For a measure of the lingering effects of the pandemic, look no further than the concluding performance of Chamber Music Weekend at this year’s Prague Spring Festival. The trio of Daniel Müller-Schott (cello), Emmanuel Tjeknavorian (violin) and Anna Vinnitskaya (piano) played a program of Debussy, Brahms and Tchaikovsky that was smart, dramatic and more than a little rough around the edges. That’s what happens when you don’t get many opportunities to play together.

Emmanuel Tjeknavorian, Anna Vinnitskaya and Daniel Müller-Schott
© Petra Hajská

The trio was launched in 2019 at a gala concert in Berlin, where Müller-Schott and Tjeknavorian partnered on Brahms’ Double Concerto in A minor. Vinnitskaya was also on the bill, and the two men liked what they heard so much that they asked if she would be interested in forming a trio. But the new ensemble managed only two performances before the pandemic shut down live music. They have reunited for a five-concert tour this month, enthusiastic but still shy of the time it takes to forge a cohesive sound.

That was clear from the opening movement of Debussy’s early Piano Trio in G major, which established three separate voices. Vinnitskaya showed a soft touch, ideal for creating a light, colorful background. Tjeknavorian played with a sweet sound, though not much authority. Müller-Schott was the anchor, precise and tightly focused. It wasn’t until late in the piece that their voices came together, lending the music some depth and character. Aside from a lustrous piano and cello duet that opened the third movement, the effect up until then was like listening to individual tracks on a recording, overlapping but never meshing.

The trio turned up both the volume and intensity for Brahms’ Piano Trio no. 3 in C minor, which offered better opportunities for both interplay and expression. After an aggressive opening, the second movement slowed to more deliberate pacing, giving Tjeknavorian and Müller-Schott space to craft a skillful dialogue. They were less successful with the nuances in the third movement, which were acknowledged but not always fully realized. Overall, the emotional tone of the piece was uneven: starting out cool, growing overheated, then roaring back in a high-volume finish that lost some definition and felt obvious.

Vinnitskaya stepped to the fore in Tchaikovsky’s sole Piano Trio in A minor, showing the sensitivity and fluency that won the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2007. She displayed a natural affinity for the Russian repertoire, flowing through the melodies and sparkling in the solos. The music finally had a pulse and the dynamics were more balanced, with the notable exception of the violin, where the lower register completely disappeared at times. Tjeknavorian is an accomplished musician who plays a Stradivarius, so it was a puzzling technical glitch. With some sterling support from Müller-Schott, Vinnitskaya basically carried the piece to a flashy finish in which all three players blossomed. If they were still not speaking with a single voice, they were at least running hand-in-hand.

It may have been unfair to expect more – not just because of the limited playing time, but because Müller-Schott, Tjeknavorian and Vinnitskaya are by nature soloists, not chamber musicians. While the former does not preclude or diminish the latter, this performance offered a reminder that soloing with an orchestra is a different discipline than playing in a chamber ensemble. Granted, players of this caliber are worth seeing in any setting. But for a polished chamber performance with something original to say, they still have some work to do.

***11