Coffee Concert 26th November 2017 – Castalian Quartet – Review by Richard Amey, Worthing Herald

As a vastly contrasting interlude between intensely original late quartets by the world’s two quartet masters of the classical period, 18 French minutes of string effects-driven sound exploration into the atmosphere of night signalled exciting instinctive and intelligently programming by the Castalians.

The Coffee Concerters, alert and prepared by Chris Darwin’s ‘Origins of the Pieces’ brochure notes, appreciated the rewards of the excursion offered. Without my English-French pocket dictionary, and not seeing any translation offered, I did not realise ‘Ainsi’ meant ‘Thus’ until I got home. So I and my fellow non-Francophiles missed the fullest experience of Dutilleux’s accomplished and meticulous sound depiction of human hours after dark.

Never mind. What I derived was vivid enough and I will now gravitate all the more towards a second hearing of Dutilleux’s only quartet, equipped as I now am by the Castalians’ deftly executed commitment to the cause.

It’s fascinating that it was a Frenchman who set one of the 20th Century benchmarks in effective experimental string composition and in 1976 it came 150 years after Beethoven died. Would the German have written like Dutilleux, Boulez or Messiaen if alive in their century? Or, born 100 years later than his 1770, would he have written like Debussy and Ravel? Would he have needed to have been French to share that sensuality?

Imponderable, of course, not least because Beethoven, deaf, would probably not have made enough substantial contact with the language of the effects Dutilleux was using, to draw them into his own language. The Castalians’ petite violist, Charlotte Bonneton, from Grenoble, told me later, much as she enjoyed playing French music new to her, Ainsi la Nuit was recently chosen for their repertoire by lead violinist Sini Simonen – a Finn.

Simonen has been a Castalian for four years and in several ways it is she who makes them remarkable. She is so subtly, so minimally demonstrative physically during her playing. There is no discernable intention to protrude, display or court attention.

The modern catch-phrase is “There is no ‘I’ in team”. Underlined afterwards when fellow fiddler Daniel Roberts told me any one of their four players can individually take the lead [in creating tempo or momentum, mood or atmosphere], or that any individual’s instrumental sound can become the prescribed focus of the three other quartet members to elevate the performance. One of the striking results is their transparency of sound and texture they achieve.

This young quartet is growing closer to the hearts of the Coffee Concerters in the footsteps of Heath Quartet and the Elias before them. With the charcoal stick, pencil, brush or ambient benefits of harmonics, plucks and slides – all channelled alongside standard tricks of tremolo, ponticello and mutes towards his subject of Night in previous experimental dry-run pieces – Dutilleux’s perfected sound painting in the Castalians’ hands evoked many commonly felt feelings, sensations, notions, agitations, delights and fears.

The movements are Nocturne, Space Mirror, Litanies and Litanies II, Constellations, Nocturne II and Suspended Time.

In his Opus 132, Beethoven was heading towards his own long night and writing about it subconsciously as well as otherwise. The Castalians played the second of his five Late Quartets, in which Beethoven transcends the music not only his own age but of all eras. The reason I still feel unqualified to examine in detail any group’s performance of these works was voiced for me by Charlotte Bonneton in our chat, which confirmed my sense that, whether listening or performing, we commune with Beethoven’s intensified perception of life’s fundamental unanswerables.

Bonnetton said, “Yes, it can take a lifetime to understand fully this music, and probably needs even longer than that.” After a performance of late Beethoven, many of the things she listed her quartet as feeling coincided with what we do as listeners. And the culminating one she listed was ‘nourishment’. For spiritual reward, we need late Beethoven on our dinner plates!

After his rarified main opening utterance of his slow movement, his declared hymn of thanksgiving for deliverance from serious stomach illness – yet another great highlight moment in Beethoven, the music stirs into new life. I flashed a look across the quartet at this point and saw one small, gentle smile. It was Benneton’s. Darwin tells us, we have wine, coffee and spices to thank for this music – or rather the composer’s obedience to his doctor’s orders to banish them.

Heading up this excellent concert programme was Haydn. Not familiar Haydn, nor Esterhazy Court everyday Haydn, but The Father of the String Quartet in his 65th year. In his following final 12, strength wilting under the weight of large scale commissions, he completed only two more of his 69 quartets. And the Castalians gave us, with complete assurance, true Late Haydn. Just like his pupil Beethoven: consummate fresh originality, daring and wisdom, all borne of long mastery and a thirst for remaining alive.

The Castalians return on 25 February to play another of Haydn’s twilight-years Opus 76 (No 5 in D), plus Britten’s No 2, and they bring Simon Rowland-Jones as second violist for Brahms’ Quintet No 1 in F Op88. Rowland-Jones is two generations the Castalians’ senior but, says Roberts, “He’s in his 60s. We simply met and got on really well. We’ll be playing the Brahms together in Edinburgh just beforehand.”

