Sitkovetsky Piano Trio

Alexander Sitkovetsky Violin

Wu Qian Piano

Richard Harwood Cello


A Schubert Fall for Vancouver

Tuseday, September 24, 2013

A Schubert Fall for Vancouver listeners got started in a big way this weekend.

Yesterday was the Canadian debut of the Sitkovetsky Trio at the Chan, a concert which took many of us right back to the glory days of the Vancouver Chamber Music Festival. Alexander Sitkovetsky, violin, Wu Qian, piano, and Leonard Eischenbroich, cello, hail from Moscow, Shanghai, and Frankfurt respectively, but met at the Menhuin School and agreed to make England their base of operations. Much in their playing and their essential approach to music making is congruent with London (and not New York) values. How I enjoyed them: good Brahms, spectacular Mendelssohn.

And then the Schubert E-flat Trio.

I always think twice, then think again, before submitting to the demands of hearing this work. I feel about it the way many listeners feel about the late, great quartets of Beethoven. It is an impossible piece: absurdly long, annoyingly repetitive, and emotionally nihilistic.

The three performers are about the same age Schubert was when he composed the piece: here were incredibly gifted young adults speaking Schubert’s language with a febrile poetry that was both intense and honest.

I never know exactly what audiences take from Schubert’s perplexing final works, but I do know this particular audience was as wrapped up in the Trio as were its performers. This was magic, pure and simple.

Eric Hoeprick

An Impressive Recital by The Sitkovetsky Trio

Saturday September 21, 2013

The Sitkovetsky Trio was formed in 2007 at the Menuhin School and they have garnered considerable critical acclaim over quite a short period of time and won a number of prestigious awards. The programme for this concert comprised three of the great masterpieces of the chamber music repertoire from the 19th Century.

Brahms’ C minor piano trio was written in 1886 and it is a concentrated and intense work full of big orchestral sonorities. The piano textures in the opening Allegro energico are particularly dense and complex and Wu Qian successfully conveyed the dramatic power of the piece while at the same time keeping the textures clear and light so as not to drown out the string players. All three players managed to convey the symphonic breadth of the opening but I wondered if the string players could have made a little more of the expressive warmth and rich harmonies in the second subject. The second movement’s presto non assai marking was scrupulously observed and there was excellent interplay between the strings. The Sitkovetskys evoked a warm Autumnal glow from the intermezzo third movement with Wu Qian giving us some exquisitely phrased and expressive playing. The fourth movement starts with a hunting rondo-type theme and it was played with gusto and rhythmic incisiveness by all three players before the arresting conclusion.

For those musicians who regard Mendelssohn’s music as superficial, can I please ask you to listen to the second piano trio? It was written when the composer was at the height of his powers, a year after the great Violin Concerto and the year before Elijah. It is a passionate and highly intense work that is full of original and highly engaging musical ideas. The performance from the Sitkovetsky Trio seemed to go up a notch with this piece, which started in a state of subdued but feverish excitement. The string players moulded Mendelssohn’s lyrical romantic phrases beautifully while Wu Qian played the intricate piano figurations with brilliance and refinement. In the Andante espressivo there was some sweet and sensuous playing from the strings with both players weaving elegant threads and traceries of sound, and using subtle rubato to underscore the gorgeous harmonic shifts. The gossamer scherzo was played very fast indeed and had the requisite lightness with all three players showing astonishing digital dexterity. I wondered if they might achieve an even greater degree of delicacy and refinement if they were to slow it down a little. In the finale the Sitkovetskys brought out the romantic ardour of the piece and there was very well executed interplay between all three players, while the coda was a blistering tour de force, bringing the first half of the concert to a thrilling conclusion.

Schubert’s late chamber works are among the most sublime pieces of music ever written and they demand the highest standards of musicianship. I am always slightly apprehensive when younger players tackle a work like Schubert’s Trio in E flat. However, I am pleased to report that the Sitkovetsky Trio confounded my expectations and gave an absolutely riveting account of this pinnacle of the chamber music repertoire. The opening Allegro was full of elegant Viennese charm with the two string players allowing Schubert’s immortal melodies to sing out. There was scrupulous attention to the composer’s dynamic markings while Schubert’s reflective, poetic voice was given space to breathe. The Andante con moto is a profoundly moving work – it was introduced to a wide mainstream audience in Stanley Kubrick’s film Barry Lyndon where it features prominently. The dialogue between Alexander Sitkovetsky and Leonard Elschenbroich in the middle of the movement was absolutely gorgeous, while the fortissimo outbursts allowed the composer’s tempestuous emotions to spill out. I wondered if they might make a little more of the sense of poignancy and heartbreak in the coda – this music is really very special. The third movement canon was light and deft with the Sitkovetskys playing with an impressive degree of clarity. Schumann referred to the “heavenly lengths” of Schubert’s great C major Symphony but the same phrase could equally apply to the finale of the E flat Trio which is conceived on a vast scale. The opening theme was allowed to dance along archly while Qu Wian’s played the swirling and complex passagework with incredible dexterity and lightness of touch. The Sitkovetskys allowed the composer’s infectious high spirits to shine through banishing all the feelings of self-doubt before driving the work to its conclusion.

