This recording was released for the 70th birthday of Russian violinist Gidon Kremer, but it also celebrates the superstardom of DG’s young pianist Daniil Trifonov. The two musicians play Preghiera (Prayer), Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement of the Adagio from Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2. Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė, Principal Cellist of Kremer’s ensemble Kremerata Baltica, then joins them for the bulk of the programme. The disc was recorded in May 2015 during an American tour.
Rachmaninov’s trios are youthful works but typically melancholy. The First, in one movement, dates from 1892. The Second, in the composer’s favourite key of D Minor, was written a year later at the age of 21 as a tribute to the recently departed Tchaikovsky; hence the title Elegiac. The composer is instantly recognisable in the work’s sequential repetitions and predominantly minor keys, but his immaturity is exemplified by the length to which the musical ideas are stretched out. This piece lasts for almost 50 minutes. Like Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, its central movement is a set of variations. The outer movements are episodic, with turbulent climaxes scattered along the way.
These works are an unusual choice to mark Kremer’s anniversary because the violin’s role is virtually secondary. All the virtuosity, predictably, lies in the piano part. Equally predictably, Trifonov shines. Often when big name soloists play chamber music the result is not as coherent as with an established group who are used to playing together and listening intently to each other. The Beaux Arts Trio recorded the two Elegiac Trios very successfully – yet, after hearing Kremer, Dirvanauskaitė and Trifonov, I realised the Beaux Arts’ subdued, tasteful elegance is not enough. This music needs as much colour and point as it can get to prevent it from hanging fire.
To take one example, a passage beginning around 12 minutes into Trio No 2’s first movement introduces a sad little motif in the strings with sparse piano accompaniment. Kremer and his trio give it such an eerily intimate quality, you can almost imagine it representing Tchaikovsky’s dying breaths. By contrast, Trifonov’s long opening solo in the second movement is full of nuance, the equivalent of a heartfelt funeral oration, and he absolutely sparkles in the faster variations. The listener has no option but to hang on these players’ every note.
Preghiera strikes me as overwrought. This music works best in its concerto context, but the trios are the real thing.