Melbourne Recital Centre
November 3, 2018

To open Musica Viva’s final concert series for 2018, the Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio explored Richard Strauss’ bellowing, brooding Cello Sonata in F Major, followed by the operatic heights of his Violin Sonata in E Flat major. In full ensemble mode, the trio delved into the musical wordplay of Australian composer Gordon Kerry’s Im Winde, and closed out the evening with Johannes Brahms’ Piano Trio No 2 in C Major. It was an eclectic and atypical program for a piano trio, full of colour and excitement, and clearly designed to showcase the individual and collective talents of what Carl Vine describes as ‘a piano trio with the least pronounceable name in the world’.

The Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio 

The trio’s name, of course, derives from the surnames of its three members: Nicola Benedetti (violin), Leonard Elschenbroich (cello), and Alexei Grynyuk (piano). All have acclaimed international solo careers, but have been playing together since they were young music students. Their trio made their concert debut almost a decade ago and have since performed across the major venues of Europe and beyond. In between, Benedetti, on the back of astounding musicianship and dynamism, has managed to cultivate a career as one of classical music’s most influential artists. The multi-award winning cellist Elschenbroich is one of the most charismatic performers of today’s generation, while Kiev-born Grynyuk has, since a young age, been a star concerto pianist alongside some of Europe’s great orchestras.

The Melbourne concert marks the beginning of the Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio’s first national recital tour for Musica Viva, and throughout November they will take this program to Brisbane, Newcastle, and Sydney, while a second program – two Prokofiev sonatas, Kerry’s Im Winde, and Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor – will be performed in Perth, Sydney, Canberra, and Adelaide before returning to Melbourne.

Elschenbroich is a cunning performer, and exciting to watch. The lower registers of his 1693 Matteo Goffriller cello at first competed in the Melbourne Recital Centre for a good balance with Grynyuk, but the two found a good blend by the end of the sonata’s first, spirited movement. Although Strauss wrote the popular piece at the age of 19, and it is unsurprisingly full of youthful energy and vigour, it was the mournful melodies of the brooding middle andante movement that had the audience captured, holding their breath in an uncommon silence as Elschenbroich and Grynyuk navigated its expansive melodic contours.

The bravado, emotion, and dramatic heights of the cello sonata finale provided a fitting segue into Benedetti’s solo appearance, again alongside Grynyuk, for Strauss’s Violin Sonata in E Flat Major. Composed between 1887 and 1888, the sonata is replete with dramatic contrasts and a wide palette of tonal colours and textures. The soloist’s lines are decidedly operatic, the piano complex but both technical and expressive. A perfect vehicle, then, for Benedetti’s expressive musicianship and dynamic stage presence, not to mention Grynyuk’s sensitivity and flexibility.

Having revealed something of the individual artists’ individual personalities in the first act, the second half of the concert was dedicated to the full chamber ensemble. One might be tempted to wonder if a chamber ensemble of soloists is perhaps not the most ideal arrangement, but the trio’s long history together and their collective musicianship ensures a successful combination. Benedetti and her band have a generous sound, and they play together with strength and purpose, well-balanced and blended, with plenty of colour and tonal weight. Their collective personality is full of romantic charisma and passionate expression.

The first piece after the interval was  Gordon Kerry’s Im Winde. As is usual for Musica Viva programs, international performers chose an Australian composition to perform. From a good selection of Australian piano trio repertoire, the Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio chose Kerry’s second piano trio from 2000. A single movement work based on the poem of the German romantic, Friedrich Hölderlin, Im Winde contrasts the joy of the present summer with apprehension of winters to come. It is compositionally fascinating, opening with well-executed flautato figures from the strings before moving to a dizzying contrapuntal section, and then settling in for a more somber mood in a slow sarabande. The performance was technically excellent, and although it contained less room for the group’s predilection for romantic zeal, the work provided a well-received, intriguing, and satisfying highlight.

Closing with the popular Brahms Piano Trio No 2 was a fine choice, and the energetic and grand finale was an exciting close for the evening. The trio’s romanticism and intensity was well-directed when the Brahms is at its most soaring, Romantic tunefulness. This is Brahms, after all, and the composition also looks backwards to more traditional chamber music; its strong forms and moments of finely-crafted counterpoint worked best with the ensemble’s assertive and precise execution than with their impassioned, often interpretive, approach to performance. These are minor quibbles, however.

There was a great deal of wonderful playing here and throughout the night – it is rare to witness this much technical and expressive brilliance on one stage, in one concert – and we hope to see the Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio on our shores again soon.

The Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio tours Australia for Musica Viva until November 20


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