Great playing from the Sitkovetskys – they are clearly chamber music stars of the future.

Review by Robert Beattie

Masterful delivery of composers' masterworks

Tuesday April 09, 2013

For their second Coffee Classics concert at St. George's, the young award winning Sitkovetsky Trio picked one of the masterworks for this combination of violin, cello and piano, Brahms's Piano Trio no. 1 in B, a big challenge. For this is a work of huge scope and vision. It opens with a surging long melodic line announced by the piano then the cello and finally the violin, to create a rich warm texture and it takes enormous energy and drive to keep the tension up in a long and romantic exploration of his ideas about chamber music – this the first chamber work he wrote. The piano part, played superbly by Wu Qian, is particularly important – Brahms wanted to impress his lifetime love, Clara Schumann – and anchors the work throughout, especially in the profound Adagio, where cellist Leonard Elschenbroich rightly scaled down his big tone to match. The final Allegro powered along with the same attack and pace as we heard in the opening. This was exciting playing. Yet even more energy was unleashed when viola player Lawrence Power joined them to play Dvorak's ebullient Piano Quartet no.1 in E flat, a work full of frantic energy, syncopated dance themes, and packed with colour and inventiveness. There may be a bit too much repetition of ideas but performed like this with maximum warmth and commitment, it sounded like a masterwork.

Sitkovetsky Piano Trio, The Earl Cameron Theatre at City Hall

Wednesday February 13, 2013

This piano, violin and cello concert took the audience along a road upon which much of western classical music has travelled. There were performances of works which are representative of their period, and a look over the horizon to what was coming next. The international prize-winning Sitkovetsky Trio is Alexander Sitkovetsky on the violin, Wu Qian playing the piano and cellist Leonard Elschenbroich.

Their concert on Wednesday evening at the Earl Cameron Theatre at City Hall opened with ‘Piano Trio No 39 in G Major’, ‘Gypsy’ by Joseph Haydn, who lived between 1732 and 1809. In three movements, the exotic and exciting presto is the one that many people know, and it is the reason the piece is called ‘Gypsy’. It is a terrific piece of music that delighted the audience. The andante and poco adagio were not by any means cast into the shade the first movement should be the very last word in elegance, and it certainly was. The trio also found all the beauty in the melodic line. The sonorous slow movement is gorgeously melodic as well, and the piano created a particularly bright backdrop for the strings that were carrying those melodies.

‘No 2 Op 87 in C Major’ by Johannes Brahms brought us to the end of the 19th century, and it is indeed a much more modern-sounding piece of music which, typically of the composer, is complex and intriguing. The tempo’s sense of constancy in the first movement, the allegro moderato, provided an anchor for the dynamic solemnity which really marked it, while the trio’s interpretation of the andante con moto was moodily evocative. The two first movements provided a direct contrast to the third. Fast-paced and bordering on real modernity, it was especially interesting with some extreme diametrics between the instruments. Impressionism at its most accessible made the fourth movement an easy pleasure to which to listen, although it was still interesting to listen for each instrument’s contrasting parts.

The second half of the concert was devoted to a performance of Antonin Dvoák’s ‘Piano Trio No 3 in F Minor’, which was written in the aftermath of the composer’s mother’s death, a loss which clearly was extremely difficult for him as the piece describes the deepest mourning. Of the three pieces, the Sitkovetsky Piano Trio seemed to have a special affection for this one. Their interpretation was especially heart-felt and thoughtful, and it was beautifully executed. The floods of grief described here were interspersed by the happiest of memories; sunny moments peeking through the darkest of clouds.

The emotional journey concludes with the finale: allegro con brio, which the trio infused with plenty of dynamic complexity that really did engage the audience, and the movement ultimately concluded with a sense of courage and cohesion and perhaps of healing.

