Moscow Trio performance unsurpassed

November 05, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

If there exists a finer piano trio than the Moscow Conservatory Trio among the world's permanent chamber music groups, this listener is prepared to hear the evidence. Until it is forthcoming, however, he will have to accept the evidence of what he heard Sunday evening in the Shriver Hall Concert Series.

The Moscow Conservatory Trio (pianist Paul Ostrovsky, violinist Dmitry Berlinsky and cellist Suren Bagratuni) performed Shostakovich's Trios Nos. 1 in C minor and 2 in E minor and Beethoven's Trio No. 6 in B-flat ("The Archduke") in a manner that left recent Baltimore performances by other piano-violin-cello ensembles in the dust.

Most permanent chamber-music groups have at least one member who is weaker than the others. That is not the case here. These are three virtuosos with impregnable techniques. And these three Moscow Conservatory-trained musicians do not check their personalities at the stage door when they walk out together.

Ostrovsky, a pianist who has been a fixture on the American chamber-music scene since he emigrated from the former Soviet Union almost 20 years ago, is the trio's rock-solid center. Playing with the lid of his instrument up, he controls dynamics, from triple pianissimo to fortissimo, in a faultless manner, and he unobtrusively performs pianistic miracles as if they were second nature to him.

Berlinsky, the youngest member of the group, gets around his instrument with all the skill of the most celebrated violinistic hot dogs -- at 16, he was the youngest first-prize winner of Genoa's Paganini Competition -- but with a seriousness of purpose that never permits him to play too loudly or to forget his role as one of three voices.

Like Berlinsky, Bagratuni has won his share of competitions -- including the silver medal in Moscow's 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition -- but his playing, whether in the stratospheric harmonics that open the E-minor Shostakovich work or the warm, expansively lyrical phrases of the "Archduke's" slow movement, never passes over the boundary from self-assured mastery into self-indulgent demonstration of that mastery.

These qualities resulted in a reading of Beethoven's mighty "Archduke" -- from its subdued but sonorous piano-alone opening to the jubilant presto of the finale's coda -- that was warm, boldly immediate and richly detailed. The performance possessed enormous energy at the same time that it suggested the sense of regal repose that makes it the only one of several masterpieces Beethoven dedicated to the Archduke Rudolf to have adopted his title as a nickname.

The program's opening selection gave listeners a rare opportunity to hear the almost totally neglected 17-year-old Shostakovich's precocious one-movement Piano Trio No. 1.

The Piano Trio No. 2, which concluded the first half of the program, is one of the composer's most popular chamber-music works -- a masterpiece whose visits to Shriver Hall have been frequent, though never, in this listener's experience, in so assured, powerful and (in the last movement, particularly) passionate a performance.

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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