I have located a second violist to play this work with my imaginary Quarzette Enchanté of Frenchwomen: it’s Hélène Clément of the Doric Quartet (how did I miss her?). So I just need a second violinist. Anybody got any ideas? Already recruited, sitting ready are Sarah Bitlloch (first violin, Elias Quartet), Charlotte Bonnetton (viola, Castalian) and Marie Bitlloch (cello, Elias). Or should they stand up to play – as do the Polish all-male Apollon Musagète?

Coffee Concert 26th November 2017 – Castalian Quartet – Review by Andrew Polmear

I’ve reviewed two previous concerts by the Castalian Quartet for Strings Attached. In 2012, with a different leader, there was the excitement of a new young quartet starting to make their way. In February 2017 I commented that they now had a distinctive style of their own, a style marked by freshness and clarity. Now such comments would be impertinent. They have matured into a major quartet that can adapt their playing to the demands of the music; and in this programme the demands were considerable.

 

They started with Haydn’s Opus 76 No.6. The opening notes were extraordinary: four notes, marked forte, then a pause; four notes, marked piano, then a pause; and so on for another eight repetitions. The touch was so delicate, so precise, so tender that they drew the audience in by this most undramatic of openings. And then, a few bars later, Haydn lets the first violin off the leash with running semiquavers; such a contrast with the understated opening. It’s easy to get Haydn wrong – either by being too restrained and missing the excitement; or by trying to instil too much drama and losing the delicacy. The Castalian do neither: exquisite phrasing captures the excitement while their delicacy gives the quieter moments a cut-glass elegance. Inevitably, in Haydn, a lot of this comes from the leader and Sini Simonen does it to perfection. But much of the success is because all players are playing as one: every phrase is caressed in the same way, vibrato is only used for specific emphasis, not as a routine, each player captures the changing moods in the same way. Such was the perfection that it was almost a relief when the timing came slightly unstuck in the difficult off-beat figure in the 3rd movement.

 

None of which was any preparation for the edgy challenge posed by the Dutilleux piece Ainsi la Nuit. It’s 17 minutes of intense conversation between four instruments in which the mood changes, sometimes animated, sometimes calm, and the range of which each instrument is capable is explored, sometimes in whispered harmonics, sometimes with an angry roar. Of the titles of the seven movements I was able to identify two with the music: the first Nocturne was dark, cold and lonely, while Constellations had an ethereal feel about it. The other five seemed more abstract to me: sounds and rhythms passed between the players to thrilling effect. Not a note seemed unnecessary or out of place. Christopher Graves, the cellist, said afterwards that there is a tune in there, but I didn’t spot it. The contrast with the Haydn could not have been greater: brilliant programming.

 

So to Beethoven Opus 132, one of the greatest works in the repertoire. It too opens with four notes, on the cello this time, played so slowly and quietly I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t run out of bow before he’d finished. Then, after eight bars, comes the first Allegro and this extraordinary work takes off. It’s a work full of stops and starts, and of changes of direction. The Castalian played it with such lyricism that the edges seemed smoothed, the angst diminished. It came across as, above all, tuneful, even if the tunes are sometimes just snatches rather than fully developed melodies. Perhaps it just seemed tuneful after the Dutilleux. I liked it, although it is the Haydn and the Dutilleux that I’ll be thinking about over the coming days.

 

The Castalian will return on February 25 with Haydn, Britten and Brahms. Excellent!

17th December 2017 – Zemlinsky Quartet – Programme notes by Chris Darwin

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1826) String Quartet in F Op 18 No 1 (1799)
Allegro con brio
Adagio affettuoso ed appasionato
Scherzo. Allegro molto
Allegro

 

Beethoven was in his late 20s and living in Vienna when he wrote his six Op 18 string quartets. Uneducated (‘I do everything badly except compose’), rough-mannered, but with an alluringly intense personality and undoubted musical genius, he had managed to secure the patronage, both as composer and pianist, of Vienna’s cosmopolitan aristocracy. Chamber music was an important part of their diet, and Beethoven composed piano trios (Op 1) and string trios (Op 9), violin sonatas (Op 12) and piano sonatas (Ops 2, 10 & 14) before publishing in the ‘serious’ medium of the string quartet.

 

The great success of his three Op 9 string trios, published in 1798, encouraged him to accept a commission from Count Lobkowitz for six quartets.  As models he had Mozart, who had died the year that Beethoven arrived in Vienna from Bonn, and Haydn, from whom Beethoven (“the Great Mogul” as Haydn called him) had briefly had lessons in composition. Whilst their influence is undeniable, Beethoven in these ‘early’ (he was after all 29) chamber works already has his own voice, with tantalising seeds of his later styles clearly apparent.  At the same time as commissioning Beethoven, Lobkowitz had also commissioned 6 quartets from Haydn.  Perhaps recognising the quality of Beethoven’s works, and not wishing to subject himself in Viennese soirées to a direct comparison with his erstwhile pupil, Haydn only wrote two of the requested six quartets (Op 77) and completed no more quartets in his lifetime.

