Gaspar Cassado was a Catalan composer, a contemporary of Maurice Ravel who, though of course French, was a native of the Basque Country, what might be termed Catalunya's regional counterpart at the other end of the Pyrenees. He was known during his lifetime principally as a cellist, having been a student of Pablo Casals. Like Casals’s contemporary, the violinist Fritz Kreisler, Cassado also dabbled in composition of a highly stylised sort. Though popular in the twenties and thirties – this trio dates from 1926 – he and his music fell out from grace post-World War II when Casals and others accused him of having being a fascist, or fascist fellow-traveller.
The Piano Trio in C major got off to a crunching start with a rhetorical statement before settling down into something rather enigmatic, the 'allegro risoluto' tempo immediately bringing to mind the thick and splashy instrumental colours of Ravel, couched in a busy wrapping that also recalled to my mind the opening carnival scene of Stravinsky’s Petrushka.
In the more dramatic passages of the opener, violinist Pablo Hernan Benedi took the bit between his teeth, almost wrestling with his instrument, throwing his bowing hand high at the pauses and all but jerking himself out of his chair. In the second movement there were hints of Manuel De Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain , with touches of flamenco guitar sounds from violin and viola, alternating with mournful and repeated ostinatos. The sprightly Rondo of the final movement, with its whole-tone scales and Andalusian inflections brought the piece to an accelerando conclusion, conjuring up dancers whirling round faster and faster, heels-tapping and castanets snapping.
The other piece on the programme, Franz Schubert's gorgeous Trout Quintet, was composed at the same time as the Piano Sonata in A at the age of 22 and following the composer's summer holidays, though its tone strays less far into the more shadowy places of the Upper Austrian rural idyll than does that sonata. How fitting that this early autumn morning was bright and warm, with sunbeams peeping in through the Holywell Music Room's high windows, as we followed the course of a rainbow trout slipping and plunging down the bed of a sparkling brook on a July day in 1819. I last heard the piece at a Coffee Concert in August 2015 from Viv McLean and the Adderbury Ensemble who played it with notable lightness of tone and freshness of spirit.
Here, I thought the Isimsiz trio with Mathis Rochat (viola) and Marco Behtash (double bass) took time to shake off the heavier, sinewy form of Cassado; not surprisingly, since the juxtaposition of these two works is a tricky one. In the opening 'allegro vivace', despite the known excellence of the Music Room's acoustics, the combined four strings players left Erdem Misirlioglu's piano striving a little to be heard. Only when the succeeding 'andante' arrived did I feel the tone lose its ponderousness. In the 'scherzo', the quintet succeeded in bridging the pauses in the flow that Schubert calls for so that the onward rush of the dance rhythm remained pleasingly intact.
If Mr Misirlioglu's playing of the famous 'trout tune' in the 'andantino' was notably accurate, the double bass of Mr Behtash suffered a little in comparison with the 2015 rendering by the Adderburys' Jub Davis whose rhythmic body movement and patent enjoyment of the sheer fun of this music remain to me as a clear memory.
If the Isimsiz Trio's treatment of the Schubert to my taste lacked a bit of effervescence, their choice of the Cassado trio – and wholehearted playing of it – was an adventurous and most welcome addition to the Coffee Concert programme record.