Following on the heels of the Palestinian-Israeli piano duo Duo Amal, the week has been one of truly superlative music, and the Sitkovetsky Piano Trio provided another exceptional evening which was appreciated by an enthusiastic audience.

Royal Gazette Bermuda

The Sitkovetsky Piano Trio play Brahms and Smetana at St. George's Bristol

Sunday 27th January 2013

This concert was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday morning. It was the first of the Sitkovetsky Piano Trio’s coffee-morning concerts – “Coffee Classics” – in which they gave a passion-fuelled performance of Brahms’ Piano Trio no. 2 in C major, Op.87, and Smetena’sPiano Trio in G minor, Op.15. As a piano trio, the three have won many awards, and quite rightly so, as their presence on stage is collectively brilliant. St George’s as a venue in Bristol often astounds with the talent that walks on to the stage. The performers entered the hall with an air of experienced yet humble musicians who had a yearning to push that experience and develop their skills even further. That passion for music is the very passion that was required to play the morning's selected programme. On first glance at the repertoire, it could have been a heavy performance for a Sunday recital, had it not been performed by the right musicians.

Violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, whom the trio is named after, stood up and introduced both of the pieces to the audience, explaining their structure and mood. Both pieces are emotionally outspoken, and the Sitkovesky Piano Trio were not afraid to let that show in their interpretation of the scores. Smetana’s Piano Trio in G minor, Op.15 is the only piano trio he ever wrote. It was written in 1855 to express how he felt when his daughter, with whom he had a terribly close relationship, passed away at the mere age of four. The music speaks of the frustration, anguish and sadness experienced when losing a loved one.

Performing such an array of emotions in a short space of time is by no means an easy feat, but the Sitkovetsky Piano Trio handled it with an inspirational amount of depth. It was clear that every subtle sentiment had been addressed in the rehearsal and brought into the performance. The performers carried the weight themselves, allowing the audience to feel the different moods in the music, but still maintaining control of their expression, manipulating each and every note.

Often in a piano trio, due to the mechanism of striking the string, the piano can feel like the odd one out. But pianist Wu Qian blended the sound of the piano, making it seem less percussive against the sound world of bowed string instruments. Her mastery was fully exemplified in the beginning of the Finale: Presto at the end of Smetana’s Piano Trio in G minor, Op.15, where she kept up the pace of rhythms far more complex for ten fingers than for a bow. The start of the final movement also displayed just how tight a performance the Trio is able to give. Although it felt a little rushed at times, the three performers were always at the same tempo.

Cellist Leonard Elschenbroich produced an engaging mellow tone, playing on the aptly named “Leonard Rose” Matteo Goffriller Cello made in Venice in 1693. This was particularly effective when he played the melody of the theme in the Andante con moto second movement of the Brahms Piano Trio no. 2 in C major, Op.87. Alexander Sitkovetsky’s finest moment in this concert was the haunting virtuosic violin melody at the opening of the Smetana. We were spoilt at the end with an encore of the slow movement of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio no. 1 in D minor. Perhaps it felt a little unnecessary after quite such an impressive performance of the Smetana, but nonetheless it was an indulgence that was gratefully received.

The talented Trio deserve every ounce of applause they received for their remarkable polished performance. Their technique and ability to convey emotions as a chamber group can easily be compared to some of the world's most famous classical musicians.

by Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres

Jubel nach furioser Aufführung

Das Sitkovetsky Piano Trio, Ensemblepreisträger 2009 der Festspiele MV, war in Ulrichshusen das Solistenensemble in Beethovens berühmtem Tripelkonzert.

Die Konzerte der Festspiele MV werden nicht nur von einheimischen Musikliebhabern besucht, das Publikum kommt auch von weit her und gleich für mehrere Konzerte in Folge. Der Sonntag ist dann Abreisetag, der Konzertbeginn deshalb schon um 4 Uhr nachmittags. Ein wenig herrscht Aufbruchstimmung, aber das Tripelkonzert von Beethoven mit dem Sitkovetsky Piano Trio als Solisten, am Sonntagnachmittag in der Festspielscheune von Ulrichshusen auf dem Programm, das will man schon noch mitnehmen.