 

opening phrase of the Allegro con brio

(Op 3) String Trio's Adagio

The striking opening phrase of the Allegro con brio (illustrated) is a speeded-up version of the opening of an earlier (Op 3) String Trio’s Adagio (illustrated).  Its simple, easily recognisable shape helps the listener follow the upcoming complex contrapuntal writing – perhaps a cunning ploy by Beethoven to help win over his audiences to this revolutionary music.

 

The burial vault scene in Romeo & Juliet is known to have provided the inspiration for the extraordinarily dramatic slow movement.  The long melodic line of the opening, and indeed the dramatic model for the movement as a whole, perhaps benefitted from the lessons in vocal composition that Beethoven was having at that time from Salieri.  However, no-one but Beethoven could have written this movement.  Unprecedented gestures such as the unbearably long silences building to the final climax are pure Beethoven at his most daring.

 

The Scherzo is no comfort after the death throes of the Adagio, with its odd phrase-lengths and swerving harmonies – especially taxing for the first violin in the Trio.

 

Beethoven certainly confirms his contrapuntal credentials in the

tumbling triplets

triumphant final Allegro.  The tumbling triplets of its opening (illustrated) are again an echo of Op 9 no 3 Prestoan earlier String Trio (Op 9 no 3 Presto; illustrated), and, like the opening of this quartet’s first movement, provide an easily recognisable motif for the listener as Beethoven plies us with fugal flourishes.

 

Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) ‘Mládí’ Suite for Wind Sextet (1924)
arr for String Quartet (2015) by Kryštof Mařatka (1972-)
Allegro
Andante sostenuto
Vivace
Allegro animato

 

Mládí (Youth) was written in the middle of Janáček’s immensely productive last decade.  His productivity had both political and personal roots: Czechoslovakia had become independent in 1918 and the previous year Janáček had met and fallen in love with the much younger Kamila Stösslová.  Kamila is explicitly associated with the gypsy femme fatale of his song cycle ‘The diary of one who disappeared’ (1917), as well as with the heroines of his operas ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’ (1922-3) and ‘The Makropoulos Affair’ (1923-5).

 

The wind sextet Mládí (Youth), along with his firstYouth, golden youth!' string quartet, was written around the same time as these operas, and shares with them the technique of shaping individual phrases to the prosody of the speaking voice.  The opening phrase captures the phrase ‘Mládí, zlaté mládí!’ (‘Youth, golden youth!’) and recurs throughout the work especially in the first and last movements.

 

The third movement borrows a theme from a shortMarch of the Blue Boys work Janáček composed earlier in 1924 for piccolo, bells and tambourine ‘March of the Blue Boys’, recalling his time as a chorister in the Old Brno Monastery.

 

Mládí’s first performance, in Brno, was given by teachers at the Conservatory there and was plagued by mechanical failure: the oboe had to effect an impromptu repair; he was more successful than the clarinettist who, because of a broken spring, could only pretend to play.   Janáček’s understandable anger abated a month later with a successful and popular performance in Prague by members of the Czech Philharmonic.

Kryštof Mařatka’s (2015) arrangement of the wind suite is dedicated to the Zemlinsky quartet. Here he comments on some of the problems: “Throughout my work, it was necessary to take care of the stylization, that is to say to the way to express the musical speech and to adapt it, if necessary, so that it is faithful to the composer’s specific writing style for string quartet;  this sometimes comes at the cost of modifying certain elements.  [For example,] in the 1st movement, a dramatic passage for solo horn is reinforced by successively adding to a cello solo the other instruments of the quartet, in unison and octave”.

Robert Schumann (1810-1856) String Quartet Op 41 No 3 (1842)

Andante espressivo – Allegro molto moderato
Assai agitato – Un poco adagio – Tempo risoluto
Adagio molto
Finale: Allegro molto vivace – Quasi Trio

 

Coming after his ‘Liederjahre’ of 1840 and the subsequent ‘Symphonic Year’ of 1841, 1842 was Schumann’s ‘Chamber Music Year’:  three string quartets, a piano quartet and the particularly successful piano quintet.   Such creativity may have been due to Schumann at last winning, in July 1840,  the protracted legal case in which his ex-teacher Friedrich Wieck, attempted to forbid him from marrying Wieck’s daughter Clara.  They were married on 12 September 1840, the day before Clara’s 21st birthday.

