Divertimento Piano Trio
Sherwell United Church, Plymouth
If you were a football fan, it had already been a great day. Not only was it gloriously sunny again in the city, but over in Russia, England had just lined up a place in the World Cup Semi-Finals by sending Sweden packing.
Divertimento-organiser and cellist, Vicky Evans, might possibly have considered including a work by an English composer, and one from Sweden, to keep both factions appeased, but in the end plumped for a French starter, an extended Eastern appetiser, and a full-on German main-course.
Debussy’s Piano Trio in G is, in fact, a substantial four-movement creation, but written when the composer was just 18. As such it has often been described as juvenilia, and, had Vicky and trio played the work first, with no announcement or written programme, it would have been very unlikely that anyone present could have identified it, without knowing, its sweet, sentimental, and sugary quality verging on salon music, rather in the same way that his ‘Clair de lune’, arguably still one of Debussy’s most ‘popular’ piano works is so different from what we have come to expect as he developed as a composer, and embraced the broader tenets of Impressionism in a musical context.
That said, the Piano Trio is a most enjoyable work to listen to, and encompasses so many different styles in its 25 or so minutes. String players Vicky, and violinist Mary Eade, had the balance just right with the compact grand piano, and here pianist Margaret Lynn deserves a special word of praise for disguising the odd regulation and mechanical issue her South Korean instrument threw at her along the way.
Of course, it must also be said that the uncharacteristically high temperature at that time of the day also played a degree of havoc with the two string instruments’ tuning, but something again, which professional have to deal with – and deal with they certainly did.
One of the particularly enjoyable aspects of the evening was that each performer introduced each work with sufficient background information, while never overstating the obvious. It is so much better, in the more intimate world of chamber music, for the information to be disseminated thus, rather than expecting the audience to read a few paragraphs, often under less-than-perfect lighting conditions. And, as for those who compliment the excellence of the written programme-notes, and then go on to duplicate verbally everything that’s already been written, the least said the better.
The programme continued with Three Folk Songs from the Far East – an effective bit of programming, given that Debussy later became fascinated by music from the orient, and which made a telling contribution to his emerging style as a writer, following his exposure to it at the Paris Exhibition of 1889.
After Margaret’s brief exposé on Pentatonic Scales, and their differences in Chinese and Japanese Classical Music respectively, the trio opened with one of the best-known examples from Japan – an effective setting of the traditional melody, ‘Sakura’ (cherry blossom), which was full of delicate textures and images ‘Du Mu’ (2007) is the first piece in a setting of three Tibetan Tunes by Chinese composer, Chen Yi.
Here we were in a very different sound-world, given her strong advocacy of new music, and while it did necessitate some slight adjustment from listeners, not hitherto as familiar with either the contemporary scoring, and cultural differences, it formed a perfect link between ‘Sakura’ and the third piece, ‘Chinese Traditional Mongolian Dance’ – a rip-roaring confection of Chinese melody over an ‘Oom-pah’ vamping accompaniment from the piano – where Margaret was also able to demonstrate undiscovered skills, by combining a little work on the wood block with her already fairly-demanding piano part.
Given the evening’s warmth, the second half might have been given over to something reasonably undemanding, yet still highly entertaining – something to ensure everyone left in high spirits, irrespective of the outcome of the earlier football match.
Highly entertaining the final work undeniably was, Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’ Trio – arguably one of the best-known and highly-respected trios in the repertoire – could never be described as ‘undemanding’, far from it, in fact. Introducing the work, Vicky explained how she first heard the piece at home as a young girl, when her father frequent put the record on the turntable. Then she heard it again, after marrying fellow-cellist, Michael Evans, who for so many years was cellist with the acclaimed Dartington String Quartet, and Dartington Piano Trio – as well as playing with a host of leading national orchestras and ensembles. It was therefore very much on her ‘to do’ list, and this feeling indeed permeated the whole performance and certainly helped inspire her fellow-players to give of their very best throughout.
Particularly moving was the slow movement, marked to be played in a singing style, though without mere mawkish sentimentality, and here it seemed to strike an intensely personal note, especially for anyone who may well have had strong emotional ties with the piece, or the moment itself, perhaps because of times past, or losses endured.
Like the first half, this was the true embodiment of what chamber music is all about – not a grand concert on a big stage, but something decidedly intimate to share, and where the sense of pure enjoyment communicates to the listener from the first to last note.
It’s no secret that Plymouth is no longer well provided for, especially in terms of chamber music, so events like this where quality performances still make a tremendous difference, not only to the larger venues visited, but also to every village or hamlet included in each short, but so vital tour around the South West.
Just one small point, though. Considering the pieces played tonight, neither China nor Mongolia had teams representing them anyway in this year’s World Cup Finals, but Japan and Germany did, and they’ve both gone out. Only France remains, and, if they win their semi-final, and we win ours, then we shall meet them in the final. So, ought we therefore to consider Vicky’s choice of programme, made months back, as astutely prophetic – or just a hopeful coincidence?
Philip R Buttall
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