Peter I. Tchaikovsky / Victor Kissine – Piano Trios
Gidon Kremer violin
Giedré Dirvanauskaité violoncello
Khatia Buniatishvili piano
Recorded August 2010, Himmelfahrtskirche, Munich
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Russian-born composer Victor Kissine first eased into ECM when violinist Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica recorded Kissine’s orchestration of the Schubert G-major quartet for the label in 2003. The present disc of piano trios gives Kissine’s own music a welcome spotlight, placing his 2009 Zerkalo (The Mirror) in conversation with a masterwork of the medium: Tchaikovsky’s opus 50 a-minor Trio.
For this reference performance of Zerkalo, Kremer joins cellist Giedré Dirvanauskaité and pianist Khatia Buniatishvili, the very trio to whom the work is dedicated. From the beginning it’s clear that Kissine’s music doesn’t believe in beginnings. Rather, it raises one hand to the sky and another to the earth, leaving grooves of barest traction along the way and notating the resulting paths, yet always with the unwritten periphery in mind. Throughout the piece, Kissine riffs meticulously on the piano’s essence as a percussion instrument. Its echoing relationship to pizzicati provides as much rhythmic as melodic emphasis. It might seem a bold move to begin the album with this nominally modern piece were it not also so delicate in its infusions of place and time, creating of those philosophical staples an intimate and dialogic repose. Speaking to the latter is an astonishing variety of timbres, from the flute-like breath of Dirvanauskaité’s bow to Buniatishvili’s field of twigs and branches, and all of it kissed by Kremer’s wiring. Zerkalo speaks mostly at the level of a whisper and turns the magnification of its microscope higher with every pianistic reset. The music ends—again, not really an ending—in the manner of a palindrome, touched by an evening breeze that has licked brine and carried with it the dreams of freshwater afterlife.
Tchaikovsky’s Trio is headed with the words “To the memory of a great artist,” referring to pianist Nikolai Rubinstein, on whose first death anniversary the piece was premiered. In light of this, it’s no wonder that Tchaikovsky himself claimed it an elegiac piece. And yet, such a range of moods courses through its two gargantuan movements that choosing any single quality from among them would seem a sacrilege. We may read plenty of mourning into the cello writing especially, which like Peter Pan seems at times embroiled in a struggle to attach shadows to the pianism’s running feet. But then one notices Tchaikovsky’s feel for space, no better served then by engineer Peter Laenger, and which like the composer’s Souvenir de Florence turns harmonies and compulsions into imagistic storehouses.
The drama therein exists not only in the heft of its 20-minute first movement, but also in the sensitivity of its outpouring. Its most robust sections are also its tenderest, as in a beautiful passage just over halfway through in which violin and cello circle slowly around the piano’s lumbering chords. The Trio concludes with a theme and 11 variations. Enchanting passages abound, as in the fifth variation, for which the piano floats into higher registers against folkish backing from the strings. The churning reverie of the ninth variation and anchoring pizzicato cello of the eleventh are further highlights. All roads lead to the bracing Finale and a Coda that sends us off with a lullaby, that we might dream of the music’s continuance.
(To hear samples of Piano Trios, click here.)