 

1842, however, did not start well for the Schumanns.  Robert accompanied Clara at the start of her concert tour of North Germany, but he tired of being in her shadow, returned home to Leipzig in a state of deep melancholy, and comforted himself with beer, champagne and, unable to compose, contrapuntal exercises.  Clara’s father spread an unfounded and malicious rumour that the Schumanns had separated.  However, in April Clara returned and Robert started a two-month study of the string quartets of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.  During June he wrote the first two of his own three quartets, the third following in July.  He dedicated them to his Leipzig friend and colleague Felix Mendelssohn.  The three quartets were first performed on September 13, for Clara’s birthday.  She thought them ‘new and, at the same time, lucid, finely worked and always in quartet idiom’  – a comment reflecting Schumann the critic’s own view that the ‘proper’ quartet style should avoid ‘symphonic furore’ and aim rather for a conversational tone in which ‘everyone has something to say’.

 

In Schumann’s third quartet his wonderful lyrical gift sings out to us, and we are fooled by his rhythmic playfulness. The brief introductory Andante openssighing, falling fifth with a sighing, falling fifth (*, illustrated).  It sets the mood and also opens the main Allegro and recurs throughout it in various guises.  Schumann’s rhythmic trickery pops up in the second subjectsecond subject of the Allegro of the Allegro (illustrated).  After a brief silence, the upper strings start their off-beat accompaniment just before the cello enters with the theme. Not only is this deceptive for the listener, but it is a notorious pratfall for the unwary amateur player.

 

Another rhythmic trick starts the second movementrhythmic trick starts the second movement (illustrated).  Here everyone enters on the last quaver of the bar, but the tune is tied over as if the first note were really the downbeat. The theme is a decorated descent over an interval of a fifth.  There follows a set of entertaining variations culminating in one of huge and relentless energy with the accent resolutely on the offbeat, dominated by leaps that rework the opening falling fifth.  A calming coda prepares us for the beautiful Adagio moltoAdagio molto (illustrated), whose opening theme is based on a rising figure that again embraces an interval of a fifth.  The serenity of this idea is twice challenged by a threatening transformation in the minor, but serenity prevails.

 

There are more rhythmic tricks in the Finale.  The rustic dotted theme starts with an accented up-beat which sounds like a down-beat as if the rustics are tipsy.  The movement is a Rondo with the opening episode alternating with a variety of others, including a “Quasi Trio” – compensation for the absence of a traditional Minuet/Scherzo & Trio movement.

 

Programme notes by Chris Darwin

 

See Chris Darwin’s Programme Notes for other works on his web page.

26th November 2017 – Castalian Quartet – Programme notes by Chris Darwin

The three pieces in this concert are all examples of how a single idea can permeate a musical work, giving it – without the listener being aware- an integrity lacking in randomly chosen movements.  The Haydn quartet is built on scales,  the Dutilleux on its initial 6-note chord and the Beethoven on just two pairs of semitones.

 

Josef Haydn (1732-1809) String Quartet in E Op 76 no 6 (1797)
Allegretto
Fantasia: Adagio
Menuetto: Presto, Alternativo
Finale: Allegro spiritoso

In 1795 Haydn returned from his spectacularly successful visits to England to the relatively light duties prescribed by the new Esterházy Prince Nikolaus II. Nikolaus had abandoned his father’s palace at Esterházy, sacked its extensive musical establishment, and divided his time between Eisenstadt and Vienna. Haydn was kept on, but his main duty was just to write a Mass for the Princess’s name day. He was free to accept other commissions.

One such came from Count Joseph Erdödy, the Hungarian Court Chancellor. Although Erdödy’s father had employed an orchestra to play in their family’s three palaces,  on inheriting the title in 1789 his son responded both to contemporary taste and financial stringency by replacing it with a string quartet. In 1796 he placed a generous commission with Haydn for six quartets. The resulting ‘Erdödy’ quartets are a triumph, perhaps the pinnacle of Haydn’s long quartet-writing career.

Ever since Haydn had invented the mature string quartet in his Op 20 group of 6 quartets he had been experimenting with its form. Today’s quartet is no exception.  The first movement is a leisurely Allegretto cast as a theme and variations.  The theme (illustrated)laconic phrases is a sequence of ‘laconic phrases until the lilting expansive cadence of its final bars’ (Rosemary Hughes).  Notice that each of the illustrated four initial phrases contains three notes of a rising scale.  This scale motif is central to the whole quartet.  Three variations at the leisurely Allegretto tempo follow before the starting gate is raised on an Allegro fugue which then metamorphoses into a final variation.

Haydn is disingenuous with the Fantasia second movement.Fantasia second movement  Unlike Mozart who rarely strayed outside key signatures of 3 sharps or flats, Haydn was given to writing in lots of them.  This movement is really in B major – 5 sharps, but it starts (illustrated) with no key signature albeit with the notes liberally sprinkled with sharps.  Was this a riposte to complaints from his players about dreadful keys, or is the lack of key signature granting him licence for his upcoming fantastic explorations of the key-space?  These explorations are facilitated by a series of four rising scales (echoing both the start of this movement and of the first movement) first on the violin and then on the cello.  They lead the music off all around the block to Ab before a second lot of cello scales brings us home to B major and a proper key signature.  The second half gives us a serene and poignant development of the theme.

