Schubert was not touched by God; he was embraced by Him as was no other composer. This recital by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival started with his youthful string trio, the only one he wrote. This work is obviously not in the same class as his late chamber music masterpieces like the final three quartets and the great C major quintet, but is of considerable interest nevertheless.
The opening allegro is charming, while the inner two movements are completely original with odd, but compelling rhythms that change unexpectedly. The fourth movement, a rondo sounds like one of his songs. The 20 year old composer had already written about 300 songs by this time among which are some of the supreme masterpieces of the genre.
The trio was performed by violinist Ida Kavafian, violist Steven Tenenbom, and cellist Peter Stumpf. They made a good case for this interesting piece. There was the occasional intonation problem common of good musicians who don’t regularly perform together. Kavafian had one or two mishaps in the rondo, but on balance this was a fine reading of an overly neglected work.
The balance of the evening was devoted to Tchaikovsky’s piano trio, opus 50. This too is the only composition by the great Russian in this form. It was written to commemorate the death of his colleague and friend Nikolai Rubinstein. Given the majesty and beauty of this trio it is a great loss to music that Tchaikovsky who didn’t care for the combination of piano and strings in chamber music never again used a piano in his chamber music.
The work consists of two large movements which together add up to about 50 minutes. The first movement begins with one of the composers grandest and beautiful melodies followed by an equally impressive allegro. The second movement is a set of variations on a peasant melody that was a favorite of Rubinstein. The trio ends with an inspired return of the great theme from the first movement which make a powerful effect. It proceeds to a solemn a muted conclusion by the piano, just a few notes in the bass.
The trio was brilliantly performed by Haichen Zhang (the 2009 Gold Medalist at the Van Cliburn Competition), violinist Benny Kim, and Cellist Mark Kosower (the first cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra). These three musicians blended perfectly while still showing great individual virtuosity. The combination of three great musicians and Tchaikovsky’s towering achievement – a piano trio that matches the best of Haydn and Schubert – made for a powerful impression that yielded a deserved standing ovation.