A trio of famous friends thrilled a packed Jordan Hall on Friday. Sartorially splendid, super virtuosos pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, violinist Lisa Batiashvili, and cellist Gautier Capuçon sported great hair and transmitted magnetic stage presence at the Celebrity Series recital.
Cellists, including several from the BSO, turned out to cheer on Capuçon. My guess is that most non-cellists came to cheer on Thibaudet, known for fabulous Ravel recordings (and some 50 others), his striking concert clothes designed by Dame Vivienne Westwood, and his eclectic boundary-breaking repertoire. Most recently, he appeared, playing fabulously, in Boston’s Symphony Hall with singer Michael Feinstein for an evening of Gershwin [my review HERE]. The audience there fell under the spell of both his fabulous playing and his inimitable charm.
Most people—well, maybe not violists who feel overlooked—love a piano trio and its amazingly rich repertoire. Over the years this reviewer has heard many excellent threesomes of this type, but this evening we heard something different, and not only because three superstars had joined forces. The air crackled with excitement from the moment they began with one of Haydn’s many piano trios, Trio No. 44 (Hob. xv/28). I had never heard Jean-Yves Thibaudet play Haydn, and it sounded super. Haydn gives the greatest expressive range and volume of notes to the piano. All of his piano trios are in three movements (later composers usually wrote four-movement trios), and the title page of his piano trios reads “piano sonatas with violin and cello accompaniment.” What a superb introduction to this piece.
My favorite piano trio of all time, the only one written by Ravel, came next; what a privilege to be in the audience for this elegant, captivating, and gutsy performance! Thibaudet got to show off his Ravel chops, and the other two musicians gave their all and played magnificently. You can’t fake fabulous; this was the real thing.
Ravel wrote the trio in 1914 shortly after Germany declared war on France, “I am working with the certainty, the lucidity of a madman. But sometimes depression is at work. and suddenly there I am sobbing over sharps and flats… Can I go on like this?” But he wanted to finish it before enlisting and admitted to a friend, “I have been treating the Trio like a posthumous work.” During the trio’s composition, Ravel was also working on a piano solo work based on Basque themes entitled Zazpiak Bat (Basque for “The Seven are One”). Although eventually abandoned, this project surely left its mark on the trio.
Ravel had absorbed strong influences from his Basque mother. The Modéré first movement, which Ravel later described as “Basque in coloring,” is full of irregular rhythms and may have been based on a Basque dance called the zortziko. The brisk and exuberant Pantoum (Assez vif) took its name after a form of Malaysian folk poetry. Andrew McIntyre’s program notes describe this second movement quite poetically: “The piano alternates spiky percussive passages with floating streams of massive chords, creating a disorienting whirlwind in waltz time until the movement screeches to a halt.” The languid heart-stopping third movement is marked Passacaille (Très large), while the impassioned closer Animé returns to Basque rhythms and an exciting finale full of long trills from the strings. While the two string players have many sumptuous solos, the piece really belongs to the pianist, who requires technique to burn. Ravel demands uncanny technical brilliance throughout.
After intermission, we entered the very different sound world of the immensely gifted Felix Mendelssohn. He dedicated his Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor to composer and violinist Louis Spohr. Married to harpist Dorette Spohr, he wrote a great deal of virtuoso harp music.
In this interpretation, Mendelssohn’s second trio, written just before the birth of his fifth child, proved thrilling, jubilant, stormy, and seriously virtuosic. The impassioned duet in the second movement between violin and cello made a particularly striking effect; throughout each player sounded most impressive. One could understand how Capuçon has such a major career and impassioned following. And what a beautiful sound he has (he plays on a 1701 Matteo Goffriler cello “L’Ambassadeur.” Batiashvili plays a Guarneri “del Gesu” from 1739. As the concert progressed, her playing impressed more and more.
Applauding wildly, the audience got an inspired encore, the last movement of Dvořák’s “Dumky Trio” which allowed the three to let loose and have a great time. The clapping seemed as if it would go on until morning. Many thanks to the Celebrity Series of Boston for sponsoring this concert, and many really good ones coming up.
The artists are deeply involved with helping young musicians by starting their own foundations. In addition, Capuçon serves as an ambassador for the Orchestra `a l´Ecole Association which brings classical music to more than 42,000 school children across France. Georgian-born Batiashvilli’s foundation supports young Georgian musicians. In the case of Thibaudet, the Colburn School in Los Angeles, where he is Artist-in-Residence, raised money for Jean-Yves Thibaudet scholarships, for which he chooses the deserving musicians, regardless of their instrument choice. Three good friends, three inspiring musicians.