score’s opening melody. The audience waited in silence following the final quiet piano chords before applauding.

Friends of Chamber Music presents pianist Stephen Hough 8 p.m. March 21 at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest. The program features Hough’s Partita, Alan Rawsthorne’s Bagatelles, Schumann’s Kreisleriana, and Chopin’s Ballade No. 3, Two Nocturnes and Scherzo No. 2. miamichambermusic.org

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Tue Mar 8, 2022
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