12 FEBRUARY 2016 •
If any piano trio could achieve star status, it’s surely this one. It may have an unpronounceable name, but it has in Nicola Benedetti one of the world’s starriest young violinists. It also has in Leonard Elschenbroich a romantic cellist straight out of central casting, with a Byronic profile and hair as unruly as the music he plays. And it has, too, a wonderful pianist in Alexei Grynyuk, who may not be as photogenic as the other two but is at least their equal as a musician.
There’s a perennial problem with the piano trio, which is that the piano tends to dominate things. That’s especially true in Franz Schubert’s late, great trio in B flat, which began this concert. And yet here one felt a converse of equals. The beginning had a lovely relaxed quality, Elschenbroch and Benedetti passing the same sunny phrase back and forth with perfect ease. Grace and elegance come naturally to these two, as was shown by their seductive way of pulling the tempo back as a phrase curved towards its end.
These are necessary qualities in this piece, which flows on unhurriedly for page after page. They helped to make Schubert’s long paragraphs seem shapely and directed, rather than merely rambling.
By contrast, Tchaikovsky’s A minor trio, which filled the second half, really needs the grand manner. It’s on a huge scale, beginning and ending in an extravagantly tragic tone that was prompted by the death of Tchaikovsky’s mentor Nikolai Rubinstein. In between are a kaleidoscopic set of variations on a melody, including a delicious waltz that could have come straight out of one of Tchaikovsky’s ballets.
To give all this variety its due, while making the final return of the tragic opening seem inevitable, was a huge challenge. Benedetti and Elschenbroich seemed stretched to the limit by the music’s heroics; one felt that the gentle grace of Schubert was much more their line.
However, Alexei Grynyuk really came into his own. He gave the Polonaise variation a wonderful high-stepping fervour, which redeemed a not-very-inspired piece, and in the elegiac moments his rhythmic urgency saved the music from becoming plodding. He couldn’t save the tearful funeral march of the ending from seeming over-blown, but one had to admire the artistry he lavished on it. There had been hints in the Schubert trio that Grynyuk was actually the most interesting musician on stage; here it became blazingly clear.