Scales continue to figure in the scherzo-like Menuetto, and return in spades for its ‘Alternativo’ trio section which consists of almost nothing else: first rising, then falling.Four falling scales Four falling scales also make up the theme of the spirited final movement (illustrated).

Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) String Quartet  ‘Ainsi la nuit’ (1976)
Nocturne; Miroir d’espace; Litanies; Litanies II; Constellations; Nocturne II; Temps suspendu

Dutilleux’s published output is rather small.  He did not lack creative spirit, but rather was too self-critical:

“I always doubt my work. I always have regrets. That’s why I revise my work so much and, at the same time, I regret not being more prolific. But the reason I am not more prolific is because I doubt my work and spend a lot of time changing it. It’s paradoxical, isn’t it?”

His care is appreciated by conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen: “His production is rather small but every note has been weighed with golden scales… It’s just perfect – very haunting, very beautiful. There’s some kind of sadness in his music which I find very touching and arresting.”  Not everyone agrees.  That skilful skewerer of reputations, Philip Hensher, calls him “the Laura Ashley of music; tasteful, unfaultable, but hardly ever daring … Personally,” Hensher admits to his Daily Telegraph readers, “I can’t stick him.”

Dutilleux’s only string quartet ‘Ainsi la nuit’ is a good piece to judge whether you are with Salonen or Hensher.opening six-note chord  Dutilleux’s sound-world builds on his compatriots Debussy, Ravel and Messiaen but also includes Bartók and Stravinsky, with a preference for the modal and atonal over the simple tonal. Many of the quartet’s intriguing sounds are based on the opening six-note chord (illustrated) which particularly contains the intervals of the fifth (C#-G#, F-C) and the second (F-G, C-D).  The seven short movements explore different string techniques: pizzicato, glissando, harmonics, very high and very low, very quiet and very loud.  Dutilleux, like Sibelius, has in his own words “a tendency not to present the theme in its definitive state at the beginning.  There are small cells which develop bit by bit”.  So, see what you think and do talk about it in the interval.

Interval

 Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) String Quartet in A minor, Op.132 (1825)
Assai sostenuto – Allegro
Allegro ma non troppo
Molto adagio
Alla marcia, assai vivace – piú allegro
Finale (allegro appassionato)

Beethoven’s last three years (1824-7) were predominantly occupied in composing what we now refer to as his late string quartets: Ops 127, 132, 130 (with its original ending the Great Fugue Op 133 ), 131 and 135.  In November 1822, it had been 12 years since he had completed a quartet – the F minor Op 95 Serioso – and his interest in quartet writing might never have seriously revived had he not had a commission for “one, two or three quartets” from Prince Nicholas Galitzin, an excellent young amateur cellist from St Petersburg, living in Vienna. It is said that the commission almost went to Weber, whose recent opera Die Freischütz, had excited Galitzin; but fortunately Karl Zeuner, the viola player in Galitzin’s own quartet, nudged him towards Beethoven instead.  Completing the Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony occupied Beethoven for another eighteen months, but he finished three quartets for Galitzin, Ops 127, 132 and 130, in February, July and November of 1825. Op 131 followed, uncommissioned, immediately after.

The germinal idea of Op 132 is a pair of semitonesa pair of semitones (G#-A, E-F) in the cello’s opening phrase (illustrated), which is joined by the other three instruments playing variants of the same motif.  This slow introduction is broken by rapid semiquavers from the first violin leading into an important motif (illustrated) which starts with one of the opening’s semitone pairs (E-F).rhythmic engine  The dotted rhythm (under y) provides a rhythmic engine to the movement and ends with the other semitone pair (G#-A).

The lilting opening of the following movement – a sort of Minuet and Trio –  is again rich in pairs of semitones.  Its mixture of the gentle and the acid always surprises, as does the curious Trio section with its bagpipe-like drone, its tricky part for the viola and the violent buffeting of a section in duple rather than triple time.

Beethoven had become worryingly ill with stomach problems in April 1825.  His doctor strictly implored him (he admired Beethoven’s music) to forgo wine, coffee and all spices.  Beethoven obeyed, the change in diet worked and a few weeks later Beethoven was back to composing.  The gratefully heartfelt slow movement is entitled “A Hymn of Thanksgiving from a Convalescent to God, in the prayerful Lydian mode”.  Like a Bach chorale prelude, the movement opens (illustrated)A Hymn of Thanksgiving from a Convalescent to God with the lines of a hymn (under x) interleaved by faster moving phrases.  After the hymn, there is a dramatic change to the optimism of D major for a faster variation section marked “New Strength” in which the two violins dance around each other.  A more syncopated version of the hymn returns followed again by a variation and finally by a yet more syncopated fantasia on the hymn marked “with the most intimate feeling”. The convalescent falls asleep with gentle sighs…

…only to be woken by a disturbing March, with stresses on the wrong beats and a sinister fading of the motif in the second bar.  This March is very soon interrupted by a recitative from the first violin.  It is similar in form to the cello/bass recitatives in the Ninth Symphony, but here the mood is anguished, terrified, culminating in what Joseph Kerman describes as  a scream as the violin holds a high F and then cascades down to a desolate bar of the  semitone E-F that leads into the final movement.

