Leonore Piano Trio, 22nd Sep 2019
Early Autumn, post-drought rain just spattering the Holywell St pavements as we flooded into the Music Room. Beethoven in the drizzle? A slightly gloomy thought. But no! This was neither the thumping chords of one of the symphonies nor the introspection of some string quartet but two of the piano trios; the first one, Opus 1, No. 1, a rather sunny piece influenced by the optimism of Haydn, Beethoven's early teacher. This and its pair of companions derive from his first maturity, although even at 25 the composer wrote quite a subdued cello part for all three and particularly in respect of this one. Pianist Tim Horton referred at half-time to how, for the most part, the cello either doubles or simplifies the piano left hand, articulating the bass part of the piece's texture, and at times - say in the presto finale - even drops out altogether to allow for a contrasting, lighter texture. This practice accords with that of Haydn and even of Mozart until he came to compose his final trios.
The Leonore Trio were straight into the calm initial theme, following up with the relative melancholy of the 'adagio', Horton showing his mettle with a silk-soft touch of the hands, before Gemma Rosefield's cello and Ben Nabarro's violin combined for a surge of force in their second duet.
By the time Beethoven composed his Opus 70, No. 1, he had his three instruments discourse as equals in kaleidoscopic textures, rich in the contrapuntal interplay that I think characterizes the Viennese classical style. Our trio handled the opening statement, much more sinewy than that of the earlier work, with high energy.
They then moved on to tackle the 'largo assai ed con espressione' which spawned the work’s Ghost nickname and which is, I believe, the slowest movement in all of Beethoven's repertoire, slower for instance than the 'largo' of Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3. I don't think any one of my three recordings of the Ghost movement adheres faithfully to the marked tempo, whereas the Leonores did just that, producing subterranean, left hand piano notes, growling cello and violin output at the very bottom of its range.
Rather than Macbeth's witches that are usually referenced here, I was put in mind more of the tragic story of Orpheus and Eurydice from Greek mythology. The fragmented themes and sombre tone, with eerie tremolos in the bowels of the keyboard, combined to produce music of great tension whose gloom might have appealed vastly to audience members of a Goth persuasion, had there been any present. As it was, the audience around me presented an interesting study in receptiveness: a few remaining perfectly impassive, others with a smile glued throughout to their lips, yet others leaning forward intently towards the players, desperate to miss not a single note.
An encore of the 'largo' from Op. 1, No. 2 rounded off yet another fine Coffee Concert, the phenomenon now into its 34th, unflagging year.