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Beethoven, Horn Sonata in F major Op17, Sonata No 10 for Piano and Violin in G major Op 96; Brahms, Horn Trio in Eb major Op 40.
It’s quite probably the composers who can respond and deal with death as well as with bursting life who score heaviest in human hearts. The composers who help us cope. Quickly list your Brahms Top Ten: is his A German Requiem in there? If so, I’ll bet he’s helped you cope. What about The Song of Destiny? If so, he’s one of your comforters.
The Horn Trio? Then he has helped you out the other side. Life goes on, somehow. Remembered grief – galvanising uplift – deep refection – closure and release (Andante – Scherzo – Adagio mesto – Allegro con brio). Brahms is mourning his mother’s death in his Requiem, so too in his Trio in which his music progresses from slowly falling individual leaves to distant, warm pealing bells. It’s a resolution a step beyond that which the Requiem attains.
“No! Surely just a violin and a cello with a piano can’t achieve that?”
“Ah, there is further strength to chamber music than just the string quartet, dear Watson! Here, let me play you some bits from it.” Therewith, Holmes lifted his violin to his chin and raised his bow.
Endymion, not the handsome mythical Greek shepherd/hunter/king, but the leading London collaborative ensemble named after him, are in mourning. Bassoonist and contemporary music conductor John Whitfield, their founder of 40 years ago, had died that week. In confiding this news, and dedicating this Horn Trio performance to him, London-born violinist Krysia Osostowicz, invited the audience to his memorial concert at Wigmore Hall, London, on 5 December at noon.
“We owe our inspiration to him,” she said. And then they played with humility to his memory and to the musical score, allowing nothing overtly interpretative to intrude or skew the intensity and bare-laid honesty of each movement’s mood.
What is the violin doing here playing so softly, so unostentatiously? And the horn, too? Together, sometimes like two fingers from the same hand tenderly stroking a troubled brow, sometimes like the forefingers of separate hands wiping tears from each eye. This is Brahms’ individual lyricism at work. That tenderness the world recognises and involuntarily loves.
Endymion’s Andante began with breathtaking restraint and progressed with recurrent gentleness. Their controlled energy kept the romping Scherzo focused. The violin came into its own when most appropriate, in the Adagio. And Stephen Stirling’s horn hunted its way home in the Finale but without indecent haste or misplaced ebullience. Michael Dussek’s piano had all these atmospheres to generate and respect, and he did so with a discretion and discerning injection impulse.
These are three mature musicians. If a non-grieving younger trio might have unclouded more sunlight and unearthed more burnished gold, or read anger between some of Brahms’ lines, this was the reading of Endymion’s particular moment. It served for many a sympathetic and authentic introduction to a newcomer of this unique, powerful and consoling work.
Both horn works here Beethoven rearranged with cello instead and neither has superseded the originals in popularity. In live solo performance the playing of the French horn hits home as a deftly skilful feat of daring against odds of constant risk. Stirling’s Horn Trio recording with Florestan Trio is rated among the best and he is principal with the Academy of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields
The sequence of pieces in this concert was chronological and in the sonatas Beethoven on his star turn piano partners and showcases the horn, then the violin. Dussek does the heavy lifting for the horn with Stirling’s pianissimo telling especially in the opening movement. But the composer’s violin sonata was less about sparky entertainment, more about a distant, unattainable amour.
Chris Darwin’s programme notes told of a Frankfurt banking widow, the unhappily-wed Antonie Brentano, who qualifies as Beethoven’s famously unnamed Eternal Beloved and the subject of a famous never-sent love letter – perhaps wisely withheld in this case.
I don’t know this Violin Sonata but Darwin warned us to be ready for exceptional intimacy with a ‘farewell’ element traceable to other Beethoven. What I found in this my first hearing is unmatched in subtlety by any other Beethoven I know that also stems from this wellspring of romantic experience. So much understatement, including a scherzo that waltzes and teases rather than prancing or joking.
This comes from the violin’s articulation of deliciously private utterances and, rewardingly in sensuous charge of that was one of our leading chamber violinists. Osostovich’s performing and recording pedigree includes the intrepid Domus Piano Quartet, being the founding No 1 of the Dante Quartet, being schooled by Yehudi Menuhin and Sandor Vegh, sonata-study partnering with Radu Lupu – and bowing an 18th Century violin once stolen while she unlocked her bicycle, to be recovered at a pawn shop where the lady thief was hoping for £50.
She records in duo with Dussek, who also has his own Piano Trio. None of this information was at the audience fingertips in the pruned-back new-season programme brochure, from its previously four-folded A3 sheet to an open A4. Darwin’s notes rightly remain intact but gone are the short ensemble profile, their picture, and the concert dateline.
Whatever the economics of that downscaling, one other new Coffee Concert presentation feature seemed crass. Where at least half the audience congregate, the coffee shop has pre-concert piped ambient jazz which this time was added to the interval. Result? The immediate obliteration of the glories and pleasures circulating one’s head from the music one had paid good money to listen to and experience, from top performers delivering something special and unrepeatable.
I hope this was a miscalculated one-off because repetition with any kind of music will arrive in an air of cynicism, as though administering a compulsory antidote to what has just been heard.