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Andras Schiff - Yuuko Shiokawa - Miklos Perényi

Hong Kong
City Hall Concert Hall
02/28/2008 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Trio in C Minor, Op.1 No.3 – Piano Trio in D Major, Op.70 No.1 "Ghost" – Piano Trio in B Flat Major, Op.97 "Archduke"
Andras Schiff (Piano), Yuuko Shiokawa (Violin), Miklos Perényi (Cello)

Yesterday evening’s chamber recital has proven to be yet another successful testimony in this year’s HK Arts Festival. Exceptional artistry and musicianship from pianist Andras Schiff, violinist Yuuko Shiokawa (a.k.a. «Mrs. Schiff»), and fellow Hungarian cellist, Miklos Perényi became the topic of gossip from a full-house audience that filled every corner of the HK City Hall situated in Edinburgh Plaza. Three of Beethoven’s Piano Trios, representing each of the composer’s early (C Minor, Op.1 No.3), middle (D Major, Op.70 No.1 «Ghost»), and heroic-to-late (B Flat Major, Op.97 «Archduke») periods were featured. An encore from Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s light-spirited Piano Trio in G Minor filled the airs of the recital hall with traditional Austrian classical music. Whether you purchased one hundred dollar ticket seats or went as hardcore as some of us did into spending a few hundred HK dollars for the two hours, the inspiration from these performances were enough to last a lifetime. The evening was a triumph for our artists, their celebration of the Arts Festival, but also an honor to Beethoven, who would have smiled even from his grave. Splendid in everyway, from powerful technical display to emotions that weighted an ocean’s deep, one cannot imagine who would pay better justice to good-old Ludwig van Beethoven (and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, for that matter) than our indispensable Schiff-Shiokawa-Perényi Trio.

The Schiff-Shiokawa-Perényi trio has impeccable chamber music credentials singly and collectively. Pianist Andras Schiff has a line of fans that easily span across the distance of the United States; violinist Yuuko Shiokawa is a regular of the Salzburg, Lucerne, Lockenhaus festivals amongst her many engagements; cellist Miklos Perényi produced a stunning recording of the Beethoven’s Complete Cello Sonatas with his fellow Hungarian Andras Schiff which has ever since been ranked as a classic, standing en par to Mstislav Rostropovich’s stereophile Philips recording with Sviatoslav Richter.

What the much-already excellent programme notes miss to tell us is that the three early piano trios published as his Opus number one appeared only in 1795, when the composer felt these works were worthy to be called his «Opus One», at an age of 25. Tonight, the Schiff-Shikoawa-Perényi partnership performed the third of this collection, the Piano Trio in C Minor Op.1 No.3, and clearly evident, this early composition represented an advance over Beethoven’s seniors such as Haydn and Mozart. Some of Beethoven’s finest piano trios were documented in his Opus one set, and it was clever for our guests to open the evening with the C Minor, getting right down to business, save the warm-up. Audience, who were familiar with the instrumental works of Beethoven, would appreciate the depth and breath of a fully-mature composer already right here in this composition. The partnership achieved a fine adolescent swagger in the brighter movements, and only until the Archduke Trio did they run off, exposing all the facile shallowness one can find there. Schiff was an attentive partner; the overhead music score merely served as a display for him when one would found him turning his head and upper trunk frequently shifted to the right to oversee his string partners, Schiff’s fine focus to the music was never distracted for a single moment, producing the «sound of Beethoven» at its most original. Shiokawa’s tone radiated like a constellation of stars - at times transparent as water, while at other times, had her plugged pizzicati that sounded electrifying even at her pianissimo. Perényi’s cello was unfathomably beautiful, his sound seemingly projected a half-tone lower, his posture erect like an old grandfather’s clock, but «delicate with care» became his motto throughout the work. The Schiff-Shiokawa-Perényi trio brought out the power and drama of the fast movements quite well that stunned each one down the spinal cord. Complimenting each other from a myriad of musical skills on their instruments and a pastel of (musical) colors spanning like a pendulum from our artists, one may question how such creation would had been possible for a mere 25 year old Beethoven, unless a genius was at work.

