Lincoln Trio

The celebrated Chicago-based Lincoln Trio—made up of Desirée Ruhstrat, violin, David Cunliffe, cello and Marta Aznavoorian, piano—has been described by ‘The Strad’ as “sensational…bewitching.”

Formed in 2003, the Lincoln Trio takes its name from their home, the heartland of the United States, the land of Lincoln. The trio has been praised for its polished presentations of well-known chamber works and its ability to forge new paths with contemporary repertoire. The group’s reputation as a first-rate ensemble draws an eclectic audience of sophisticated music lovers, young admirers of contemporary programs and students discovering chamber music for the first time.

Bringing together performing experience spanning the globe, each member is an artist of international renown. Violinist Desirée Ruhstrat has performed throughout the US and Europe, appearing at the White House and performing on live radio broadcast heard around the world with the Berlin Radio Orchestra; cellist David Cunliffe has performed with the BBC and Royal Scottish orchestras as well as touring as a member of the Balanescu Quartet; pianist Marta Aznavoorian has appeared with the Chicago Symphony and has performed at the Kennedy Center and the Sydney Opera House.

The trio has performed throughout the United States, including appearances at Carnegie’s Weil Hall, Ravinia Festival, the Indianapolis Beethoven Chamber Music Series, Lane Concert Series, University of Chicago, Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert Series, Music in the Loft, Poisson Rouge, and in Springfield, Illinois, where the trio was chosen to celebrate the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial celebration with President Barack Obama.

Frequent guests of classical radio stations, in December of 2011 the Lincoln Trio was chosen to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of WFMT and present a LIVE world premiere broadcast from the Chicago Cultural Center. Other appearances include SiriusXM Radio New York, WQXR, WWFM and WTTW Arts Across Illinois.

Champions of new music, the Lincoln Trio has performed numerous compositions written especially for them, including premieres of seven works by members of the Chicago Composers Consortium, Ravinia commissioned works for the Lincoln Bicentennial, Mischa Zupko, and most recently an award winning work by young ASCAP winner Conrad Tao. This passion led the Lincoln Trio to their first full length recording, Notable Women released on the Cedille Label August 2011 which featured Grammy and Pulitzer prize winning composer Jennifer Higdon, Joan Tower, Lera Auerbach, Stacy Garrop, Augusta Read Thomas and Laura Schwendinger. The CD has received numerous accolades including NAXOS CD of the Month, Baker and Taylor CD Hotlist, Byzantion Recording of the month, TPR Classical Spotlighted album, WQXR/Q2 Music Album of the week, UK Observer Hidden Gems of 2011 and was listed on Alex Ross of the New Yorker Magazine “Nightafternight playlist for summer’s end.”

Staunch proponents of music education, the Lincoln Trio is an ensemble-in-residence at the acclaimed Music Institute of Chicago as well as having had residencies at San Francisco State University and in 2012 at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

Valuing the importance of cultural diversity in music, the trio are strong supporters and serve on the advisory board of the Sejong Cultural Society and the Chinese Fine Arts Society of Chicago.

Winners of the 2008 Master Players International Competition in Venice, Italy and recipients of the 2011 prestigious Young Performers Career Advancement Award, the 2011-12 season will see the trio performing throughout the US and travels to Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Germany and Colombia South America.

Lincoln Trio

Lincoln Trio

Lincoln Trio

R. CLARKE Piano Trio BABADJANIAN Piano Trio MARTIN Trio sur des mélodies populaires irlandaises • Lincoln Trio (Desirée Ruhstrat, vn; David Cunliffe, vc; Marta Aznovoorian, pn) • CEDILLE 90000 165 (64:15)

This is the third disc by the Chicago-based Lincoln Trio for Cedille Records. The idea for this disc is a nice one: one composer for each from each member of the group’s homeland. A truly internationalist endeavour, and so it is that there is one piece by an English composer (Clarke, no relation, reflecting David Cunliffe’s Plymouth origins), a Dutch composer (nodding to Ruhstrat) and an Armenian composer (Aznovoorian.)

Rebecca Clarke is possibly best known for her Viola Sonata, and it was indeed that work that prompted cellist Cunliffe to suggest this Trio. Premiered in 1922, the Trio is cast in three movements. The first, Moderato ma appassionato, is the longest and begins with a dissonant cry for all three instruments before Clarke’s innate lyricism surfaces. But even there there is an undercurrent of disquiet that permeates the music. The performance is sensitive to Clarke’s highly imaginative writing, particularly as regards textures. There are big emotions on display here, and they are amply conveyed here, whether by Aznovoorian’s deeply resonant piano sound or the long, impassioned lines of the two string players. Rihstrat’s upper register evinces a particularly attractive sweetness. Although the central Andante molto semplice, a kind of song without words, holds great lyricism, it is surely for its textural variety and, indeed, the sheer imagination of the scoring that it is most notable. The booklet notes describe the finale as “almost like a hoedown,” one that seems to nod at times to Ravel; yet even here there are significant shadows. Hats off to Aznovoorian’s sheer virtuosity, and to the power of her sound (losing not a jot of tone) at the higher dynamic markings. There are other, fine, performances available: the Storioni Trio on Ars, the Trio des Alpes on Dynamic and the Bekova sisters on Chandos. Tremendous to have another performance that does justice to Clarke; and, here, what bedfellows.

