How's this for a fresh classical concert idea: stage a concert at the Memorial Art Gallery on a Sunday evening, when it is otherwise closed, and during intermission, offer tours of gallery exhibitions to the audience. Sounds good? It is, and it is being brought to you by the Society for Chamber Music in Rochester, most recently with a concert performed by the Argos Trio.
Candidly, I didn't even realize the format of the concert until I got there on Sunday, December 9. I put it on my "must-go" list simply because the word "Rachmaninoff" appeared in the concert billing. If you like classical music and you like art, this concert format gets a two-thumbs up.
The Argos Trio is a combination of violin, cello, and piano. Liana Koteva Kirvan, violin, is originally from Bulgaria, most recently having received her master's degree at the Eastman School of Music. She has been a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra since 2001. Her husband, Lars Kirvan, cello, is also a member of the RPO (since 2008), having earned his bachelor's degree at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Lars has performed with the New World Symphony Orchestra and was recently invited to join the World Orchestra for Peace. At piano is Chiao-Wen Cheng, from Taiwan, who is currently finishing her doctorate at ESM.
On the plus side of the concert, Liana demonstrated a genuine strength for the first of two pieces on the program, Beethoven's "Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello in c minor, Op. 1, No. 3." If anything, I would say that with the level of synchronicity within the Argos Trio, allowing the violin to give more direction on the shape of the work, especially the rhythm to match the dynamics, would benefit the piece. Liana performed on an Italian violin, built in 1798, which she explained in the pre-concert chat was currently on loan to her. The instrument added an elegance underneath her graceful hands and clean technique. One could well imagine her sitting at court in the day, back in 1793-1794 when this piece was composed, so true was her interpretation of the work.
Also on a positive note, Lars loves Rachmaninoff, a passion that came pouring forth from his cello from his opening notes in the "Trio élégiaque No. 2" in d-minor, Op. 9. In the pre-concert chat, he said his cello, built in 1886 based upon a Stradivarius pattern by a French maker, had a big sound. While I did not hear that in the Beethoven, it suddenly came forth in the Rachmaninoff. As with my remark on Liana taking some lead in the Beethoven, I would have liked to hear Lars taking the lead in the pacing and breathing of the Rachmaninoff. Indeed, "élégiaque," or, in English, "elegiac," means to have a mournful quality - a sound arguably defined by the tones of a beautiful cello. Particularly in passages where the violin and the cello engage in what could be described as a lovers' duet, Lars and Liana have an opportunity to merge their life experience with their music and could push the trio's performance to another dimension.
What held back the performance for me was a combination of three factors. The acoustics were very straight and short in the MAG auditorium, and caused the piano at times to overwhelm the violin and cello. The physical strength of the pianist created passages that more resembled a solo recital. And, the too-steady pace of the piano, which, it appeared, was the driver of the beat for the trio throughout the concert, even where the violin or the cello was on the verge of bringing forth greater romanticism through their phrasing.
The Society for Chamber Music in Rochester, now in its 36th season, has three more concerts this season: the Antara Winds (January 27 at MAG), a "Scandinavian Sampler" (March 17 at MAG), and "An Evening with the Yings" (April 28 at Hochstein). Find out more at www.ChamberMusicRochester.org.