The Corn Exchange, Brighton Dome, Sunday 23 February 2014
Odd programming, I thought, as I prepared myself for this concert. With over 200 years of piano trio writing why choose two pieces from the same country, written in practically the same year: the Haydn trio in D (Hob XV:24), and the Beethoven C minor Op 1, No.3? And why call themselves Isimsiz, which means ‘nameless’ in Turkish? The pianist is Turkish but ‘nameless’ seemed a bit short on imagination.
Well, it turned out that this trio is not short on imagination. The Haydn was played with delicacy, elegance, and precision. Every note and every line was exquisitely phrased. They captured what to me is the essence of Haydn: he explores to the limits the possibilities that arise from a simple opening theme (or two). He’s not (usually) probing the depths of the human soul, he’s probing the depths of what was possible musically. There is no dramatic gesture; instead there’s the intricacy of a beautifully constructed game of chess. I find that immensely satisfying and always finish listening to a piece by Haydn with a smile. But not everyone finds that: a friend remarked in the interval that they’d found it ‘light-weight’. That’s a very interesting comment, and I think it comes from a “Romantic” viewpoint. Haydn was a product of the Age of Reason and he was not trying to express emotion. His dynamics range from very soft (pp) to very loud (ff) but he wouldn’t have wanted his music played too emphatically. It’s ‘light-weight’ in that sense but there’s nothing bland about the way he explores themes, key changes, changes of rhythm, and how he manages to return to where he started at the very moment when, after so much invention, you need the comfort of home.
So would the Isimsiz play the Beethoven in the same way? Absolutely not. Suddenly, everything was drama, emotion was to the fore. Changes of dynamics were violent, phrasing was intense, vibrato, which had been sparing in the Haydn, was everywhere. Double forte really was very loud, pianissimo very soft. On the page, the two pieces don’t look that different. Interpreted as they were by the Isimsiz they were worlds apart. Beethoven gained a huge amount from Haydn (although he was loath to admit it) but he used Haydn’s legacy for a completely different purpose: he reflected the age in which the French Revolution had already occurred, and he pointed to what would be called Romanticism. It was all about emotion.
I’ve never heard that point made, in a single concert, so clearly, so musically, as the Isimsiz made it. Brilliant programming!
The Schubert B flat trio is a glorious work and the Isimsiz did justice to it. I don’t have so much to say about it because it’s not so open to different interpretations. The joyous bits were joyful, the slow movement achingly beautiful, the minuet appropriately mischievous… I was very interested in something the violinist, Pablo Benedi, said afterwards: “usually when we play it, it comes out more serious. Today it came out more joyful”. That captures something of the excitement of live performance; even the players don’t know how it’s going to turn out on the night.