Coffee Concert 20th October 2019 – Mithras Trio – Strings Attached Review by Andrew Polmear

What joy to be back at the Attenborough Centre on a fresh and slightly misty autumn morning for the start of another season of Coffee Concerts. It may only be our temporary base but it is comfortable, a fine building, with an excellent dry acoustic and free parking. And how exciting to be about to hear the Mithras Trio, winners of the 2019 Trondheim Chamber Music Competition. The last time the competition featured piano trios was in 2015 and it was won by the Isimsiz Trio, whom we have heard twice in Brighton, so that augured well.

The concert opened with Mozart’s C major piano trio. The playing was expressive, with lovely variations in dynamics and exquisite phrasing. Their balance was perfect; and that is a tribute to the delicacy of the pianist’s touch; it would have been easy to overwhelm the string players with that huge Steinway. All three players phrase everything the same way; there’s not a note that isn’t played with meaning. This was not ‘authentic’ Mozart, and how could it have been without a Mozart piano, gut strings and 18th century bows? What was authentic was their truth to the music. They brought out the mood of each movement: the exuberance of the opening Allegro, the plangent tenderness of the Andante, and the jollity of the final Allegro. Everything they did was there in the music; and they played it with full-bloodied commitment.

It was quite a shock to launch into Fauré’s D minor Piano Trio, different from the Mozart in so many ways. Again they captured the mood of the piece: the languor of the opening Allegro, the melancholy of the Andantino, the busyness of the final furious Allegro vivo. The problem for a player of Fauré is to sustain those endless melodies and they did this seemingly without effort.

Helen Grime’s Three Whistler Miniatures was, for me, the most thrilling part of the programme. It helps that I like the idea of music from our time. And although her writing is a long way even from the Fauré it is still clearly in that great tradition of Western classical music. Grime’s music evokes mood as clearly as Mozart’s and, although notes and rhythms are arranged together in a totally new way, she writes for the trio in a way Mozart would have recognised, sometime pitting the piano against the two string players, sometimes the string players against each other, sometimes uniting them. Looking back it must have been extraordinarily difficult to write and to play but that isn’t what struck me at the time; it was so evocative that I was drawn in by the mood, not daunted by the complexity.

I might have been feeling a little jaded by the time the Beethoven ‘Ghost’ trio began, but their furious assault on the opening movement banished any exhaustion. Beethoven marked it double forte and they gave it at least that. As in the Mozart they brought out the moods of each movement although, with Beethoven, changes of mood come fast and furious. The ferocious opening has changed to dolce by bar 5, with that gorgeous cello tune. Their playing of the slow movement was hauntingly beautiful and they caught the quirkiness of the final movement, with its magisterial unison ending, perfectly.

I look forward to hearing them again in Brighton. I’m sure they’d come if it could be combined with a home match at the Amex stadium. Two of the three are football fans and they have already noticed that the Premier League stadium is over the road from the Attenborough Centre.

Andrew Polmear