Divertimento Piano Trio
Sherwell United Church, Plymouth
In its original sense, chamber music referred to music composed for the home, as opposed to that written for the theatre, church, or larger concert hall. There is little that can be more intimate, and it says at least as much about how each player relates to the others, as to the relative expertise of each performer, and indeed the music itself.
From the very first note it became abundantly clear that the Divertimento Piano Trio – violinist, Mary Eade, cellist, Vicky Evans, and pianist, Margaret Lynn – were more than equal to the task that lay in front of them, even if the closing piece, Schubert’s E flat Piano Trio, is certainly most demanding, and lasts almost fifty minutes.
Clara Schumann’s Piano Trio in G minor is an attractive work which, if it doesn’t quite plumb great depths, is very entertaining to listen to, and especially rewarding, and well-written for the performers. Nowhere was this more noticeable than in the slow, third movement – essentially simple in concept, but really moving in the hands of these three players who clearly have a friendship-bond which extends far beyond the mere notes on the score.
One of the particularly pleasurable aspects of a Divertimento Piano Trio recital is the easy, informal, yet eminently informative way in which each performer is prepared to talk briefly about each piece on the programme.
This is so much better than expecting the audience to have to read through screeds of technical notes about a fugal section here or a recapitulation there and often in subdued lighting, when the historical perspective and life of the composer is essentially of greater significance, and nowhere more than when, perhaps, the listener is hearing a work for the very first time.
This immediately engages the audience, irrespective of their personal level of musical knowledge. Chamber Music shouldn’t be some special club which requires a specific test or kind of musical initiation to become a member. Quite the opposite, in fact, and it’s great to see more ensembles now incorporating some form of audience-performance interaction on the night, or in an open-rehearsal situation beforehand.
Quaver’s length too clever
Clara Schumann’s Trio was followed by her husband, Robert’s, first attempts at writing a piano trio of his own – the four Fantasiestücke, Op 88. The first two pieces – Romanza, and Humoreske respectively – rather see the composer looking backwards towards Haydn, in terms of texture and not, of course, writing style, and where the piano dominates and the cello moves largely in parallel with the piano’s bass-line – something which Schumann even drew attention to by mentioning that these Fantasiestücke, taken as a whole, should appear more ‘intimate’ and are clearly designed more for domestic performances by talented amateurs, when compared with his other works for piano and strings. Perhaps this even accounts for the really bizarre, syncopated ending of the Finale, where Schumann sets the piano off on a quite rapid hymn-like theme in chords, which the strings take up immediately after – but a mere quaver behind the keyboard. I would suspect that this passage has often been over-dubbed in studio performance, as the chances of it going adrift are high. It was almost as if Schumann knew this, and expected a hiatus at this point, which, in fact, did happen when the Divertimento players got to the same point. Being virtually impossible to correct on the hoof, Mary Eade took the initiative, briefly stopped proceedings, and explained what had happened, and then – without further ado – the trio played out the remaining few bars with great aplomb, as if nothing had happened. As Mary pointed out, and one would tend to agree, Schumann’s obsession with the kind of rhythmic anomaly here – something he occasionally incorporates in to his solo piano works – doesn’t really always come off in performance, almost a case of Schumann trying to be too clever – just by a quaver’s length. The fact that he then tacks on a normal short tail-piece, which brings the work to an ostentatious conclusion, almost suggests he knew the rhythmic glitch could so easily happen in a live performance, and, frankly, in a strange way, the little event even added to the effect.
Clara Schumann’s life and music
In planning the recital around Clara Schumann’s life and music, at first sight it might have appeared strange to end it with one of the acknowledged great piano trios in the repertoire, but, as Margaret Lynn said, when introducing Schubert’s Second Piano Trio in E flat, Clara Schumann was also a highly-accomplished concert-pianist in her own right, and would have performed it at some time in her career.
Of course, it was most appropriate that Margaret took the responsibility of introducing this particular trio, given the extremely challenging and taxing piano part, and where her small frame is not blessed with over-long fingers, or span to match. Furthermore, it was an even greater credit to Margaret, who produced such a stupendous performance on an instrument which, while basically fit for purpose, could definitely benefit from some regulation to even out the irregularities of touch, something which makes rapid scale passages somewhat harder to control, of which Schubert’s second trio probably has enough to supply the first one as well.
Ending on a high
The four-movement work has got many typical sunny moments along the way, but the art of achieving a truly convincing performance is to realise that this was, in fact, among the few of his late compositions that Schubert actually heard performed before his death. Like some other of his last works, the composer is able to conceal his sense of impending doom, here within the otherwise happy tonality of E flat major, with just a few moments where he lowers his guard. The slow movement in the minor key is a dream-melody for the cello to sing out, clearly an outpouring of Schubert’s sorrow, and made the more so by its even-more-poignant reprise in the otherwise cheerful and bouncy Finale. On both occasions Vicky’s rich, singing tone proved the ideal vehicle for Schubert’s melody. Of course, unbridled jollity takes over just at the end, both to ensure that this lengthy opus ends on a high, and that the performers are well rewarded by the spontaneous applause which will most surely follow.
Bryan Foster Charitable Trust
Vicky acknowledged the financial support of the Bryan Foster Charitable Trust, and I am confident that all who had ever met Bryan would have known just how much he would have enjoyed this programme. As such the support also allows the Divertimento Piano Trio to bring chamber music to much smaller venues in the South Hams, and further afield, which does so much to fill what would otherwise be an unwelcome void.
On a purely personal note, this recital had been one of the most enjoyable I have been to of late: lovely tunes, great playing, a friendly and informal ‘chamber-music’ ambiance, and a sympathetic acoustic.
What’s more to ask for, you might say – apart, perhaps, for air-conditioning? But then there’s often the fan noise, or the temperature might end up too cold, with a detrimental effect on both audience and tuning.
Philip R Buttall
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