In Vancouver, at least, Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov are probably best known for their Vancouver Recital Society performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s complete sonatas for violin and piano, in 2012. Reviewing the three-concert run in these pages, I called their take on the famously thorny “Kreutzer” sonata “one of the most intellectually astonishing performances I have ever heard”. So it’s reasonable, I suppose, that some might question whether Faust and Melnikov’s addition of cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras for their upcoming VRS show might destabilize the sublime chemistry they showed as a duo—but the wary have nothing to fear.
“We started playing as a trio shortly after we started playing as a duo,” Melnikov tells the Georgia Straight in a brief telephone conversation from Charlottesville, Virginia, where the three are meeting to rehearse before the start of a North American tour. “It’s been, like, 15 or 16 years now, so it has always been there—and they’d known each other long before either of them had met me. They’ve known each other since their teenage years.”
For a further assurance of sublimity, the three will also be tackling an all-Beethoven program when they come to the Vancouver Playhouse, playing the “Kakadu” Variations in G Major, the Piano Trio in E-flat Major, and the “Archduke” Trio in B-flat Major.
On the occasion of the great German innovator’s 250th anniversary, it’s not the only Beethoven they’ll perform during 2020. “Well, there are a lot of concerts,” Melnikov says modestly. “I don’t know what they’re doing, but I know that I’m playing with soloists in all the violin sonatas, cello sonatas, piano trios, all the piano concerti… Beethoven is all I’m playing this year, and with any other composer I would really get to be sick and overstuffed with it. But his music, it is really rather robust, so there are no problems. I’m getting a lot of pleasure from it.”
And while Queyras has in the past aimed to broaden his knowledge of Johann Sebastian Bach’s cello suites by commissioning six living composers to write variations on them, Melnikov contends that delving deeper into Beethoven’s music requires no such radical interventions.
“We’re just trying to look at the works, the scores, and trying to play them,” the pianist says. But even that simple act, he continues, is not without its discoveries. “Well, my revelations are going on all the time, but they are outside the scope of an interview,” he says with a chuckle. “But, normally, with classical music what constantly happens is that you look at the score and you say to yourself, ‘What an idiot I am! How could I not see this before?’ So that’s the kind of revelation that happens to me all the time with this music.
“For me, composers always make me feel like that,” he adds. “They make you think.” And with that, he’s off to join Faust and Queyras in thinking more about how to present the Beethoven trios so as to ensure further revelations for performers and audience alike.
The Vancouver Recital Society presents the Faust Queyras Melnikov Trio at the Vancouver Playhouse at 3 p.m. on Sunday (February 9).