Review: the Sitkovetsky Trio at the Chichester Chamber Concerts series

7th December 2023

Anyone going to a concert by the Sitkovetsky Trio can expect a performance of verve, energy and total commitment coupled with gentle sensitivity.  Such was the case last Thursday evening when a large audience braved a wet and windy evening to attend the fitting venue of the Assembly Rooms in Chichester for the latest concert in the Chichester Chamber Concerts season.

The Sitkovetsky Trio brought with them two of the most well-known and well-loved pieces in the Piano trio repertoire together with a Trio almost certainly never before performed in Chichester.

They opened with the Piano Trio in D major, Op. 70, No. 1.   Consisting of three movements, the trio was dedicated by Beethoven to Countess Marie von Erdody, a young Hungarian who had difficulty walking due to partial paralysis of her legs.  It is possible that Beethoven, who was severely deaf by the time, and the Countess were drawn together by their disabilities and it was in the Countess’s own house that he wrote this Trio and the trio in E flat.   The first movement is original in that the two contrasting themes are revealed together right at the start.  It is marked “con brio” and the Sitkovetsky Trio fairly burst into the opening theme given to all three instruments in bare octaves, giving a foretaste of what was to be a brilliant and thrilling performance.  If there was an initial danger that the full-toned cello of Isang Enders would drown out the violin of Alexander Sitkovetsky this fear was soon extinguished.   The virtuoso piano part was performed here, and indeed throughout the evening, with great élan by Wu Qian.  

The second movement, marked Largo assai ed espressivo, is one of Beethoven’s darkest, full of Gothic gloom and tremendous dramatic power.  It was this movement that led to the trio being nicknamed “Geister” – “The Ghost”.  It may be no coincidence that Beethoven was sketching a projected opera about Macbeth (also in D minor) at the same time as he was writing this movement.  The low rumblings in the piano part add to the ghostly atmosphere.  Gloomy maybe, but also magnificent and the Sitkovetsky Trio’s rendition could not have been more subtle and gentle.  They rounded of the Trio with a lively presto.

An altogether different work is the Schubert Piano Trio in B flat major, Op. 99, D.898 which formed the second half of the Sitkovetsky programme.  Full of delightful melodies and invention the piece reflects sunshine and contains some of the most widely loved music written by Schubert.  It was assumed to have been written in 1827 (although not published until 1836).  Yet this was the same year that Schubert was writing the deeply melancholic Die Winterreise, andwas already unwell.  Within a year he was dead, at the age of just 31.  Alexander Sitkovetsky told us that this was one of the Trio’s favourite works and their love and care for it was reflected in every note.

Between these two major works in the whole of the chamber music repertoire came the surprise: the Piano Trio No.2 in G minor by Elfrida Andrée.  Previously unknown to the present writer, it transpires that Andrée was a formidable composer and organist in Sweden and the first Swedish woman to conduct a professional symphony orchestra.  She lived from 1841 to 1929.  Her list of compositions runs to at least 135 works including an opera, two symphonies and five other works for full orchestra and numerous pieces for chorus and for the organ.  She was organist at Gothenburg Cathedral for sixty two years.   A more-or-less contemporary of Ethyl Smythe, she was also an advocate for women’s rights. 

Composed in 1885, the trio itself is highly accomplished, in the late Romantic style.  It consists of three movements.  The first is melodic and peaceful.  The second, the soul of the Trio, is romantic and delightful.  At its beginning a solo piano introduction invites the cello to join with a plaintive melody followed by the violin.  This moves on to a dance-like theme introduced by the piano with a subtle accompaniment on the strings.  The third movement had a rather jerky feel but finished strongly.  It was perhaps risky to programme this Trio between such formidable works by Beethoven and Schubert but it more than stood its ground and we must be thankful to the Sitkovetsky Trio for bringing it – and the composer – to our attention and for giving it such a careful, committed and enjoyable performance.

This was, as one has come to expect from this ensemble, a thoroughly rewarding concert of virtuoso playing and careful interpretation.

In passing I notice that no less than four of the six concerts in the present CCC season contain works by female composers –  a welcome development that would have been unheard of just a few years ago.  The next concert is on 25th January and will be given by Connaught Brass when the programme will include an arrangement of a piece by Florence Price.

Peter Andrews

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