Beethoven’s two Opus Seventy trios marked a major step forward in the history of the piano trio repertoire. Earlier works of this genre featured the pianist as the dominating texture. But in the deceptively noble but actually radical Piano Trio in D Major «Ghost», Beethoven dove into true concertante style, writing for a group of democratic equals, each having their attractive and musically-rich moments. No one player had the true spotlight, which was another way of saying none would have an easy time out of it. There could be no dispute that the vitality and enthusiasm that projected from our Trio were the result of decades of experience in music-making and comradeship, making the reading of the «Ghost» trio particularly attractive. The Schiff-Shiokawa-Perényi partnership gave a rather muscular, powerful reading that grabbed one’s attention right from the start. Never did one feel being forced, but the exuberance and athleticism of their playing was instantly contagious, and one would be dumbfounded simply judging by their age. The first movement was mercurial, highly alert with confident playing of great character. The all-important Largo, which was a more hauntingly expressive movement, produced mystery-laden «ghostly’ tones, full of mystery and dire premonitions. It was more fully captured at a «con espressivo» tempo that our guests elected. Their interpretation may seem a shade too conservative at times to listener’s taste, but the Presto finale burst this thought bristled with spirits, sealing the marvelous «dark» performance with a fetching tone. The three players were willing to take chances in the Finale, with a tea-spoonful less in tempo than what most groups would have preferred. Then, again, this near ideal piano-string balance was aided together by close-up finesse and vibrant spirits that met the acoustics of the City Hall. By the first half of the concert, one would appreciate what our much experienced players had told in an hour about an awful lot on Beethoven and his music than what others may have left unsaid in a lifetime.

The noble, heroic-period «Archduke» Piano Trio in B Flat Major Op.97 was perhaps the most famous of all Beethoven’s output for the genre. Here, the Schiff-Shiokawa-Perényi partnership was unparalleled, taking more time over fine details with magnificent piano playing from Andras Schiff throughout. Beethoven would have approved for the attractive lyrical quality in the slow movements, but what attracted listeners even more were the musicians respect towards Beethoven and his notations. One limitation, however (and this is analogous to picking a nail over the haystack), was that our artists’ instruments (notably the strings) only propelled at their maxima with sonority here in the next forty-five minutes. While our guests may have been ready ever since Op.1 No.3 to deliver fine music-making on their instruments, it took nearly an hour’s worth of «tuning in» for their instruments to warm-up and respond at full sensitivity. Not as much with Schiff’s Steinway, but Shiokawa’s violin and Perényi’s cello only projected with full tropical warmth by now in the «Archduke», with the length of bowing equaled to that in resonance. Here, their instruments projected at fuller distance rather than what seemed abruptions as one may have found particularly noticeable in closing statements and musical phrases during the earlier two compositions. This may have been limitations in their instruments to the humidity in the temperature of Hong Kong, taking time for their instruments to acclimatize (much like humans do). Despite this unforeseen condition, the «Archduke» variations sounded ever more so succinctly, and our musicians were far from being less with it came to authority, dignity and even solemnity - an admixed approach that worked dynamically-well throughout. But Andras Schiff and his fellow companions sought for something extra to present and they certainly convinced the majority, certainly, even convinced a rock to listen. This was the finest Beethoven chamber playing in recent years, and certainly the finest «Archduke» performance with whose variations movement they moved their listeners with miracles. They had dissected the music written by Beethoven, at a step below the top, and rebounded it over to the top by sheer artistry, stunning musicianship and personal conviction.

«Bravo» was the first word that gasped out from an audience’s cheer behind my back at Row I, Seat 10, that alerted the rest of the audience the end of «Archduke» marked the official close of the recital. Throughout the recital, Schiff, Shiokawa and Perényi bowed in a Japanese-etiquette manner, with both hands crossed in front, flexed at 75o. With repeated cheers and attendees standing with applauses, the musicians approved the respond to be sufficient for an encore, and Mr. Schiff announced an short excerpt from Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in G Minor. Their light-hearted playing warranted more gasps and cheers from the audience, and so brilliantly did their fine bow-playing and piano voice ended an evening of chamber extravagance with pianissimo that in fact stamped an authoritative, fortissimo.

Patrick P.L. Lam



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