Coffee Concert 18th December 2016 – Review by Andrew Polmear

Coffee Concert – 18 December 2016 – Trio Isimsiz

This is the second time we’ve heard Trio Isimsiz at a coffee concert and I’m getting a feel for what is so extraordinary about them. It’s their delicacy. It’s a delicacy that’s not just about playing quietly; it’s more the delicacy of a Chinese Sung bowl – every note and every phrase is crafted to perfection. And with that as their base, when they play expressively and with passion, the effect is stunning. This was a stunning concert.

Delicacy goes especially well with Haydn. They played the A flat piano trio as though they were 18th century specialists: elegant, nimble, graceful, spirited, and witty. The understatement of it all brought out the good-natured quality of the piece but also the surprises, the changes of key and mood. When you start pianissimo you have a lot of room for manoeuvre. And how well they judged the acoustic of the hall, where even a whisper of a note from the violin could be heard at the back. And I’m still baffled by how Erdem Misirlioglu managed to make that great steel-framed Steinway sound like an 18th century Viennese pianoforte. His long virtuoso passages in the second movement, where the strings play pizzicato, were thrilling because, again, of their delicacy. He allowed the music to speak and it did.

So how would that way of playing translate to the very late romanticism of Fauré? Again they were exquisitely delicate but there the similarities ended. The string players opened up their shoulders, let loose their vibrato and moved into a different world. The first movement was edgy, restless, full of melodies that were suggested then not resolved. It conveyed a yearning that couldn’t be satisfied, like lovers constantly turning to each other to find that the other has disappeared. The players passed the motifs between themselves, exactly imitating each other’s phrasing. The second movement was more settled, with long melancholic passages with the violin and cello in unison. And they really were together; perfect intonation, perfect ensemble. The last movement was downright quirky. Rhythmical passages, where you lost all sense of where the bar line might be, alternated with brief snatches of lovely melody. I’ve never heard Fauré played quite like this – most interpretations are more robust – but I was totally won over.

So what would they do with Beethoven at his most full-blooded? At the opening of ‘The Ghost’ they launched into the maelstrom – fast, loud, and breathtaking for just five bars before they seemed to jump off a cliff and hang in the air as the cello held a quiet F natural, allowed it to swell, then moved to an F sharp and started passing the tune backwards and forwards with the violin. In the next few bars they crescendoed, dropped down to piano, hit a forte then a fortissimo. There’s a saying that when you play Beethoven you should exaggerate everything – and they did. Forte was very loud, piano was whispered. They revelled in the changes of mood and pace. One minute Beethoven was hammering on the table, the next he was gazing at the stars. Everyone tries to play Beethoven like this. Trio Isimsiz succeed because, with quiet delicacy as their default position, they have the room, and the skill, to bring it off.