The Leonore Piano Trio, named presumably after Beethoven’s Leonore overture, consists of Tim Horton (piano), Benjamin Nabarro (violin) and Gemma Rosefield (cello): all three are internationally acclaimed performers in their own right who have been playing together since 2012. They have played to packed audiences around the world, so to have them in Oxford in the delightful Holywell Music Room was a special honour. They treated us to Mozart’s Piano Trio in G K496 and Schubert’s Piano Trio in B flat, D898.
Mozart wrote his piano trio in 1786, five years before he died: it was probably not written with a specific performer in mind as there is no dedication. Up to this time, piano trios were seen as vehicles for the piano, with the other instruments providing accompaniment. Indeed, this is how this piece starts, with a wonderful light and lyrical introduction by the piano before the violin and cello join in, echoing the piano. However, soon the two string instruments have the opportunity to introduce their own phrases of music, with the echo coming from the piano. In the second movement, the cello comes into its own, often partnered more by the violin, with the piano providing accompaniment. The last movement is a set of five variations, almost a concerto in its own right. The three instruments pick up themes from the first two movements, some more recognisable than others, and expand them, rising to a crescendo at the end of the piece.
Schubert composed two piano trios in the last year of his life, 1827, after a break of fifteen years away from composing for this ensemble. Whether or not he was inspired by the mountains as his biographer suggests, this piece, for the most part, has an extrovert feel to it, starting on a strong positive note before a more lyrical phrase takes over. In the forty or so years between the composition of these two pieces, the equality of the three instruments has become much more marked. The cello leads this lyrical phrase, with the piano echoing it; later it is the violin leading with the cello echoing. Again, in the second movement, the cello sings to the audience before the violin joins in, the piano as accompanying instrument, the movement ending on an exquisite single note. The last two movements have a dance-like quality about them. The piece seems to be happy and upbeat although Schubert, by this time, was already a sick man.
The Leonore Piano Trio are consummate entertainers and performers; working seamlessly together with passion and flair. To watch Tim Horton’s fingers fly over the piano, to experience the musicality of Benjamin Nabarro and Gemma Rosefield, was indeed a pleasure and a delight.If you haven’t yet experienced an Oxford Coffee Concert, I would urge you to go. The performers and music vary enormously (next week the Heath String Quartet, the week after the great Viv McLean on piano) and the acoustics of the Holywell Music Room are wonderful. You will need to buy tickets in advance – they are always sold out by Sunday morning – but your ticket also entitles you to a free cup of coffee. Can’t say better than that.