Nicholas Yonge Society

International Chamber Music in Lewes

Sitkovetsky Piano Trio

8 December 2023
Beethoven Piano Trio No. 5 in D Maj Op. 70 No. 1 'The Ghost'
Elfrida Andrée Piano Trio No. 2 in G minor
Schubert Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat D 898

The Sitkovetsky Piano Trio made a welcome return to Lewes for the second concert of the 2023-24 season. The programme was the usual mixture of familiar and unfamiliar which always makes these concerts something to anticipate but with the slight risk of a possible disappointment. But that certainly wasn’t the case this time. The programme began with Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ trio. The first movement is full of the vivid contrasts that were so characteristic of Beethoven’s compositions during this period. The way in which the trio played brought this out very clearly – they were particularly impressive in the way in which each part shone through in both soft and loud passages. Chris Darwin’s programme notes reminded us that the title of this trio comes from a comment by Czerny, that the second movement reminded him of the appearance of the ghost of Banquo in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Waiting for the performance to commence I found myself wondering whether I would also be reminded of another Shakespearian ghost, Hamlet’s father. I still have a vivid image of his appearance in Brett Dean’s opera at Glyndebourne in 2017 – where the ghost was played by Sir John Tomlinson – the NYS president. For me at least the music in that movement expresses an emotion closer to despair, rather than fear, and it was brilliantly caught by this performance. Fortunately the mood changes completely for the final movement, bringing the work to a much happier conclusion. 

The first half of the concert ended with a trio written by a composer who was completely new to me – Elfrida Andrée. Before the performance Alexander Sitkovetsky explained that the trio had only discovered the piece in the summer of 2022 because they had been asked for a programme of pieces by women composers who were contemporaries of Bruckner. They ended up choosing this G minor trio and two others in the same key by Cécile Chaminade and Clara Schumann and the programme was played at the Brucknerhaus in Linz earlier this year.  G minor is often used in dark and dramatic music (Mozart’s 40th and Beethoven’s 5th symphonies for example) and that was also true of this piece, especially in the first movement which seemed to me to have a Brahmsian intensity to it.  A real discovery, and fortunately my music app (Idagio) lists some other Andrée works that I will explore over the next few weeks. 

The second half consisted of a single work – Schubert’s late B flat piano trio, so there was less of the intensity that characterised the first half.  But it is wonderful work, especially the second movement Andante. The Sitkovetsky really brought out the interplay between the instruments as they they ‘threw’ the themes from one player to another. And some beautiful rippling piano, really precise yet full of feeling.

The overall impression from the concert was of an ensemble whose playing is so well integrated. The piano never dominated the two string instruments and they had a wonderful knack of allowing individual voices to be heard with real clarity. It is little surprise that they have received a clutch of awards in the last few years. Let’s hope that their second visit to Lewes won’t be their last.    

Review​er: Pete Clifton

Photograp​her: David James