The Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio Bring Star Quality to the Roman River Music Festival
Review: Seen and Heard International
by Jim Pritchard
Ravel – Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in A minor
Turnage – Duetti d’Amore, Duo for cello and violin
Brahms – Piano Trio No.1 in B major, Op.8
As far as I can discern this was a first visit by Seen and Heard International to the Roman River Music Festival which is now in its seventeenth year. Their website reveals that ‘Roman River Music produces summer and autumn music festivals among the salt marshes and wide open skies of coastal Essex, uniquely combining strong grassroots support from over 100 volunteers, a truly international quality music programme, and access and participation opportunities for over 1,000 young people each year. The festival converts 15 unusual and unexpected venues to performance venues, and features new commissions, emerging talent, young artists and internationally renowned musicians.’ It goes on to reflect how it all began ‘one misty autumn Saturday in 2000 as a one-day event – a music day for 12 young people among the medieval whitewashed walls of Fingringhoe Church in North Essex, with a quartet concert in the evening given by Juliet Jopling and friends’ and how ‘The autumn festival has steadily grown in popularity over 15 years, and each year over 100 international quality performers give 25 concerts in 15 unusual venues, enjoyed by almost 4,000 ticket buyers and funded by Arts Council England, sponsors, individuals, Trusts and the Friends of Roman River Music. Family events, art exhibitions, theatre, dance, talks and a festival walk complement the internationally quality concerts.’
Based on this outstanding evening with the Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio I urge anyone who can get to any of the events put on by Roman River Music to do so. The setting on this occasion was a quaint church dating back to 1087 in the delightful Essex village of Fordham which was a world away from concert-going in London. Given the big names involved a sell-out of the venue which holds 200-plus was assured. Everybody seemed to know each other and as the wine flowed during the interval it so reminded me of an episode of Midsomer Murders when a local group puts something on. Thankfully unlike that popular TV show everyone survived the evening … as far as I know!
During the evening I mused – not for the first time – how a less tongue twisting moniker might possible than the ‘Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio’ but it was wonderful to see ‘star violinist’ Nicola Benedetti withdraw once again from the limelight to just be content as one third of a supremely accomplished trio. Because of the nature of piano trios her playing was somewhat overshadowed by Leonard Elschenbroich’s eloquent cello which, when it ‘speaks’, demands attention and Alexei Grynyuk’s sonorous, plangent pianism. From the three players there is communication, confidence, fluidity and musicality in their deftly sublime playing.
Ravel’s Piano Trio written on the cusp of World War I found the three musicians luxuriating in the work’s transparent textures and Impressionistic colours. Grynyuk provided the appropriate atmosphere of the composer’s native Basque region right from his opening notes and played throughout with clarity and sensitivity, often adding a heightened mystery to Ravel’s somewhat elusive music. Violinist and cellist were at their very best during the otherworldly Pantoum and a subdued and deeply expressive Passacaille which develops from the piano’s funereal opening eight-bar bass line. The finale had all the necessary whirlwind energy from some incisive playing which commendably reined back from allowing the music to sound too flashy.
Following was Mark-Anthony Turnage’s deeply personal new work for Benedetti and Elschenbroich – and their on-going relationship – Duetti d’Amore. Introducing the background to this Leonard Elschenbroich pondered on whether there was irony or sarcasm in the title and Nicola Benedetti’s amusing facial expression suggested she thought there just might be! If I had the slightest criticism of this concert it was that I felt that the audience would have appreciated all the music to be similarly introduced. Duetti d’Amore has five brief sections based on relationships in general and particularly their own current one. Some passages were rather like a lament and particularly haunting, whilst others are rather tempestuous. I repeat what I wrote before about how surprising it is that – despite some playful to-ing and fro-ing between the violin and cello – they don’t seem to have much fun, at least, as far as Turnage is concerned. On this second hearing in this intimate setting – that was so different from the Royal Albert Hall (review) where I first heard it – I appreciated the bickering third movement more and the tenderness of the fourth. The ‘Blues’ finale, also wittily involved much audible discord but the resolution seemed to suggest that despite some difference between two people – as revealed by their two instruments – they are together and that is ultimately all that matters.
When I last heard the Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio play the Brahms Piano Trio No.1 at a BBC Proms Chamber Music concert, Petroc Trelawny reminded the audience how Brahms had first written it as a 20-year-old and revised it 35 years later, telling friends ‘I had already sent the piece to the grave and had no intention to play it any more’ and ‘Do you still remember the B major Trio from our early days? Wouldn’t it be curious to hear it now as I have – instead of placing a wig on it – taken the hair and combed and ordered it a bit.’ In fact, the revisions were quite extensive and this second hearing confirmed my initial response that it gained thereby a stately, contemplative air. I suspect there is still a need to reflect this passage of time and find a balance between the ardour of the composer’s youth and the wisdom of his maturity, something tonight’s performers seemed to achieve through a captivating and deeply reverential grace. As before Elschenbroich’s cello shone in the opening Allegro leading to a more playful and jollier Scherzo when all three musicians get a chance to shine; with Benedetti’s virtuosity and sonorous tone coming especially to the fore. The Adagio was introspective with a plaintive autumnal glow and whilst allowing Brahms’s phrases to reveal themselves as if by instinct and not intent, the trio ratcheted up the intensity before the summative finale when, once again, the climax was evidence – if any evidence was needed – of brilliant musicianship from Benedetti’s violin, Elschenbroich’s cello and Alexei Grynyuk’s emphatic piano.