A chilly, damp November morning in Holywell St, but hot coffee in with the ticket price was served beforehand in the cosy King's Arms next door, so a numerous audience flooded in under the avuncular, ebullient tutelage of Andy Blakeman at the ticket desk, primed for their Beethoven and Brahms. Two giants of the chamber music repertoire, of course, and here represented by scintillating works from the former's very early period and the latter's middle years, played by the Leonore Piano Trio.
The Beethoven Piano Trio in C minor was first, with the opening movement marked as allegro con brio. This is forceful, abrasive even, but to my ear the ensemble reserved their full vigour only for the most exciting moments, the extra contrast amplifying the sense of drama. This approach of wishing to emphasize variation in tempo within a movement was also demonstrated in the way the trio seemed almost to toy with the audience's anticipation and surprise – for instance in the 2nd movement with its row of variations, once fading away almost to nothingness before sudden bursts of playful energy. The latter were embellished by pianist Tim Horton's way of flamboyantly throwing his redundant left hand high above the keyboard at moments of tension.
In the 3rd movement, I thought our trio brought out the underlying minuet (menuetto) of the notation, even though Beethoven all but overwhelms it by his thrusting vigour - let's say more Ceroc than Sense and Sensibility.
In Brahms' Piano Trio in C, the Leonore playing captured the ardent glow of Brahms' melodic invention, their phrasing and projection of rhythm so committed. It was notable how often violin and cello combined, fully counterbalancing the piano part, and in the andante they dovetailed perfectly as the variations flowed by. Here the theme sounded to me a bit like the sort of thing you might encounter played by a folksy band at your table in a Budapest cafe-concert. In the third variation, bold questions in the strings were answered by Tim Horton's piano.
He was called upon again in the succeeding scherzo where the predominant dynamic is pianissimo, demanding lots of delicacy and control from all three players, particularly the pianist. In the finale quick fingers were required for the repeated staccato notes from the piano in the first theme. The exuberance of the movement formed a brilliant conclusion to this example of Brahms in his prime.
As the audience trickled out at the end for lunch or travel home, the players, doubtless temporarily jaded from their expenditure of emotional energy, in the green room were picking at the last of Diana Bonakis' chocolate biscuits before making a swift exit, the peripatetic life of the freelance musician pressing them on to their next public concert later in the day in North Oxfordshire.