In Fanfare 37:6, I waxed lyrical about a disc of piano music by Arno Babadjanian on the Grand Piano label; that disc turned up on my Want list for 2014. Babadjanian’s Piano Trio in F sharp-Minor was written in 1952. The premiere featured the composer at the piano, but what a line up he was with: David Oistrakh on violin and Sergei Knushevitsky on cello. No pressure for the Lincoln Trio at all, then, just the full weight of history. The Largo introduction to the first movement sets out the major motivic material for the entire piece before an Allegro espressivo blossoms out with some mightily attractive writing. The booklet should perhaps include the faster marking in their track listings, as the way Cedille has written it, it looks like the entire first movement is marked Largo. But, getting back to the performance, what is really impressive is the way the Lincoln Trio moves from the English soundworld of Rebecca Clarke to the Armenian surface of Babadjanian. Ruhstrat’s violin sings beautifully for the long line that opens the Andante (over the simplest piano chordal accompaniment); this opening returns towards the end, muted. There is huge sensitivity to the interactions between violin and cello here, and the music rises naturally to a climax. The finale, an Allegro vivace in 5/8 meter is a remarkable, frenetic piece with little oases of tender string duets underpinned by lovely staccato figuration for piano. The Lincoln Trio’s performance is a remarkable achievement, and one hopes it will win many fiends for this composer.

Again, context is important: I for one, for example, would like to hear Babadjanian’s music in the context of Vasks (the coupling chosen by the Potch Trio on Delos 3420; the Vasks in question is the Episodi e canto perpetuo.) I should also mention that a performance with that line-up of composer, Oistrakh and Knushevitsky is available on Doremi on The David Oistrakh Collection, Volume 12 (7820, coupled with music by Smetana and Ravel).

The Frank Martin piece dates from 1925 and is an important early work, lovingly constructed from lesser-known Irish folk material and full of gorgeous textures. The first movement (of three) is an Allegro moderato, complex but full of vim; the central Adagio begins with a mournful solo cello melody; the piano writing Martin uses to decorate the line later is mesmeric, and beautifully delivered here (as is the solo cello.) No missing the Gigue element of the finale (the violin plays an Irish jig, but here it sounds even more Irish in the piano statement.) A terrific performance, too, full of life; this is the perfect way to close this simply remarkable disc.

A wonderful disc that might as well have “Want List” written all over it. —Colin Clarke


  • updated January 27 2017
  • alphabetical by composer
  • *denotes a work written for and premiered by the Lincoln Trio

Piano Trios

Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, Op.32 – Anton Arensky
Trio for Violin, Cello & Piano (1992/1996) – Lera Auerbach
RPM (2006) * – Lawrence Axelrod
Piano Trio in F Sharp Minor – Arno Babajanian
Piano Trio in C minor Op.1, No.3 – Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Trio in B flat Major, Op.11 – Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Trio in D Op.70, No.1 “Ghost” – Ludwig van Beethoven
“Triple Concerto” in C Major, Op.56 – Ludwig van Beethoven
Three Nocturnes – Ernest Bloch
Piano Trio in B Major, Op.8 – Johannes Brahms
Piano Trio in C Major, Op.87 – Johannes Brahms
Piano Trio, Op.8 – Frederic Chopin
Piano Trio (1921) – Rebecca Clarke
“From the Earth” * – James Crowley
“In Conversations” (2015) * – Juan Antonio Cuellar
“Better Angels of our Nature” * – Lawrence Dillon
Piano Trio in E minor, Op.90 “Dumky” – Antonin Dvorak
Conjecture (2006) * – Timothy Dwight Edwards
“Seven” for Piano Trio (1997-1998) – Stacey Garrop
“Silver Dagger” for violin, cello and piano * – Stacey Garrop
Andante con moto for Piano Trio in C minor – Edvard Grieg
Piano Trio in g Minor H.XV No.1 – Joseph Haydn
Piano Trio in G Major H.XV No.25 “Gipsy” – Joseph Haydn
Piano Trio (2003) – Jennifer Higdon
Phantasie Trio – John Ireland
Trio (1998) – Pierre Jalbert
Breaking the Silence – Hi Kyung Kim
Piano Trio in D Major, Op.1 – Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Trio Concertante (2006) * – Andre Marquetti
Piano Trio on Popular Irish Melodies – Frank Martin
Piano Trio in C minor – Felix Mendelssohn
Piano Trio in D minor – Felix Mendelssohn
Leave (leaf)/believe_3x4 (2006) * – Julia Miller
Piano Trio in C Major, K.548 – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Adagio for Violin, Cello and Piano – Arvo Part
The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires – Astor Piazzolla
Piano Trio in A minor – Maurice Ravel
Trio Elegiaque Op. 9 – Sergei Rachmaninoff
Spring Music – Ned Rorem
“Lincoln’s Two Americas” – Eric Sawyer
Cafe Music – Paul Schoenfield
Piano Trio in B Flat, D.898 – Franz Schubert
Ce la luna Questa Sera (2006) * – Laura Elise Schwendinger
Chicago Suite (2006) * – Tiffany Sevilla
Piano Trio Op.67 – Dmitri Shostakovich
Piano Trio in G minor Op.15 (1855) – Bedrich Smetana
Toward Dance (2006) * – Elizabeth Start
Piano Trio No.1 in A major o.op. AV 37 – Richard Strauss
Piano Trio No.2 in D major o.op. AV 53 – Richard Strauss
Trio (2010) * recepient of the Charlotte Bergen Award from the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award – Conrad Tao
Piano Trio in a minor Op.50 – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Piano Trio in D Major Op.35 – Joaquin Turina
Piano Trio No.2 in B minor, Op.76 – Joaquin Turina
Piano Trio in F Major – Joaquin Turina
Circulo, Op.91 – Joaquin Turina
“Moon Jig” * – Augusta Read Thomas