Davor auch noch was Modernes: Märchenpoem von Sofia Gubaidulina (*1931). Doch was für zauberhafte Musik! Wie mit Pastellfarben in Tönen gemalt die Geschichte von einem Stück Kreide, das nur Zahlen und langweilige Buchstaben schreiben muss, bis es in der Hosentasche eines Jungen verschwindet, bei dem es dann wundersame Schlösser und Blumengärten auf den Asphalt malen darf. Bei diesem Glück verzehrt es sich schließlich ganz.

Das Konzerthausorchester Berlin wurde von seinem Gastdirigenten Gabriel Feltz sensibel und mit viel Gefühl für die zarten Klangfarben geleitet. Mit der Auflösung der Kreide dämpfte er die Musik am Schluss so dünn und leise, dass man im Hinterzimmer hinter der Bühne schon die Solisten ihre Instrumente stimmen hörte.

Dann der Beethoven mit dem C-Dur-Konzert für Violine, Violoncello und Klavier mit dem Sitkovetsky Trio. Der Geiger Alexander Sitkovetsky und der Cellist Leonard Elschenbroich spielten oft Auge in Auge und stimmten so jeden Atem, jeden Einsatz genau aufeinander ab. Elschenbroich fiel auf mit der Intensität und Sanglichkeit seines Tones. Die Pianistin Wu Qian, mit dem Rücken zu den beiden, empfand alles völlig gemeinsam mit den Streichern. Die drei spielten sehr energisch, herausfordernd, geradezu angriffslustig. Und doch blieb hinter ihnen auch der Orchesterpart bedeutungsvoll und vital. Nicht durch lautes Hervorheben, vielmehr hielt Feltz die Musiker an, die feinsten Regungen als deutliche Bewegung des Klanges erlebbar zu machen. Das hatte große musikalische Wirkung.

Der grandiose Höhepunkt des Programms aber wurde Tschaikowskys 5. Sinfonie in e-Moll zum Abschluss. Mit magischer Intuition und auf die Dramatik des Ganzen gerichteter Vorausschau richtete Gabriel Feltz ein Werk von unglaublicher Ausstrahlung auf. Jede Nuance lotete er bis an die Grenze ihrer Möglichkeit aus, das Tempo, die Dynamik, die Kontraste. Die Potenz des Ausdrucks trieb er immer noch einen Schritt weiter, als man es je für möglich hielt. Natürlich nimmt er sich „alcuna licenza“ wie der Komponist vorschreibt, doch setzt er nirgendwo auf bloßen Effekt, sondern bringt alles in die Bewegung des Klanges. Aber den treibt er bis zum Exzess!

Welch eine Ruhe zu Beginn des langsamen Satzes, in die das Solohorn tauchen kann! Später die Spannung in den Pausen bis zum Zerreißen, atemlos hängen die Zuhörer am Klang, und der Dirigent hat sie alle in der Hand. Wie auch die Musiker, die ihm mit Feuer und mit Bewunderung folgen. Das Finale furios im Sinne des Wortes: als ob Wahnsinn und Rachejagd der Furien durch die Stimmen führen, so tobte die Musik, bis sie die erlösende E-Dur-Coda erreichte. Dann atmete das Publikum die ganze Hochspannung in frenetischen Jubel aus, den nur der Abreisedruck enden konnte.


Saturday, 19th November 2011

In their publicity material, HHH Concerts trumpet their programmes of ‘world-class chamber music’. As those classical music-lovers lucky enough to live within reach of Haslemere know, this is no idle boast. Why struggle up to London when evenings of such superlative quality are on offer every month or so during the season, on your doorstep?

The third concert in their current series, at St Christopher’s Church, Weyhill on 19th November, featured the young Sitkovetsky Piano Trio (Alexander Sitkovetsky, violin; Leonard Elschenbroich, cello; and Wu Qian, piano). Simply to read of the numerous awards and critical acclaim won by this group during the four short years since their formation, was to raise expectations that an evening in their company would be one to remember. And so it turned out. The technical mastery these players have over their instruments, and their understanding of the music and of each other, is beyond praise. If anything of a general nature can be singled out as worthy of special mention it would be, first, the richness of tone of the two string players. These were so well matched that the range of sounds they produced could almost have come from a single instrument.

Secondly, the group’s pianist, Wu Qian, a musician of exceptional sensitivity, has fully overcome one of the prime challenges of the piano trio: how to blend the percussive pianoforte with the sound world of the two string players. Indeed, Wu Qian’s playing in the group’s first offering, Haydn’s ‘Gipsy Rondo’ Trio, put us in mind of a pianist such as Murray Perahia: an extreme delicacy combined with a tautness of rhythm, which allowed the two ‘subordinate’ instruments to play their full role in the ensemble. The only possible quibble here was the pace at which they raced through the final Gipsy movement itself, which hovered on the border between what is musically feasible and what is showing off!

