The Ghost Trio: Phoenix Piano Trio, Holywell Music Room, Wednesday 16 October
Life’s been a hard slog recently – dodging showers, perpetually running up and down stairs with damp feet and of course tripping on the pavement outside the Sheldonian and breaking my arm. So it was with great pleasure that I strolled through the glories of Cotswold stone, warmed by autumn evening sunshine, to the joys of the Oxford Lieder Festival. Where else can you lighten the load, forget your cares and unwind in a beautiful venue, with a great trio playing Beethoven on a theme of magic, myths and mortals?
It is always a pleasure attending concerts at the Holywell Music Room – the simple and elegant Palladian lines evoke a relaxed calm, ideal for chamber music. And what chamber music! From the vivacious stridency of the opening bars of the allegro, Christian Elliott’s cello played subtle, mellifluous mediator between the passion, vivacity and at times flamboyance of Jonathan Stone’s violin, and the roiling and rumbling crescendos and diminuendos of the piano. Here in the repeating melody we can hear future echoes of Beethoven’s much more widely appreciated second symphony. Yet in this piece, there is the same complexity of tone and interplay between the trio of musicians.
Indeed, the accomplishment of the Phoenix Piano Trio really came to the fore in the second slower largo section of the piece – the Ghost. Here Sholto Kynoch’s interpretation of the piano part was more ponderous, sinuous and insidious. The violin was more ethereal and the cello rowed the waves of melancholy. The slower pace of the piece allowed more space for the resonance of notes, and time to appreciate the intricacies of the interplay between instruments and the underlying tone of dejection. For me, no ghosts were evoked but I did lose myself for a time walking the wet black midnight streets of Paris alone.
The concluding presto revisited some of the stronger tones of the opening of the piece whilst exploring a composite of refrains, most notably the sorrowful tones of the piano. By now the players seemed interconnected by melody, completing each other's musical exhortations, with staccato plucked strings punctuating piano rills and melodies. Building to a conclusion the audience clearly enjoyed. No matter the tenuous ethereal link, with no hint of either Hamlet’s father’s ghost or Macbeth’s witches, when you are listening to glorious music to the power of three. Make hay whilst the lieder shines - there are plenty more musical pleasures to be had before this year’s festival ends on 26 October, and if you want to hear more from the Phoenix Trio they are joining Music at Oxford’s celebration of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary in May next year.