The E-F semitone forms the second violin’s neurotic accompaniment (illustrated, under x),second violin's neurotic accompaniment to the first violin’s restless theme with its G#-A semitone (under y).  A gentler theme with decorative trills brings some hope, but wild cross-rhythms augment the tension culminating in an anguished outburst high on the cello as the tempo hits Presto.  But the key then shifts to a radiant A major, and the quartet ends in a mood of joyful optimism.

Angus Watson’s “Beethoven’s Chamber Music in Context” was helpful in preparing these notes.

29th October 2017 – Fournier Trio – Programme notes by Chris Darwin

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) Piano Trio No 1 in D minor Op 49 (1839)
Molto allegro ed agitato
Andante con moto tranquillo
Scherzo: Leggiero e vivace
Finale

By 1839, the 30-year-old Mendelssohn was established.  He had been in Leipzig conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra for four years, and had been married for two.  His work load was daunting: conducting and also frequently performing as pianist in 20 Gewandhaus orchestral concerts a year, together with chamber concerts, charity concerts, and ad hoc concerts for visiting virtuosi.  The Gewandhaus concerts were an eclectic mix of the classics (mainly Beethoven and Mozart) and the contemporary (including Mendelssohn’s own works).  One notable 1839 concert featured the world premiere of Schubert’s ‘Great’ C-major symphony which Robert Schumann had recently unearthed in Vienna.  As well as orchestral works the concerts often included acts from operas or chamber music perhaps with Mendelssohn himself on piano.

In his teens Mendelssohn had explored various chamber music forms, most notably the remarkable String Octet of 1825 and his first two published String Quartets, but also three less-frequently played Piano Quartets which preceded the Octet.  In 1837 he had returned to composing chamber music after a gap of almost 10 years, working on a set of three String Quartets while on his honeymoon. Tonight’s D minor Piano Trio followed soon after in 1839. Schumann loved it: ‘This is the master trio of our age, as were the B flat and D major trios of Beethoven and the E flat trio of Schubert in their times. It is an exceedingly fine composition which will gladden our grandchildren and great-grandchildren for many years to come.’  Yet it had not been without its problems.  As Robert Philip points out:

‘After Mendelssohn had finished it, he showed it to the composer Ferdinand Hiller, who was staying with him in Leipzig. Hiller was very impressed, but had ‘one small misgiving. Certain pianoforte passages in it, constructed on broken chords, seemed to me – to speak candidly – somewhat old-fashioned.’ Hiller was a long-time friend of Liszt and Chopin, and was ‘thoroughly accustomed to the richness of passages which marked the new pianoforte school’. The result of Hiller’s suggestions was that Mendelssohn rewrote the entire piano part, making it less conventional in style – and, no doubt, much more difficult to play.’

An example of this ‘new school’ writing may perhaps be in the very opening (illustrated), where Mendelssohn rapidly alternates the left and rapidly alternates the left and right handsright hands of the piano’s accompaniment to augment the sense of agitation, pushing forward the gloriously expansive cello melody.

 

The slow movement has a tender beauty, a ‘Song without words’, with the strings echoing the piano. a descending idea The tenderness becomes more impassioned after the piano recalls a descending idea that the violin had used as a counter-melody in the first movement (illustrated).

 

The ‘light and lively’ Scherzo is trademark Mendelssohn recalling the Scherzo of the precocious Octet.  Masterfully written, it is even now a challenge to play at the blistering marked tempo of one bar a second. gloriously optimistic them The last movement can’t compete for sheer tempo, but uses more traditional means: contrapuntal ingenuity driven by a fiendishly complex piano part, and then the cello bursting forth with the most gloriously optimistic theme of the whole wonderful work (illustrated).

