Trio Céleste Delivers Triple the Pleasure at the Salon Piano Series

Young trio from SoCal backs up their growing reputation

 

Most of the time the Salon Piano Series, an exquisite season of four concerts held in Farley’s House of Pianos showroom, features pianists, usually one at a time. But Tim and Renee Farley have developed a delicious habit of adding a small ensemble into the mix, and it was a winning combination Sunday afternoon.

Trio Céleste (pictured above, courtesy of the group) consists of Iryna Krechkovsky, violin, Ross Gasworth, cello and pianist Kevin Kwan Loucks. They have been together for about seven years, but it is in the last couple of seasons that their reputation has made a meteoric rise, thanks in part to a Carnegie Hall debut last year. Based at the University of California-Irvine, the group heads east about once a month; the audience that packed salon at Farley’s clearly appreciated that now it was Madison’s turn.

The threesome certainly packed a wallop with their repertoire: the “Trio elegiaque” of Rachmaninoff, two movements from Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” and the sprawling Piano Trio in A Minor of Tchaikovsky.

The first impression that emerged from the youthful—but already steeped in the melancholia that permeates Russian romanticism—Rachmaninoff trio was that Krechovsky’s lower violin range was eerily (and beautifully) viola-like. Pianist Loucks immediately exhibited a legato touch and waves of sound on the 1950 Steinway instrument. As for Gasworth, his lines when they were one or two octaves below the violin part were so dead-on in their intonation it was as if we were hearing one super-range string instrument.

The Piazzolla offerings came courtesy of arrangements by Jose Bragato, cellist for the iconic Argentine composer, who reinvented the tango. His “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” (1965-1970) remains one of his most popular works now in a variety of arrangements. Trio Celeste provided all the smoky atmosphere and bite of the composer’s inimitable style in the movements “Verano Porteño” (Summer”) and Primavera Porteña (“Spring”).

Tchaikovsky maintained for the first forty years of his life that piano should only be heard as a solo instrument, an accompanying instrument, or as a concerto soloist—but never as a partner in a chamber ensemble with strings. Then in 1882 he proved himself wrong by composing the longest (indeed, symphonic at times) piano trio. Laid out in an ambitious Moderato-Allegro giusto first movement and concluding with a theme and twelve variations, his Op. 50 is a major test for any ensemble.

At times it seems Tchaikovsky asks each of the players to assume the role of concerto soloist, more so in the piano and violin parts—and time and again Krechkovsky tossed off virtuosic sequences with full and glorious sound and impeccable pitch. Gasworth was given a significant role in the second variation, with his colleagues “getting out of the way” so to speak, allowing the cellist to fully explore the soft dynamics and lyrical lines.

Ultimately the real test in this work for any ensemble is whether they can maintain a cogent sense of inexorable emotional journey; after all, we are speaking of a composer whose best work is nearly always dominated by emotions rather than crystal clear musical structures. And indeed, Trio Céleste did mine every opportunity for a new expressive perspective, whether in the waltz variation, the mazurka or even a flirtation with a decidedly un-Bachian fugue.

The players are youthful, and as an ensemble they are even younger, so we cannot be too surprised that they have only one CD in print so far. But another one (which includes the Tchaikovsky) is in the editing stages, and we eagerly await its release. We can only hope that they are also enticed back to Madison for more live performances.

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