Monday, 08 August 2022

Witness to the power of three

LAST Wednesday the renowned Nash Ensemble, represented by Ian Brown (Henley Symphony Orchestra’s musical director), Benjamin

LAST Wednesday the renowned Nash Ensemble, represented by Ian Brown (Henley Symphony Orchestra’s musical director), Benjamin Nabarro (violin) and Adrian Brendel (cello), arrived on stage at Reading’s Concert Hall for what promised to be a mouth-watering celebration of piano trios by Mozart, Schubert and Ravel.

Mozart is considered to be largely responsible for raising the amateur piano trio genre to a more sophisticated level and as a medium for three equal players.

His Trio in C Major, composed after the death of his fourth child, is surprisingly upbeat, although there are hints of sadness in the haunting slow movement, which was made special in this performance by Brendel’s silky cello tone and Brown’s matching delicacy of touch.

All three players were technically assured and intuitively at one in their balance, phrasing and interplay of questions and responses. The opening and closing allegros had energy, polish and perfectly judged tempi. Ian Brown was an unwavering driving force throughout.

Ravel was also in unusual circumstances when he completed his Piano Trio in A minor in 1914, following Germany’s declaration of war. It appears to have been written in an inspired rage while he was trying to enlist.

Basque themes permeate the outer movements, while a Malayan “pantoum”, a poetic verse form, underscores the second. The players took great care in the opening evocative Modéré, where the violin and cello played off each other brilliantly.

The lively, folksy Pantoum gave way to the theme and variations of the Passacaille, the third of which was captivating — a gorgeous violin/cello duet played with heartfelt intimacy.

The Final was a fast, feathery-light affair characterised by virtuosic piano playing and a manic coda. Ian Brown’s handling of the monumental piano part was heroic.

Schubert’s Piano Trio No1 in B flat major was composed in 1827, a year before his death. According to Robert Schumann it made “the troubles of our human existence disappear”. The opening Allegro moderato was beautifully co-ordinated, the lyrical themes tossed back and forth between the players with consummate ease.

The jewel in the evening’s crown, however, was the ravishing Andante un poco mosso, whose opening subject was exquisitely played by the cello and then taken over by the violin.

The two continued in total empathy as the movement developed into a predominantly violin/cello duet underpinned by Ian Brown’s sensitive accompaniment. The Scherzo: Allegro, structured as a minuet and trio, contained a particularly lovely central string duet, again beautifully executed.

The fourth boisterous movement, with the piano reclaiming a more central role, brought the work to a rousing conclusion to the evident delight of an appreciative audience.

Review: Trevor Howell

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