 

Joaquín Turina (1882-1949) Piano Trio No.2 in B minor Op.76 (1933)
Lento; Allegro molto moderato; Allegretto
Molto vivace; Lento; Molto vivace
Lento; Andante mosso; Allegretto; Meno mosso; Moderato; Allegretto; Allegro molto moderato; Allegro vivo

Born in Seville, Turina initially followed his family’s wishes by studying medicine, but could not stay away from music.  Ambition drove him to Madrid in 1902 to study at the Real Conservatorio, where he became friends with Manuel de Falla.  Discouraged by the failure of his efforts in the popular and potentially lucrative form of zarzuela comic operas (named after a royal hunting lodge that was thick with zarzas – brambles), he moved to Paris three years later.  There he studied at the Schola Cantorum, an institution set up by Vincent d’Indy and others to counter the Paris Conservatoire’s emphasis on opera.  It provided a solid grounding in ancient and classical technique with a stolid diet of traditional church music.  But Paris also introduced Turina (and de Falla who had followed in 1907) to Debussy, Ravel, Franck and Albeniz.  Albeniz and de Falla advised Turina to enliven his Schola-influenced work with material from Spanish popular music.  The advice was good and when the outbreak of WW1 forced both Turina and de Falla back to Spain, they were successful.  Turina stayed in Madrid becoming professor of composition at the Madrid Conservatoire in 1930.

Turina’s second Piano Trio laces his classical training with distinctive Spanish forms and material.  We start with three wistful Lento bars complete with a characteristically poignant triplet; they lead into the flowing opening themeflowing opening theme (illustrated).  The tempo drops to Allegretto and the second theme recalls the opening Lento.  The tempo changes again to yet another melody combining ideas from the two preceding ones.  The movement  continues to move pleasingly between these different tempi and their related melodies.

The second movement is resembles a Scherzo and Trio.  It starts fast in 5/8 (like a Castilian Rueda dance), then a short slow section in 3/4 before recapitulating the fast section.  hearty waltz-like Allegretto The last movement starts dramatically Lento then Andante with big chords reminiscent of Brahms before the piano plunges off into a hearty waltz-like Allegretto (illustrated).  Numerous varied episodes at different tempi follow incorporating material from the preceding movements.

 

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Piano Trio in B flat Op. 97 ‘Archduke’ (1811)
Allegro moderato
Scherzo & Trio:  Allegro
Andante cantabile ma però con moto
Allegro moderato – Presto

Beethoven’s Op 97 ‘Archduke‘ Trio of 1811 is the middle one of a remarkable sequence of three chamber works. It comes between the Op 95 ‘Serioso‘ String Quartet of 1810 and the glorious Op 96 Violin Sonata of 1812.   The Trio’s dedicatee Archduke Rudolph was the Emperor Leopold II’s youngest son, a piano and composition pupil of Beethoven.  Their relationship was close and long-lasting: Rudolph not only admired Beethoven and tolerated his foibles but, together with the Princes Kinsky and Lobkowitz, contracted to provide Beethoven with an annuity so that ‘the necessities of life shall not cause him embarrassment or clog his powerful genius‘.  During Napoleon’s occupation of Vienna in 1809 Rudolph had sought sanctuary in Hungary, prompting Beethoven’s regretful ‘Lebewohl‘ Piano Sonata.   Following Napoleon’s departure, Rudolph returned early in 1810, but by then Beethoven had other problems: love and money.  First, Therèse Malfatti turned him down.  He wrote self-pityingly to his friend Ignaz von Gleichenstein, who had introduced them, ‘For your poor B, no happiness can come from outside.  You must create everything for yourself in your own heart; and only in the world of ideals can you find friends’.  Incidentally, as a farewell present he gave Therèse a little Bagatelle, later published with the probable misattribution of Für Elise.  Second, because of inflation following the Napoleonic Wars, Beethoven’s annuity declined in purchasing power (though the kindly Rudolph later agreed to reinstate the real value of his share).

Whereas the Op 95 ‘Serioso‘ String Quartet reflects these traumas and tensions, the ‘Archduke‘ Trio miraculously rises above them.  The work opens with a spacious melody first on the piano, then on the violin (illustrated). opens with a spacious melody The opening bar figures prominently in the development, while the third bar material (under x) yields a novel pizzicato dialogue between the two strings, an example of the new textures that Beethoven creates in this work.  The opening of the Scherzo (illustrated)opening of the Scherzo begins another string dialogue, using material related to that under x and y in the first example.  Its lightness contrasts with the creepy gloom of the opening of the Trio.

The Andante is one of Beethoven’s most sublime: a set of variations on a miraculously extended theme.  The opening, though richly scored, is marked piano semplice and piano dolce dissuading the players from overindulgence.  Three variations increase in movement and complexity until the fourth reverts to quiet contemplation of the original theme by the individual instruments.  This reverie is rudely broken and the piano suggests something quite different which the strings, maybe against their better judgment, come round to agreeing to.  What follows is something of a piano concerto, perhaps acknowledging the Archduke’s skill.  The violin is banished to its lower register, and the cello is only occasionally allowed to shine high.  But the piano has a ball: Presto, Più Presto.  Fine.

Coffee Concert 29th October 2017 – Fournier Trio – Review by Richard Amey, Worthing Herald

Coffee Concert tickets buyers can’t say they never go home without a free gift. Usually it’s one from the 20th Century, music they did not know and underestimated. Quite frequently it’s British, but never is it tat to toss in the wastepaper basket.

