Wednesday night's Agassiz Chamber Music Festival concert featured this up-and-coming string trio made up of Anne Robert, violin, Paul Marleyn, cello, and Stéphane Lemelin, piano.
Putting together a cohesive ensemble can present many challenges, including choosing people you enjoy working with, but also who sound good as a group.
Lemelin is a superb musician, a sensitive pianist with the ability to transform his playing from the subtlest interpretation to the most vivacious.
Marleyn, a former Winnipegger, is known for his pure tone and responsive playing.
Robert is a different breed entirely. She has a big sound that fills the hall with ease, and, for the most part, her tone is full and clear. She does, however, have a tendency to get carried away in her desire to be expressive, and this too often results in a rougher, less refined sound that is not always the best choice for the work being performed. Intonation and tone both suffer and it is not always a good match with her fellow musicians.
The relatively unknown Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu is probably best remembered for the lyrical Sonata in G Major for violin and piano offered up on this night. A student of Cesar Franck and Vincent d'Indy, his sonata is unabashedly romantic, and Robert played her 1735 Guarnerius "del Gesù" violin with honest, unrestrained feeling.
Lemelin kept great flow going throughout, notes bubbling up from his fingers with lightness and grace. The chameleon-like first movement was dramatic and emotional, then turned lyrical and sweet. Robert's all-or-nothing fearless style of playing leaves everything on the table. While this may sometimes leave a level of refinement by the wayside, it also has its own charm in its candid delivery.
The slow second movement tended to plod along — a gentler, less intense approach might have better conveyed the sadness written into it. Robert leaned too hard on the elusive melody, stalling its forward motion with her deliberate approach and neutralizing Lemelin's fluidity.
As a dedication to the late Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, Trio Hochelaga played Tchaikovsky's only piano trio, his Opus 50, written as a memorial to his friend, the great piano virtuoso Nicolai Rubinstein. The score is inscribed "To the memory of a great artist," making it a most suitable choice for the dedication.
Trio Hochelaga did an inspired job with this work, opening with Marleyn's lovely rich tone gliding through the sumptuously passionate melody. Lemelin had many opportunities to shine — the piano part is virtuosic and elaborate. He made the most of the many moods presented, playfully bounding about and deftly presenting strong chords, while always keeping things balanced and appropriate. Robert's bow flew, sounding almost viola-like in her dark-toned lower register. She still could have achieved more sweetness and less bite at times, but overall this was a stimulating performance of a demanding and exciting work.
The festival wraps up tonight with grand finale at 7:30 p.m.
"To the Memory of a Great Artist"
Agassiz Chamber Music Festival
Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall June 13
31/2 out of five