DVOŘÁK; TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Trios (Shani, Capuçon, Soltani)
These performances were caught live at last year’s Aix Easter Festival, with Gautier Capuçon joining two rising stars of the younger generation – pianist/conductor Lahav Shani and cellist Kian Soltani. Their reading of the Tchaikovsky Trio is unashamedly Romantic from the off, the piano setting up a limpid backdrop over which the two string players duet with great ardency. Richter and friends take a more subdued view of this, giving it a fragility which makes for touching contrast as the music builds. What’s impressive about this new set is the way the three musicians bring a richness of ideas, sustaining both the sense of dialogue and of drama over the expanse of the first movement.
In the variation-form second movement I did find Shani a touch too deliberate as he set out the piano’s theme, the accents placed a little self-consciously – though the strings pick up this trait in Var 1, so perhaps it was entirely intentional. They bring plenty of personality to the panoply of character pieces that follow, not least the playful Var 3, with its considerable difficulties for the pianist set against string pizzicato (Rubinstein is superbly impish here), and the extended waltz of Var 6, in which violin and cello twirl across an imaginary ballroom in a warm embrace. The wistful Var 9, with strings set against billowing piano-writing, is another highlight, while the mazurka that follows in Var 10 is impressive, though Shani can’t match Rubinstein’s innate mastery. In the final variation and coda there’s plenty of energy in the slashing chords, and when the trio’s opening idea finally returns, now with strings in duet against a thunderous piano accompaniment, it has aching intensity, while in the gradual slow-down towards the close the players take to heart Tchaikovsky’s lugubre instruction, creating a true funereal tread.
Dvořák’s Third Trio makes an imaginative counterpart but here I had more reservations. Capuçon, Soltani and Shani make much of its passages of Brahmsian richness, but that tendency becomes somewhat cloying as the piece progresses. Comparison with the Busch Trio or the Florestan is revealing – both are initially far more veiled, while even in the climaxes there’s more air to their textures. There’s also a lack of true pianissimo-playing on the new set. The second movement’s Slavic qualities pass for fairly little – the Florestan convey far more character, thanks to Susan Tomes’s subtly evocative pianism set against fined-down string accompaniment. Capuçon and co bring to the slow movement lots of full-toned emoting but again it feels somewhat generic. The finale works better, with a real punchy energy and all three players relishing its virtuoso possibilities, though the gentler second idea could have done with more wistfulness.
So very much a tale of two pieces, the Tchaikovsky far more compelling than the Dvořák.