PERTH FESTIVAL: Sitkovetsky Trio

Tchaikovsky was far from convinced that the concept of the piano trio – violin, cello and piano – was fertile ground for a composer when he embarked on his Piano Trio in A minor. By the time he had completed it his mind had been changed. The evidence lies in the sheer power of its expressive message, which is superbly illustrated in this utterly captivating performance by the Sitkovetsky Trio, filmed in London for the Perth Festival.

These are three mightily impressive players in their own right – violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, pianist Wu Qian and cellist Isang Enders – but as a group the combined capacity of their distinctive voices is volcanic. If the test is Tchaikovsky’s massive opening movement, which encompasses just about every human emotion, they pass with flying colours. 

Out of the sombre opening emerges a darkened euphoria, no doubt fuelled by the death in 1881 of Tchaikovsky’s close friend and mentor Nikolai Rubenstein, to whose memory the work was dedicated. That underpinning seriousness is never truly absent in this movement, even as its passions are increasingly awakened, only to relax to a restful conclusion. The Sitkovetskys, in this riveting, all-consuming performance, find all there is to say and more.

But complete as the Pezzo elegiaco may seem, it is only the half the story. Tchaikovsky counters the profundity of his opening movement with an equally expansive Tema con variazioni, which is where the the most extreme human feelings are released. Like his famous Rococo Variations, there is levity and humour, febrile sentiment and fiery resolve, ultimately withering away to a Chopinesque death march. Dominant in this particular reading is Wu Qian’s incendiary presence on piano, to which her colleagues respond with kaleidoscopic vitality.

In relation to such an epic work, it’s tempting to view the foregoing Schumann Fantasiestücke Op 88 as a mere warm up. But that is to sell it short. Owing much to Haydn, but characterised by Schumann’s unpredictable demeanour, there’s lots to explore beneath its seemingly lightweight framework of four fancifully titled movements. The Sitkovetskys find deep lyrical substance in the Romanze, plenty rough and tumble in the Humoreske, glowing dialogue in the Duet, and unfettered flamboyance in the finale. 
Ken Walton

Available on the Perth Festival website until 6 June