Cellist Mischa Maisky, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Istanbul Music Festival, said in a recent interview for Bachtrack that performing with his children is “a dream come true … To make music with your children is something I cannot even describe”. Having conveniently raised the constituent parts of a piano trio, he now regularly performs with his daughter Lily (piano) and his son Sascha (violin). This trio, plus viola player Maxim Rysanov, performed at Istanbul’s lovely little art-deco Süreyya Opera House, in a programme that swept across the human experience, from youthful melancholy to earth-shattering grief and a return to life.

Sasha, Lily and Mischa Maisky with Maxim Rysanov © Ali Guler
Sasha, Lily and Mischa Maisky with Maxim Rysanov
© Ali Guler

The single movement of Mahler’s Piano Quartet in A minor is his only surviving non-vocal chamber work, and was written in his late teens. Lily Maisky opened with a tender, gentle piano, and although in this piece she was often overwhelmed by the other players, the quiet presence of the piano was always there to sooth the passions being cooked up by the strings. Sascha Maisky and Maxim Rysanov sang gloriously together, turning up the emotional volume relentlessly, with release coming from the rich depth of Mischa Maisky’s cello. The passion here though was the short-lived frenzy of youth, ending with a final statement of the theme that projected a studied world-weariness, before dying away.

From Mahler’s teenage passions, we moved to the serious grief of those whose suffering has been long and deeply-ingrained. Shostakovich wrote his Piano Trio no. 2 in E minor in Leningrad, in 1944, surrounded by the devastation of the recent siege, and he dedicated it to the memory of his close friend Ivan Sollertinsky who had recently died. The muted harmonics of Mischa’s opening solo were an ethereal whisper, against which Sascha was sweetly plaintive. Lily’s piano began by attempting to lighten the bleak mood, but the sinister taps of the strings above kept away any suggestion of relief and she plunged headlong into the furious march. The second movement began with a pretence of elegance, with neat, polite articulation from all three, but the it quickly became clear that this was nothing but an ironic mockery of a classical grace that had long since vanished from the world, and the final two movements made it clear that there could be no return. Lily’s dark, slow chords at the beginning of the third movement tolled out like funeral bells, before Sascha and Mischa began a desolate and intimate lament, beyond any consolation, both of them drawing out the darkest depths of their instruments.

Sasha, Mischa and Lily Maisky © Ali Guler
Sasha, Mischa and Lily Maisky
© Ali Guler

The trio ends with a gruesome dance of death, the music infused with the wild sounds of Jewish klezmer. A carefully calibrated crescendo led into an unforgiving outpouring; the Maisky trio holding nothing back, pushing everything to the limits of what the human spirit can endure, with the brief moments of release turning into false hope as mocking glissandos set things off again. Finally the terror of this movement burnt itself out in clean silvery strings over a suggestion of a chorale in the piano, disappearing into the final dying pizzicato gasps. As so often with Shostakovich, it felt a bit wrong to clap, but this bravura performance certainly deserved it.

Refreshment came after the interval with a sunny performance of Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E flat major that sparkled with vitality. The quartet was written during what became known as Schumann’s “chamber music year”, 1842 along with the better known quintet and three string quartets. After a serene opening, the main theme of the first movement moved along briskly, in a joyful song. The three string players produced a luxurious blend here, with sensitive accompaniment and hints of playfulness from the piano. A brief stumble caused by a page-turning accident during this movement barely interrupted the flow, and was a lesson to us all in professional cool-headedness. The second movement sprang into life, with energetic precision that was both exciting and delicate as it surged forwards, the players casually tossing the music around between them. The third movement showed off Mischa’s romanticism, with a rich singing vibrato, that was echoed by Rysanov’s heartfelt viola solo. The gorgeous violin and viola duet was subtly underpinned by a deep, quiet B flat produced by tuning the lowest string of the cello down a tone. (How and when Maisky did this, I failed to notice – either he was extremely discreet, or he played the whole work with the cello re-tuned).

The quartet took the Vivace marking of Schumann’s final movement at face value, giving us thrilling, life-affirming music that simply was a joy to listen to. As an encore, we were treated to more sumptuous romanticism with the Andante from Brahms’ Third Piano Quartet.

****1