Duelling trios [REPORT]

The Stanisław Moniuszko Competition in Rzeszów is one of the few events in Poland that enables chamber ensembles contend for the most coveted prizes. Whereas pianists/soloists to a large extent opted for repertoires comprised of Neo-romantic pieces, the dominant among chamber musicians shifted towards more contemporary composers such as Krzysztof Penderecki, Witold Lutosławski or Andrzej Panufnik.

    The performance of the first finalists, the Tansman Trio, began with a rendition of Trio no. 2 by their artistic patron. The concise, four-movement form abounds in all of the major features of the Neo-classical style: polyphonized texture, formal clarity, and melodic refinement. In particular, the artists beautifully extracted the lyricism of the successive phrases, and operated with a soft yet strong piano. Conversely, in the final two pieces the women trio revealed a genuine spontaneity, which charmingly corresponded with the turbulent opening of Penderecki’s String Trio. Both pieces turned out to be surprisingly compatible, as the latter was similarly pervaded with imitative technique, albeit with a tinge of Romanticism. The young performers also impressed with their smooth transitions between contrasting moods, each of which sounded convincingly.

    A different dramaturgical tone underpinned the performance of Trio Incendio, beginning with their rendition of Franciszek Lessel’s Trio in E major for piano, violin and cello (a piece of great quality, by the way). Written in the early 19th century, the piece stylistically resembles the oeuvre of the Vienese Classics. Performed by the Czech instrumentalists, it sparkled with humor, at times interlaced with more melancholic tones. Their subsequent selection was Aleksander Tansman’s Trio no. 2 (which had its second performance on the day), whose emotional charge was diametrically opposed to the previous piece. Operating with dense and succulent sound, the Czechs proved themselves capable of creating fervent and dramatic emotions, as they did in their closing interpretation of Ludomir Różycki’s Rhapsody op. 33.

    Equally full of contrasts was the program proposed by the Legend Trio, who juxtaposed Fryderyk Chopin’s early Piano trio in G minor op. 8 with Andrzej Panufnik’s Trio op. 1. Chopin’s composition, written during his student days, is notably influenced by the late Classical and brillant styles. Interpreted by Poles, it attained a characteristically Romantic sonority, although not without performative imperfections. The dominant piano may not have been as glaring here as it was in Panufnik, where it sounded wearisome. Panufnik’s 1934 Trio—likewise a product of his student days—is typified by clear textures and thoroughly considered architecture, as the classic three-movement structure amounts to a legible narrative with a virtuoso climax.

    Likely the most intriguing presentation on the day was delivered by the Airis String Quartet. The sonority of their repertoire—comprised exclusively of 20th century pieces—followed a gradual transition from traditional to purely percussive sounds. Michał Spisak’s String Quartet no. 1 was played only fragmentarily, so one cannot speak here of a coherent interpretation but rather a number of concise, vaguely interconnected samples. Associations with Dmitri Shostakovich were evident here, including Panufnik’s String Quartet no. 3 “Paper Cuts,” commissioned by the London International String Quartet Competition. The composer invoked the symmetry of the eponymous folk handiwork, hence the presence of numerous mirror phrases and musical palindromes. Airis’ interpretations were correct yet devoid of a dose of avant-gardist frenzy, even when performing Penderecki’s Quartetto per archi No. 2, whose rendition was surprisingly cautious.

    Yet another performance, this time evocative of a music parlor, was delivered by Aleksandra Kuls and Marcin Koziak. The rather generic compositions of Aleksander Zarzycki, Maurycy Moszkowski, and Roman Statkowski enabled the violinist to showcase her lyrical and virtuoso skills. It was only at times that her intonation was defective, and at one moment the bow slipped out of her hand and deconcentrated both performers. One markedly different piece selected by the duo was Sonata for violin and piano No. 4 by Grażyna Bacewicz (one of her very best pieces): thunderous and at the same time highly lyrical. In their performance of Bacewicz’s sonata, the musicians reached a powerful forte, as the piano ceased to serve as mere accompaniment. The rendition provided a stunningly masterful conclusion of the first day of the Competition finals.

    The difficulty in assessing chamber ensembles lies in the great diversification of their line-ups. Invariably paramount is the performance itself along with the musicians’ fidelity to the score, however one cannot forget about assessing the musicality of those striving to attain ‘musical chemistry.’ This unique symbiosis could be identified several times on the first day of the finals, and it may well guide the jury in passing their final verdict.

Author: Bartosz Witkowski