The English Piano Trio play at Leighton Buzzard Music Club

On the 20th of October LBMC presented the English Piano Trio. The Trio have been playing together for 23 years. All that experience means they are perfectly together, reading each other’s minds as easily as we could read their professionalism from the white tie and tails worn by Messrs Ravenscroft and Pearson and the elegant kingfisher-blue silk gown by Ms Faulkener.

Before the first piece – Robert Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63– Timothy Ravenscroft told us a little about its first performance. According to Clara Schumann’s journal those present comprised the great and good of Dresden, including both Wagner and Lizst. Wow.

Schumann’s Trio is true musical Romanticism, full of intensity and passion. The opening’s strong and urgent pulse was emphasised by the low register of the violin. The strings descended lower still into a complex, yearning figure, which quickly grew into a twisting search for that first theme again. Both the violin and ‘cello finally recaptured it. The second movement began with a galloping, syncopated scherzo. Now the piano seduced the strings. Their four-note cadence, rising and falling, became increasingly mournful until … back came the gleeful silent movie theme with which the movement began. The strings forgot their melancholy and chased the piano to a concluding flourish. In the following slow movement the piano led the violin gently through an autumnal world. The ‘cello joined them in delightfully sonorous passages. Now the tempo quickened like un bout de souffle, before languishing once more. As the final yearning note died away the trio plunged into the fiery fourth movement, in which the ‘cello played delightful figures, showcasing its rich tone. Therafter the piano and violin played call and echo until finally the original theme flew up once more out of a deep-voiced fugue. The three instruments chased each other from major to minor, fortissimo, back to the home key and a triumphant final coda.

The second piece was one that the Trio had commissioned from Cecilia McDowall and first performed in 2009. It is marvellous to know that composers are making new music to reflect the age we live in – and, of course, to get to hear it. Jane Faulkener introduced Colour of Blossoms.  It is based on a 13th century Japanese story concerning the emptiness of war. It began with an evocation of the great temple gongs, which are associated with peace in Japan. Like windchimes, the piano’s chords often failed to resolve, providing an ethereal quality. The middle section was more European in feel, jagged, then lyrical, then positively angry, before the strings returned us to soaring Japanese airs while the piano sounded that great temple gong of peace once more.

After the interval the Trio played Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’ Piano Trio, which gave the piano its head from the beginning with a broad, noble theme which the strings followed. The second movement began with the ‘cello playing what sounded for all the world like an English drinking song, then buzzing around the melody like a great bee. The following slow movement was lovely, hymn-like; once again introduced by the piano, soon flanked by the strings, rendering an unexpectedly upbeat tune. The final movement rollicked and scampered in between breaking waves of heroic melody.

For encore we enjoyed Oblivion by Louise Farrenc – a moody piece which had much in common with 1940s’ French movie music. It included a resonant motif from the ‘cello which took me straight back to the ‘black cattle, white horses’ films made about the Camargue in the Fifties which I loved as a child.

LBMC’s next concert is on the 10th of November and will be given by John Barker on saxophone and Tim Sidford on piano. The programme promises to run the gamut between Bach and Brubeck. Forget how many shopping days it will be to Christmas by then and get on down there!

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