As might be expected, the group gave a polished account of Brahms’s late Piano Trio Op. 87, with more beautifully delicate playing from Wu Qian in the scurrying third movement, and heart-warming lyricism by the two string players in the substantial outer movements. But the greatest surprise of the evening came in the form of a rare example of chamber music by Smetana, his G minor Piano Trio, Op. 15. This piece, composed in memory of a daughter who died in infancy, is charged with an emotional intensity reflecting the composer’s struggles both with his personal tragedy and with the political turmoil engulfing his country after the failure of the Czech revolution against the Hapsburgs. Such are the complexities of structure and tonal innovations in the piece that it is astonishing to realise that it was composed over 150 years ago. It harbours many influences besides the folk music of Smetana’s own homeland: there are smatterings of Beethoven in the rugged, explosive first movement, nationalistic anthem-like themes in the second, and even some Chopin-esque piano writing in the last movement (apparently, so the helpful programme notes reminded us, a re-writing of an abandoned piano sonata). What was striking overall in this piece was the huge range of orchestral-like sonorities that the three musicians conjured up from their instruments, so well suited to the romantic idiom that pervades this music.

Finally, to send us away with an appropriate feeling of euphoria, the Trio gave us as an encore another delicious Haydn presto, from his C Major Trio, No. 27, this time their virtuoso sprint being fully justified by the skittishness of the music.

by Tony Goldman

Three players, one spirit, simply overwhelming!

Mittelbayerische Zeitung, 28.02.2011

(English translation)

The audience could not get enough, even after two substantial works of the piano trio repertoire that are completely exhausting for both players and audience, they wanted an encore. What had happened?

The young Sitkovetsky Trio had come to the "Wolfgangsaal" and delivered a stunning, even sensational performance. Why are they so excellent as a trio? There are piano trios that for a long time have been playing well together, but as solo players are not so brilliant. Then three excellent soloists come together and homogeneity is missing. With the Sitkovetsky Trio it is different. The technique of Alexander Sitkovetsky, Qian Wu and Leonard Elschenbroich is on the highest level, the intonation immaculate, the sound full but variable, wonderful precision and transparency even in the most difficult passages. Also the teamwork was perfect, each detail coordinated. The playing was very emotional, even overwhelming, with youthful pathos, long drawn, in one spirit.

The Smetana and Tschaikowsky, two quasi requiems, gave the opportunity to show all of these qualities. Passion, melancholy and pain, but also hopefulness and gentle grief go hand in hand. Also the Haydn was mastered in a superior style. They rushed through the Rondo with Hungarian impetus, sharp rhythm and delicate rubati. The slower parts convinced with tasteful passages and lovely melodies.

And what about the encore? Although it wasn´t really necessary: the slow movement of the Mendelssohn d-minor Trio was touching, moving.

by Randolf Jeschek

Trio delight a sell-out audience

Leicester Mercury, 19th Februrary 2011

FORMED in 2007, the Sitkovetsky Trio has received high praise the world over. They are three young musicians who clearly have a natural empathy and passion for the music they play, bringing emotion to every note. Beautiful accentuation gave the Andante movement of Haydn's Piano Trio no. 39 in G a wonderful lilt. The lively Rondo was fast and furious, but not a note was lost, with the music lightly-shaped and formed. The work was lifted off the page and into the room, producing an utterly captivating performance.

The opening Allegro of Brahms' Piano Trio no. 2 in C demonstrated a wonderful contrast between heavy and light, loud and soft; which engendered passionate playing with exquisite quiet passages. SUBTLE Five relaxing variations of the Andante were followed by a darting Scherzo with subtle conveyance of its dark side. The smooth Finale displayed wonderful piano arpeggios. Wu Qian's piano playing was a delight; from impassioned to gentle; always clear and balanced well with the two string parts. Alexander Sitkovetsky's violin sang joyfully, while Leonard Elschenbroich's cello had a sonorous authority.

All three blended perfectly, becoming much more than just the sum of three instruments and musicians. An encore of the third movement from Smetena's Piano Trio demonstrated a lyrical solo line handed seamlessly between the three instruments against fast and furious passages bringing the concert to a stunning finish.

Another international standard concert presented by The Leicester International Music Festival to a sell out audience.

by Peter Collett