Audiences are accustomed to stellar musicians and inspired music-making on the Shriver Hall Concert Series, so, in one sense, Sunday evening's event was business as usual. But, of course, it was a heck of a lot more.
The seasoned star for the occasion was Gidon Kremer, a violinist who possesses a firm technique, interpretive depth and an ever-inquisitive mind. Lately, he has also won extra admiration -- at least in some corners -- for speaking out against domestic and foreign policies of the current government in his native Russia.
Kremer was joined in Baltimore by a brilliant young pianist, Daniil Trifonov, a Tchaikovsky Competition gold medalist who seems guaranteed of a major future, and the excellent cellist Giedre Dirvanauskaite.
The three artists can be heard on a terrific, Grammy-nominated recording from ECM Records devoted to the music of Polish-born composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg, who spent the bulk of his life in Soviet Russia, where he died in 1996.
Weinberg is enjoying quite a renaissance lately. His 1968 Holocaust-theme opera "The Passenger" has received particular attention and acclaim in Europe and this country (productions were given recently in New York and Houston).
A piece Weinberg wrote the year before that opera, the Sonata No. 2 for solo violin, was included on the Shriver program. The score has a certain capricious streak, ranging through a variety of moods and technical effects. Kremer handled it all with aplomb. The gritty edge he gave to the first few movements gave way to a noble sweep in the penultimate "Invocation" and lots of spice in the jazzy finale.
Trifonov also got a solo item, Mozart's D minor Fantasia, placed at the start of the concert.
The pianist brought the hall to a genuine hush with his exquisitely subtle touch and poetic, unhurried phrasing of the opening measures. His remarkable refinement of articulation served him well for the remainder as he created an arresting mini-drama out of the work.
I hasten to add that the interpretation was totally out of step with today's prevailing tastes about Mozart performance practice -- one more reason why I loved it so much. (The playing in the 2012 video I included here is not quite as good as it was at Shriver, but close.)
Together, Kremer and Trifonov delivered an eventful account of Schubert's C major Fantasy, which they will also perform at Carnegie Hall on Friday. The rumbling piano introduction was superbly, hauntingly realized; the violin's first, long-held C emerged as if from some distant realm. The two artists continued to dig into the score's mix of lyricism and muscle.
Dirvanauskaite entered the picture after intermission for Rachmaninoff's sprawling, darkly beautiful Trio Elegiaque No. 2 in D minor, composed as a memorial to Tchaikovsky. I don't expect to encounter a more powerful and involving performance of this piece in a concert hall any time soon.
Rachmaninoff didn't quite play fair here, staking the deck in favor of the keyboard; the result often suggests a concerto for piano and two strings. But my guess is no one complained whenever Rachmaninoff played the piano part. No one could complain with Trifonov in that role, either.
He produced a rich array of tone colors to match his intense, seemingly spontaneous phrasing. This was stunning pianism. Kremer and Dirvanauskaite offered well-matched tone and expressive depth throughout. Together, the three communicated every pulse of the heart Rachmaninoff wore so boldly on his sleeve.