On a sunny early July Sunday on Holywell St, the coffee concert programme was an all-Schubert piano trio one, spearheaded by his 'Notturno' Adagio in E flat from 1827, a bare year before his death at age 31. Today a stand-alone piece, it is believed to have originally served as the slow movement in the B flat piano trio before being replaced by the composer for reasons unknown. The piece describes a full circle, the opening bars recurring as the closing ones. They were taken dead-slow by our trio at 'largo' pace – an unusual tempo for the opener in music of this type and era. Then a yearning melody took over at a swaying, barcarolle-like rhythm, followed by emphatic, almost didactic chords from Martyn Jackson's crisp violin and Laura van der Heijden's cello, accompanied by rippling, right-hand piano scales from Petr Limonov that gradually grew in intensity; very recognisably related to those in the 'Trout' Quintet. Both works were composed on summer holidays in rural Austria, though in different regions of the country. The three instruments blended seamlessly; I would never have known this is not an established trio, but one more or less formed for these coffee concerts, I think at the behest of organiser Chris Windass.
The main work of the concert was Schubert's Piano Trio in B flat major, D898, a work of predominantly light-hearted tone rather than of the complex moods of the composer's last period works, with light and shadow, major and minor often alternating rapidly, agitation being quickly followed by calmness. This chiaroscuro is very largely absent, however, in this Trio, the mood being bright and carefree. Major keys play major roles in each of its movements, especially in the finale with its Mozartian gaiety and unsullied high spirits, though the decoration of the main themes in the two outer movements is pretty elaborate and at some length; a contrast with the conciseness of Mozart, and I always think this is one of the principal difference between the two composers in respect of their chamber music works.
In his trios Schubert, as here, was generous in apportioning the roles evenly between the instrument. Mr Limonov's piano had no dominant role, and I enjoyed the merry camaraderie in the interplay among the three, though in the passage towards the end of the opening 'allegro moderato' where the emotional intensity is suddenly heightened, it was the piano which led the way into something briefly more profound. The 'andante' is a Berceuse, a lullaby with a rocking feel to it, and Ms van der Heijden's cello came to fore, setting out the melody as Mr Jackson's violin backed her up as a murmur. She is a past winner of the intense BBC Young Musician competition (in her year there were 453 entries). In the 'scherzo', Mr Limonov tossed out a zesty, stammering theme, all but daring the violin and cello to take up the idea and run away with it. In the more serene, elegant middle section, they slowed down. But Schubert’s saucy opening tune soon emerged again and they were off and running, fastidiousness trumped by boisterous high spirits.
The finale, a quick rondo, was taken at a jog-trot embroidered by trills from Mr Limonov's right hand. There followed a gorgeous Schubertian Serenade as a little encore, which was received as warmly by the audience as had been the main body of the concert.