The young musicians of Denmark’s Trio Vitruvi made a smashing U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall on the occasion of the Bridge Records release of their first album, Trio Vitruvi plays Schubert Piano Trios, D.929 & D.897. Challenging music by Schubert, Shostakovich, and Dvořák showed off the trio’s lofty technique and highly developed collective musical expressivity. Even from a much more established ensemble – the trio of violinist Niklas Walentin, cellist Jacob la Cour, and pianist Alexander McKenzie formed only in 2013 – it would have been a most impressive performance.
Franz Schubert’s demanding Trio No. 2 in E flat, D. 929 – accurately described by PianoTV.net as “a rollercoaster of constantly-changing ideas” – comprised the entire first half of the concert, as it comprises most of the album. The performance demonstrated the musicians’ sheer mettle as well as their deep connection to classic material. The seldom-heard Bärenreiter Urtext edition of the piece, their press release notes, “contains many extra minutes of music not included in previous editions.” Of minutes there were plenty.
Unafraid to put their own stamp on canonical works, Trio Vitruvi boldly played up the first movement’s good-natured histrionics. They took long pauses after the unresolved interior climaxes, steered serenely through rubato passages, and sturdily conveyed the contrasting dark drama of the middle section, leading us on a rewarding journey right through to the subdued ending.
The second movement with its famously beautiful main theme is Schubert the melodist at his greatest. With the assured grace of a longstanding ensemble, the musicians lean into the melodies, and muscle through what Schubert biographer Valdemar Lønsted in his liner notes to the album perceptively and poetically calls the “violent and passionate outbursts that belong to the boundless formal idiom of the imagination.”
After the third movement’s giddy playfulness and surprise ending, the trio imbued the finale with a bright, singing quality, managing the whirling 16th-note passages with seeming effortlessness. As the emotional tone moved between feathery and brassy, the pyrotechnics shone without distracting from the flow, and when the funeral march theme from the second movement returned for the second time, in counterpoint with the finale’s staccato theme, another fusion, that between composer and performers, felt complete.
Shostakovich and Dvořák
Trio Vitruvi proved as adept at the jumpy, sometimes almost jazzy modernism of Shostakovich’s compact Trio No. 1 in C minor, Op. 8, whose single movement seesaws between sweetness and aggression. The musicians navigated with equal assuredness the pastoral passages, the frenzied prestos, the celestial piano figurations, and the chromatic melodies of the climactic forte section.
The melancholy opening of Dvořák’s Trio No. 4 in E minor, Op. 90 (“Dunky”) expands into a rollicking development with a coruscating restatement of the theme. For the soft, glowing sections of the ensuing movements, bridge mutes gave the strings a cloudy, sighing sound you had to lean forward to listen to. The trio seemed to breathe as one through the tumbling vivace of the second movement, the dance-like fourth, the Schubertian piano runs and lush violin melody of the fifth, and the finale’s majestic statement.
Any one of the three performances could serve as an effective assertion of Trio Vitruvi as a powerful, eloquent new presence. Their debut album does as well. While their studio recording of the Schubert Trio No. 2 can’t reproduce the sonic spaciousness and organic presence of a concert performance, it merits a place among the top Schubert recordings of recent times. Well balanced and expertly recorded, it displays the full range of the trio’s top-flight artistry.
Whereas the concert’s encore was a sensitive reading of the second movement of Haydn’s “Gypsy” Trio, the album’s “extra” is Schubert’s single piano trio movement, D. 897, also in E flat, designated “Nocturne” and described by Lønsted as “a veritable serenade in the dark.” Trio Vitruvi conveys it with flowery lightness, reveling in its peaceful, deceptively simple beauty and making a good case for it as a precursor to Romanticism.