23rd March 2018
|Schubert||Trio in Eb major Op.100|
|Brahms||Trio No. 2 Op. 87|
Can chamber music ever be too intimate? That was the question posed by the performance of the Amatis Piano Trio in works by Schubert, Britten and Brahms. The international ensemble, consisting of a German violinist, an English cellist and a Chinese-Dutch pianist were in Lewes on 23 March, in the middle of a busy schedule which has seen them criss-crossing Europe between Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and England in the three months since Christmas. The programme began with Schubert’s last piano trio, described by cellist Sam Shepherd in his useful introduction as ‘epic’. In all of its 50 minutes, the momentum never once flagged, as Schubert unfolded his vast construction through time and space. Was it in reaction to the compressed, thunderous pronouncements of late Beethoven that Schubert marked so much of the score to be played pianissimo? The ensemble certainly took this to heart; it produced some filigree passages of extreme delicacy in the upper registers of the piano, played throughout with impeccable sensitivity by Mengjie Han. To the strings, however, this direction seemed more of a constraint than an encouragement; violinist Lea Hausmann was not only at times inaudible (from my seat in the gallery), but seemed unwilling to give Schubert’s phrases the trajectory to reach out into the corners of the hall. After the symphonic argument of the first movement, Schubert the song composer is revealed in the slow movement, and this time it was Shepherd whose playing lacked not only projection, but empathy with the weary and ailing composer whose melody is both an expression of his physical frailty and a heroic attempt to overcome it. The trudge of the repeated quavers evokes the opening of Winterreise and the exquisite Der Wanderer an dem Mond, but it is impossible not to sense the germ of the funeral march that would be fully realised by the technicolour imagination of Mahler.
There was a palpable atmosphere of excited anticipation in the hall after the interval, as we took our seats to hear the Introduction and Allegro for piano trio, a student work by the 19-year-old Benjamin Britten. For most of its 15 minutes, the experience was rather like peering at an old school photo, scanning the ranks for the face of the man you knew so well in later life. And then, in the last of the episodes of the cyclical slow-fast structure, he stepped forward quite unmistakeably, as the strings in unison drove a strong, expansive melody through the entire range of the instruments, while the piano commented with terse, gruff interjections; it had all the heart-rending tension of the battle between earth and heaven of the War Requiem (which happens to be in this reviewer’s head at the moment).
After this, the C major trio of Brahms went down like a great slice of Viennese cake: sweet, creamy and more than a little bit naughty. At last, one felt, the players could indulge themselves, and that meant that everyone was put in a good mood.
Reviewer: Timothy Wilcox
Photographer: David James