LBMC review: Vienna Mozart Trio

Leighton Buzzard Music Club’s season finale – 14 April, 2012

The Vienna Mozart Trio provided a truly climactic evening for the end of the season. They’ve performed in major venues all over Europe, so to have them come to Leighton is a real coup – and this was their third visit!

The trio take Mozart as their starting point and, indeed, began with his Divertimento #3 in B Flat. This is an early trio, which uses the cello solely to double the left hand of the piano part. This may sound slightly dull but, on the contrary, it imparts an interesting and unusual timbre to the music. The three short movements were what I call typical Mozart: light and frothy. The Allegro was busy with notes. The piano flowed like a stately river through The Adagio, pursued by the yearning violin and cello. The final ‘Rondeaux’, in minuet tempo, produced unexpected and delightful harmonies and rhythms.

Moving forward in time, we heard next Schubert’s single movement Sonata in B Flat, which he wrote when he was 15. It’s full of little tricks with rhythm and volume, virile climaxes, lyrical passages, octave leaps – the work of a young man. And as trios had changed in form between the Mozart piece of 1776 and this in 1812, the cello now got its own melodies.

After youthful Schubert we heard a piece from his maturity; the Notturno written in the year before his death. It was immediately apparent this was a more mature and subtle work. It spoke, with a light Spanish accent, of a balmy night of love; it became proud and passionate; lips kissed dreamily, stirring a brief reprise of the earlier passion before a drift into slumber. Finally a bird heralded the new day, and the things of the night were left behind. A beautiful, tiny story in music.

*

The second half of the concert was a single piece: Shostakovich’s Piano Trio #2 in E minor, written in 1943. As one might expect from a Russian composer writing during World War II the theme of this piece is the horror and pity of war, as appropriate an anti-war statement now as it has ever been. It reminded me of the book The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway.

It began with an eerie melody played high in the cello’s range, jagged and full of fear. The violin took over control of the melody; its voice full of tears. The cello returned with a sorrowful melody through which the violin screamed – rhythmically, tunefully – but full of pain.

The second movement drew us into a hectic, relentless dance. The mood became briefly more positive. But now the strings played the most violent pizzicato I have ever heard. You could hear the shells whizzing by and suddenly – everything was still! Out of the silence magisterial piano chords of increasing dissonance beckoned us further into the nightmare. Over this the violin played a melody that could only be Russian. We heard the cello calling through the violin’s melody, speaking for the mothers calling to their children, lost to bombs and bullets. Stoicism flooded through the violin’s reply. Finally the two instruments combined to sing a single, anguished song.

The Allegretto-Adagio began as exuberant klezmer, quickly became constrained, the harmony increasingly tortured, until a wild dance leapt from the discords, the frenzy barely controlled by striding chords from the piano. The Jewish theme burst through again on the strings underlying, sinister, not-quite-harmony. The violin rose to such a painful place that the cello sought to bring it comfort. A brief, uncomfortable peace ensued as a relentless clock ticked in the violin part. Big Russian chords broke over us, the violin played a lament picked up by the cello; ominous notes sounded from the piano and finally the cello reprised its eerie, opening tune, which finally faded to nothing, leaving the audience rapt. Applause was generous and prolonged. There was no encore.

LBMC’s new season begins on 22 September, 2012. See you there!

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