A few weeks ago on BBC Radio 3’s Record Review, a Saturday morning, there was music for piano, violin and cello by Takemitsu. A Japanese composer, long influential over European composers, gently telling us of his homeland’s serene beauty, and encouraging Western ears to tune into its physical and emotional ambience, in a piece called Between Tides.
Presenter Andrew McGregor noted special qualities in the ensemble playing it, as well as the choice of music for their debut CD. Of his ensemble opinion, he was merely catching up with the Coffee Concerts audience who on Sunday morning were hearing Trio Isimsiz for the third time at these concerts-in-exile. Of the choice of music, McGregor was ahead.
This audience are now acclimatised to composers such as Bartok, Tippett and Britten as heard in the hands of trusted interpreting ensembles. Strange perhaps, then, that Trio Isimsiz came to Brighton on Sunday without their Takemitsu’s Between Tides and his mesmeric, almost devotional watery piece bearing a title totally empathetic with seaside Sussex listeners. Perhaps that occasion awaits the Coffee Concerts’ return to the Corn Exchange – a venue not far from the beach and handily close to a popular Japanese restaurant for follow-up lunch.
Starting the menu this time was something the 15-year-old Schubert began composing as a pupil of Italian composer Salieri, according to the ever-illuminating concert programme notes of Chris Darwin – whose ongoing work was hailed in the concert welcome, voiced by Brighton Dome chief executive Andrew Comben and endorsed by the applauding audience.
These 10 minutes of friendly music appetised for the Trout Quintet to come later, and wet the whistle for Beethoven’s second Opus 70 trio. The first is also on that debut CD, and the Isimsiz played it here 15 months ago. No 2, so consummately different to No 1, must have combined in towering intimidation to a Schubert that young – assuming he had heard them, or Salieri had warned. Even as Trio Isimsiz worked through its four movements, that probable image gained height.
But as we know, Schubert emerged intact and magnificent from beneath Beethoven’s shadow. Having borne a torch at Beethoven’s funeral in front of 10,000 Viennese and having visited him in his final days, Schubert and his wonderfully instinctive musical personality – much more easily than Brahms did – were able to shrug off the overlord and still do him massive respect. I like to think in that late visit that Beethoven had some friendly and far-reaching advice for the humble Schubert.
Witness the range shown between Schubert’s serious and humanly sonorous late chamber music (life and death) and the breezy Trout Piano Quintet (life and life) which he cooked up in five courses for the table of a cellist’s get-together for fellow musicians. The commissioning host Sylvester Paumgartner requested trout be served, having enjoyed Schubert’s eponymous song.
It’s easy to skirt over The Trout’s shallow, fast-running streams in venerating the deeper waters of Schubert’s later stuff. The Trout was a perky youthhood home soundtrack for me, ever uplifting and energising in its gaiety and spontaneity. Subsequently sobered by Death and the Maiden, the String Quintet, the C minor Piano Sonata and Quartettsatz, it’s easy for us to downgrade the Trout – as did a friend who declined this concert on those grounds.
But The Trout is not only lively kitchen or houseparty furniture. It is a live music concert experience par excellence – and a rare one. I don’t think it’s ever been in a Coffee Concert. It takes trouble, time and money to assemble and rehearse, and yet extra cash to stage.
But now suddenly Trio Isimsiz were two men larger. Violist Timothy Ridout came from in-house at Young Classical Artistes Trust, but only late in the run-up did they dig out a double-bassist when Isimsiz cellist Michael Petrov brought in his former colleague at the Menuhin School, Ruan Baartman.
I wasn’t going to miss this chance. It’s always ‘sit where you like’ for all, so I chose a front-row seat. I wanted to hear all the internal detail, observe the extra five-way communication, watch the engine room at work in all those exhilarating accompanying rhythms, feel the physicality of performance, and see inside the sound of this iconic piece so often taken for granted and listened-to at a distance. It was especially thrilling to have the viola in close-up, and see Ridout and Petrov work in tandem, much as Schubert’s pair of cellists do in his String Quintet.
Pablo Hernán Benedi’s sparing use of vibrato often gave his lines new character and made familiar tunes seem not quite as we have long thought. Erdem Misirlioğlu’s piano seemed in admirable altruistic balance with his surrounding musical co-forces, unlike the over-assertive presence familiar on some recordings glorifying the piano part.
Being there somehow also felt a privilege – at a special occasion when, to take two curtain calls, a double bassist is traditionally obliged each time to heave and lug his instrument back on stage then all the way back off again, and still retain the poise and smooth breathing to bow in sync with the others. Ever the puff-cheeked artisan, Baartman the Bassman’s campaign should be to demand his trade union ensure his dignity by providing, standard to contract, for the task to be executed, as for royalty, by a uniformed coachman.
Something unexpected not to go unrecorded: Andrew Comben was Misirlioğlu’s page turner. All part of the service, presumably . . . or is he actually available for work? Call The Dome if you need him!
Trio Isimsiz recently gave Paris six Beethoven Piano Trios in one concert, including Opus 11 with clarinet, concluding with today’s Opus 70 No 2. Here’s to such an offering in Britain. The excellence and the subtle style and polish of Trio Isimsiz, their vibrant promise and scintillating cohesion and intelligence in young career take-off, are already conversation currency among this audience.
As emergent new generation representatives, they are of the sort who present chaotically with panache. The two string players had remembered their new patent black shoes. All were dressed in black but in different shirts on a day when disrupted rail travel meant reaching for clothes at an unearthly hour before a tenterhooks journey.
Petrov stole the show with a distinctive crinkle-style top. They all actually possess one. It’s Japanese. Just like Takemitsu – who I hope they bring us next time (along, just possibly, with all three crinkled shirts).
Final Coffee Concert of the season (a bonus extra 7th one): Sunday April 29 (same time and venue) – another multi-national string quartet in Quator Arod. Haydn in G minor Op74 No 3 ‘The Rider’; Attahir, Al Asr; Beethoven in E minor Op59 No 2 ‘Rasumovsky’. (Attahir gets in before Takemitsu!)