A Triple Portrait: The new CD from the Marsyas Trio presents chamber music by Elena Firsova. The Trio is made up of flute (Helen Vidovich), cello (Valerie Welbanks) and piano (Fei Ren), and they are joined on the recording by a violin, viola and two voices. So there is an eclectic mix of sound colours here, but Firsova’s style is focussed and distinctive, bringing unity to the programme. Firsova and the Trio have been working together for several years, and the work that gives the disc its title was commissioned by the ensemble in 2011. It has certainly been a fruitful partnership, with the young players making a real commitment to Firsova’s lyrical but often challenging music.
As a launch event, the Trio gave a recital on 6 May. This turned out to be just a few weeks after Firsova’s 65th birthday, to which the event was also dedicated. It took place at the Marylebone home of Bob and Elizabeth Boas, a fabulous Georgian townhouse which regularly hosts performances by up-and-coming performers. I was invited to give a presentation at the start of the event, a short conversation with the composer. Here we are:
Four of Firsova’s works were included in the concert. Night Songs, op. 125, is a sombre setting of Osip Mandelstam, a poet whose work permeates Firsova’s music. Lost Vision, op. 137, is a volatile piano piece, its composition triggered by a misdiagnosis suggesting that Firsova was about to lose her sight. Meditation in the Japanese Garden, op. 54, dates back to Firsova’s first months in the UK, when the family was based at Dartington, a time of great tranquillity it would seem. And to conclude, Tender is the Sorrow, op. 130, a reflective piece for a larger ensemble, with violin and viola, dedicated to the memory of Firsova’s aunt, but just as significantly, dating from 2010, at the start of the Trio’s collaboration with the composer.
Left to right: Valerie Welbanks, Patrick Dawkins, Elena Firsova, Helen Vidovich, Fei Ren, Morgan Goff
As a bonus, we were also treated to an exhibition of artwork by Firsova’s son, Philip Firsov. He was commissioned by the ensemble to create a piece for the cover of the CD and, given the group’s name, he came up with something suitably gruesome. His work is vivid, but finely nuanced in colour and texture. There is a strong Russian dimension too, I was reminded of Oscar Rabin, though Firsov was only a young child when the family moved to the UK. Check out his excellent website here.
An excellent evening all round, and the ideal way to launch the Marsyas Trio’s debut recording. (It's on the Meridian label: CDE 84635). Review to follow – watch this space.