Spirit of friendship
MALCOLM MILLER admires
Schubert and Mendelssohn
at the London début of the
newly formed piano trio 'Opus 3'
If it is a truism that Schubert's chamber music is music for friends, which radiates a spirit of commonality, then the performance of two late masterpieces, the Notturno Op 148 and the Piano Trio in D minor Op 49, by 'Opus 3', seemed to touch that communal essence of the music. In its London début, held in the rich acoustical surrounds of St James's Church, Piccadilly, on 27 October 2005, the recently formed ensemble, its members all resident artists at Uppingham School (which hosts one of the oldest music departments in the country) evinced admirable qualities of ensemble, balance and interpretative depth, that deserve far wider appreciation than evidenced on this occasion by the rather sparsely populated auditorium. A keen honing of balance and sharing of themes, dovetailing from instrument to instrument, and engaging duet textures, brought out the music's felicities with compelling conviction and immediacy. Above all each player displayed attractive tonal qualities, with violinist Christopher White's beautifully sweet Stradivarius tone matched by the yearning cello phrases of Jane Odriozola, an erstwhile student of William Pleeth and Jacqueline Du Pré. Canadian Melanie Reinhard's warm pianistic partnership allowed the strings full resonance, meshing with, rather than dominating, the overall texture.
Schubert's single movement Notturno, a late work, flowed with serene elegance, the theme shared by violin and cello in thirds so reminiscent of the String Quintet, while the spiky rhythmic profile of the middle section was lightly pointed with an aptly Viennese lilt. It formed a poetic overture to Mendelssohn's dramatic Trio in D minor Op 49, receiving here a purposeful, virtuoso rendition full of fresh and invigorating ideas. The structural control was fully involving in the first movement, the thrusting first subject developed in myriad sequential paragraphs towards thrilling climaxes. If the strings were occasionally too forward in accompaniment textures and the piano somewhat reticent in important thematic material, the balance was corrected giving a wide variety of dynamic shading in the next three movements. The Andante con moto tranquillo achieved just the right mood of touching nostalgia, each phrase sculpted with authentic immediacy and an appealing silvery violin tone, not overlaid by too much vibrato. The graceful Scherzo, delicately translucent, breathed its counterpoints and inner motifs with lucidity. Their satisfying sometimes highly charged account reached a climax in the exciting finale, in which the cello's soloistic richness emerged forcefully, and the whole ensemble providing compelling impetus and drive.
The group's account of Schubert's Piano Trio in B flat Op 99 to conclude was full of magical highpoints and ravishing sonorities, for instance, the arresting sustained violin note which appears to stop time before pivoting into a new key for the lyrical second subject. The transformation of tone in the slow movement was enthralling, with both violin and cello excelling in nuanced tonal shading, while the Scherzo came alive with pointed march rhythms in contrast to the flowing string duet of the Trio. In the propulsive finale one heard subtle rubati before thematic entries and the playful tunes danced buoyantly in true Schubertian fashion, an emblem of the true spirit of friendship at the heart of the music.