Coffee Concert 20th November 2022 – Paddington Trio– Strings Attached Review by Michael Wilkinson

The multiple prize-winning Paddington Trio proved more than worthy visitors to this season’s Coffee Concerts, offering performances characterised by insight and evident enthusiastic commitment. In a varied and challenging recital, they held the audience enthralled, nowhere more obviously than in the long silence that greeted the end of Shostakovich’s 2nd Piano Trio.

The Paddington Trio are a new ensemble, formed in 2020 – during Covid – by a decision taken on Paddington station. All three members are students at the Guildhall, Tuulia Hero (violin) from Finland, Patrick Moriarty (cello) from Ireland, Stephanie Tang (piano) from the USA. Their youth does not remotely detract from their excellence – these are accomplished musicians by any standard, not only in technique (two tiny fluffs in live performance were all I noticed) but in rapport and nuance. In places, there was true beauty but never as an end in itself; everything served a higher conception of the music.

The opening piece, Judith Weir’s Your Light May Go Out from 2004 is very brief, but not slight. For too many music-lovers, Weir is better-known as a name, as Master of the King’s Music, than explored as a subtle composer. This piece was a welcome introduction, the opening catching beautifully the atmosphere of English folk song, without direct quotation. Thereafter things darken with more staccato chords, perhaps representing disintegration as the light fades.

The following piece, Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ Trio (Op.70 No.1, 1808) was glorious – witty interplay in the first and final movements, each with a sold but lively sense of rhythm, framed a wonderfully poised central Largo, where time seemed almost froze – it could have lasted forever. A special word for Patrick Moriarty’s beautiful, rich cello sound, which added so much here and elsewhere.

Arvo Pärt’s 1992/2005 Mozart-Adagio, written in memory of the violinist Oleg Kagan, is another brief piece, based around Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F K280, written in Munich when the prodigy was 18. The sonata is a tragic piece in its original form. The piano is used for most of the quotations – splendidly articulated – with cello and violin weaving their own poetry around them.

A special challenge is Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No.2 in E minor, Op. 67 from 1944. It was written against the background of war and barbarity, in memory of Ivan Sollertinsky, a close friend, while the trio remembers Veniamin Fleishman, a composition pupil, who died in the defence of Leningrad. This work was written at a time of deep depression, when the composer doubted even his own ability to produce new music. In an odd link with the previous work, Oleg Kagan would perform and record the trio live, with Natalia Gutman and Sviatoslav Richter in 1984.

In this work, there is much that is grim, much sadness and yet no real redemption. The final movement drawing partly on Jewish dance tunes – Jewish influence is evident also in the trio of the second movement, and I would argue elsewhere – has a defiant energy, but it mood is one of defiance rather than acceptance. It is explicitly a dance of death, but the sense of a danse macabre is present throughout. This is a great work, I think, concentrated and profound – and I have heard no performance that gave it greater justice than this. The silence that followed was eloquent tribute, as was the ensuing loud ovation.

I am not a fan of encores as too often they detract from the memory of the significant work that preceded it, but it would be churlish to complain here to hear a beautiful first movement from one of Haydn’s ‘London’ trios, witty, elegant and musically deep.

I look forward to following this magnificent trio’s progress: they are that special in a field of many fine young ensembles. I have rarely been so excited by performers new to me. May they soon return.