Another gift dropped into their palms on Sunday and it was Spanish – and I’d guess probably the first such Iberian bonus in the history of this series. Joaquín Turina’s music brought an inspirational start to this new Coffee Concerts season at their temporary home (until late 2018) at ACCA, where one-off venue practicalities this time meant the trio played on the floor instead of the stage.

Chris Darwin is a semi-professional quartet fiddler whose entertaining ‘origin of the pieces’ programme notes so enhance the Coffee Concerts. He told me that Turina’s music is quite familiar among quartets in his world, which makes it seem astonishing that it has taken most of this century for the first of it to arrive on the Coffee Concerts public menu.

Darwin writes that Conservatoire training set up Turina at Madrid, then Paris where he met Ravel, Franck, Debussy and Albeniz. But Turina, and we, have the First World War to thank for his return to Madrid (with Manuel de Falla) where, as suggested to him, he began to admit his nation’s popular music into his compositional bloodstream.

The result is uplifting, dance and song-infused, and engaging with its switches of tempo and mood. The sun and moon, the food and the wine, the opera house, street market, bullring and football stadium are rarely far away. And there are one or two Ravelian glints.

Its inclusion could only enrich audience perspective of the chamber music world they explore in the Coffee Concerts. It was unexpected enough but, adding surprise, the free gift came borne from the East. Check, above, the nationalities of Fournier Trio, who take their name from the celebrated 20th century French cellist, Pierre Fournier –  who taught this trio cellist’s own teacher during a concert and recording career in parallel to his fellow countryman, the more extrovert Paul Tortelier.

Tipped for breakthrough in a chamber music world now crammed with outstanding talent, Fournier Trio celebrate soon their 10th year.

They scarcely look old enough, although Far Eastern genes, as we know and envy, sustain for longer the illusion of youth. Each player has long hair in an individual tie-up. They carefully sit and wait a while after taking the stage before tuning up. They rather shyly leave the stage after each piece and do not expect second curtain calls. Ought we to have been sipping green tea, kneeling back on our haunches, and bowing back to them in gratitude? (Why not? It would still be classical music)

Ng is principal cello with London Philharmonic Orchestra, violinist Yu a member of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and Chang has won top piano prizes in Munich, Dublin and at Leeds. All have simultaneous solo careers.

They have recently recorded the Mendelssohn Trios, among which the D minor is a prince. Chang led strongly from the keyboard, as she did later Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’, and at times I was wanting more volume from Yu and Ng in both works. But their Mendelssohn – especially another of his suddenly vanishing fairy scherzo movements – unfailingly put extra smiles on us after the clocks had gone back.

Amid the music’s overall fleetness, the Fourniers maintained an effective and slightly teasing sense of understatement about the unsettled atmosphere the composer requests in the opening quick movement, in which they showed an intriguing sense of architectural proportion. Their finale cascaded along with Chang subserviently accompanied but all were dynamically as one in the emphatic coda.

Their ‘Archduke’? They forced into a possible polarisation in our personal responses to their omission of the repeat of the first movement exposition. Those who find this glorious movement of prime lyrical Beethoven too long stuck their thumbs up.

Those, me included, who have been patiently awaiting the reappearance of this work at the Coffee Concerts since 2006, and who crave the repeat and thereby the length, felt short-changed. Putting my own self-indulgence aside, I feel the exposition, where Beethoven lays on the table each of his ripe, tender, welcoming themes, needs a second hearing so that in the development which comes next, we derive fuller insight and pleasure from his explorations around those first ideas. The benefit of that is the richness we derive from his final recapping of the opening music and the surprises he may still then spring.

Omitting the repeat plunges the listener into much stranger-sounding territory, in which we are more likely to struggle to feel comfortably at home. And I sense, because the music is so amiable, affectionate and inviting, that comfortably at home is where Beethoven wants us to be. By indicating a repeat, that is what he calculates. And when was Beethoven ever the slave to the Classical period convention of first-movement repeats?

Yu* charmingly afterwards admitted the Fourniers felt they did not want to outstay their welcome by making that first movement ‘too long for everybody’. Maybe in their second 10 years, they will ease away some of that eastern reticence.

Richard Amey

*She told me they had been introduced to Turina’s music only very recently by a friend of hers who was in a group playing one of his Piano Quartets.

Next Coffee Concert at ACCA (Sundays, 11am, opposite Falmer Station): Castalian Quartet make the first of their season’s two ‘mini-residence’ appearances on November 26 having begun stepping towards joining the company of the CCs’ favourite young quartets.  Haydn, Opus 76 No 6 in Eb; Henri Dutilleux, Ainsi la nuit (is this the next free gift?); Beethoven’s late great No 15 in A minor Op132.

http://www.worthingherald.co.uk/whats-on/music/review-fournier-trio-1-8227225