A penchant for pianissimo

PCMS presents the Horszowski Trio with Roberto Díaz

2 minute read
L to R: Horszowski Trio members Jesse Mills, Rieko Aizawa, and Raman Ramakrishnan. (Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.)
L to R: Horszowski Trio members Jesse Mills, Rieko Aizawa, and Raman Ramakrishnan. (Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.)

The name Horszowski is not as famous as Horowitz or Rubenstein, but among piano students, he is a giant (although he was less than five feet tall). Mieczysław Horszowski’s musicality and control of soft dynamics were legendary. His students learned to value touch and legato above all, and his last student, Reiko Aizawa, pianist of the Horszowski Trio — presented this week by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society — clearly carries on the tradition.

In sync

In Schumann’s Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 63, violinist Jesse Mills and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan managed pianissimo playing near the bridge, a surprising effect Schumann specified in the score. Aizawa played ringing chords in triplets at a whisper, playing even softer than the strings.

This Schumann is a monster of a piece that he wrote for his pianist wife to play with principals from the Dresden Orchestra. Throughout the trio, Schumann switched themes deftly from player to player, which this trio played as naturally as if they were improvising.

All three members of the trio are active teachers as well as performers, so in-depth analysis of music is in their daily routine. Yet, to communicate the way they do — exchanging melodic lines with ease and poise, taking the fore with a slight crescendo while the other two partners play distinctly but magically softly — gives depth to their performance.

World premiere

Daron Hagen’s world premiere Piano Trio No. 6 was a surprise. A formidable technical challenge, the piece has surprising bursts of traditional melodic passages following percussive slams of Aizawa’s full arms on the keyboard. She also holds down the hammers of the strings and plays keys in the upper register to produce a harpsichord sound.

One of the movements, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” contains a repeated dirge on the piano, around which Mills plays beautifully controlled high notes above the supporting cello part. The theme of the Internationale comes through with Ivesian brashness in “No doubt they’ll sing in tune after the revolution.” Hagen’s piece ended with a whirling jolly jig, “Pennywhistle Jiggeannai.”

Roberto Díaz joined the trio on viola for Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartet in C Minor and blended in beautifully. There were many viola solos, which melted into the violin and cello lines. Aizawa managed to make the notes of the Fauré sound light and simple, bringing out familiar themes with ease and keeping the piano from hiding the strings, even when she played loudly.

The Horszowski Trio is a highly skilled musical ensemble. But it’s their ability to communicate the deeper message of their music that makes listening to their performances so moving.

What, When, Where

The Horszowski Trio, with guest artist Roberto Díaz, viola. Piano Trio in D Minor, Opus 63, by Robert Schumann; Piano Trio No. 6, by Daron Hagen; Piano Quartet in C Minor, Opus 15, by Gabriel Fauré. Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. November 28, 2018, at the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater, 300 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 569-8080 or

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