Nicholas Yonge Society

International Chamber Music in Lewes

Astatine Piano Trio

26 January 2024
Haydn Piano Trio No. 45 in E flat, Hob. XV:29
Brahms Piano Trio No. 2 in C, Op. 87
Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67

I​​n welcoming the audience the Chairman Chris Darwin remarked that the Astatine Piano Trio was probably the youngest group ever to perform for the Society. However the number of awards and prizes that the Trio has won shows how far these young musicians have developed already. He also answered the question on many of the audience’s minds regarding the meaning of Astatine. I certainly could not think of any musician of that name! Astatine is the rarest element occurring naturally in the earth’s crust but it is so radioactive that it decays within eight hours into another element. It is estimated that only a gram of it exists anywhere in the earth’s crust at any one time. Because of its instability the element was named Astatine from the Greek astatos meaning unstable.

The moment the Trio began playing the Haydn Piano Trio in Eb, one of his last, it was clear that we were in for an evening of tight rhythmic control and very sensitive listening. Hardly unstable!. The balance between the players was very well controlled and caught the subtle humour that is always so delightful in Haydn’s music. For me the playing really came alive in the final movement Allegro. I particularly enjoyed the heart-felt playing of the youngest member of the Trio, Riya Hamie. Each member of the Trio introduced an item in the programme starting with Riya Hamie, always a good way of creating rapport with the audience, though audibility of what is being described is important.

In the Brahms Piano Trio No 2 in C we again enjoyed the rhythmic drive, often led by the crystal clear piano playing of Berniya Hamie. The creative conversation between the violin playing of Jelena Horvat and Riya Hamie on cello was particularly noteworthy. They both coped brilliantly too with the challenge of so much unison playing in the second movement. This was quite a restrained and careful performance overall and I would have liked to have heard more in the climaxes.

It was in the only work of the second half of the programme, Shostakovich’s Piano Trio no 2 in E minor that the Trio came into their own. Written in 1944 in the depthsof World War Two there is a melancholy and an eeriness which the Trio captured brilliantly. The opening harmonics were suitably spine chilling and dramatic. The Trio played with a bigger sound and longer bow strokes which gave us a brighter sound and stronger contrasts. Even the piano sounded brighter.

The final movement with its fabulous pizzicato conversation between violin and cello was full of drama and precision. The weird dance became ever more intense so that when it ended the audience held its breath and you could have heard a pin drop. It was the highlight of the evening and a hugely appropriate piece to be performing on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Review​er: Nicolas Chisholm

Photograp​her: David James