Coffee Concert 20th March 2022 – Mithras Trio – Strings Attached Review by Michael Wilkinson

This has been a fascinating season, brought to a fitting end in this intriguing and splendidly performed programme by the personable Mithras Trio. Performances were not merely technically accomplished but deeply considered: each of the three works made considerable demands, not simply musically but in depth of emotion.

It is always good to have a Haydn Piano Trio programmed. Charles Rosen, in his The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven (1997), describes the later trios as ‘along with the Mozart concertos the most brilliant piano works before Beethoven’. There is some tendency to treat earlier trios such as No.7 as minor works, but the Beaux Arts recordings – a legend in the history of recorded music, recorded in the 1970’s – were revelatory. There is nothing negligible in No.7, which provided a delightful opener to this concert. Immediately striking is the witty main theme of the opening allegro, and the interplay of violin and piano in the finale is no less engaging. Tunes such as these remain in the memory, as does the lovely, lyrical Adagio, here the third rather the second movement. Clarity of texture, as well as attentiveness to dynamics, was a conspicuous feature of these charming performances.

If Mahler is a conspicuous example of a holiday composer, Brahms is not so far behind. Both his Second Symphony (composed in Pörtschach am Wörthersee) and his Fourth (Mürzzuschlag) were composed on vacation, as was his Piano Trio No.3, written while on holiday in Hofstetten in Switzerland. Yet there is little relaxed in this work: it requires – and rewards – concentration in both performers and audience. In this performance, intensity did not waver, from the strident, thick-textured opening through subsequent, more genial movements. It requires sensitivity to shift quickly across the varied moods, as ferocity sometimes alternates with geniality, but these young players rose to the challenge in as fine a performance as I have heard. One understands their status as BBC New Generation Artists, and I shall look out for more of their Radio 3 performances.

If the Brahms trio is a complex work, Schubert’s Piano Trio No 2 (from 1827) is darker yet. The shadow of death was lying over the composer, and the outcome was not unrelenting gloom, but deep and often conflicting emotions: moments of great beauty, as in the lovely Andante and the cello themes of the final movement are breath-taking, but elsewhere the sense of melancholy and fractured ideas is overwhelming.  The first and final movements have both considerable length and intensity, and the demands on performers are considerable. In his graceful prefatory remarks Ionel Manciu (violin) noted the virtuosity required, above all by the pianist. Dominic Degavino rose to the challenge with grace and insight. Overall, this was a very fine performance, of a challenging work. Its multifaceted character means there is no final word to be had – this haunting piece demands so much and fascinates endlessly.

A swift return to the Coffee Concerts by the Mithras would be wonderful.