In the broad diversity of chamber music genres, the piano trio is particularly full of character, though perhaps sometimes implicitly considered less pure than its cousin the string quartet. The trio is a strange, asymmetrical animal, even lopsided, though not the less graceful, very colorful for its simplicity, with an a priori transparency thanks to the extreme contrasts between the instruments. With all the instruments so plainly audible all the time, their relationships are so much more ambiguous than soloist and accompaniment, the musicians' playing becomes very soloistic by necessity. There never seems to be a leader in a trio, they are individualistic, preferring a kind of mutually controlled anarchy. Each instrument sounds very much at home in its part; a compositional idea is either suited the grouping or it isn't, and when it is, it is unmistakable. The breadth of range — in pitch, timbre, and others — of this little group can be astonishing, while the texture is far from smooth. Excellent musicians can meet one another halfway and make very tight, solid sounds, but naturally there is a certain jazzy friction from the natural gaps in the texture, the gulfs between the characteristic sounds of the three instruments; it is no wonder the trio is so popular for making Jazz. Where the colors of a string quartet can be rich, deep, muted or vivid, the trio is pastel.
While a piano soloist has special control over their music, and complete polyphonic music at that, that is to say melody, harmony and range and all the parts or 'voices' where contrapuntal, and this endows the pianist also with solitude, there is a romance fundamental to piano music, the two hands creating a relationship and complementing each other, at the very least in register. Piano music for 'four hands' is then even more romantic, the chamber music-wise relationship of the two musicians, the complexity of the music and the ease with which it can slip into a thick intensity, a knife's edge from chaos, the twice infinity combinations of expression, unanalyzable on the fly and loss of a degree of control, leave even more to faith, and make this music an especially creative performing art form. This is partly why Mozart called the organ the 'king of instruments,' though a pair of pianos of course has fewer stops, it is capable of greater percussion and so a peculiar rhythmic sense which the organ can't express in the same way. On top of all this, Pascal and Ami Rogé chose some very difficult music for this concert, which showed off their technical ability, but more importantly gave them the material to produce a vivid operatic sound, singing duets in their fingers while playing the orchestra part as well.
This week's concerts at Davies Hall marked a welcome return to the podium of Semyon Bychkov, who has become a favorite with San Francisco audiences in recent seasons. Mr. Bychkov has entered the admirable ranks of unattached guest conductors who travel the world conducting only the music they love, and the happy results are palpable. This year, his passion is the Walton First Symphony, and our audience is all the richer for what his advocacy has found in the music.
For a good part of this reviewer's life, it would seem, the world has been waiting for a truly great International French symphony orchestra. At mid-century, a general feeling was that the Boston Symphony under Sergei Koussevitzky and Charles Munch carried the torch for French music, ably assisted by Paul Paray in Detroit, Pierre Monteux wherever he could be found, and, on disc, by L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva.