‘A-Mews-ment’ in Nelson with classical pieces

Real classical music, as it should be

Douglas Mews (fortepiano), Douglas Beilman (violin), Euan Murdoch (cello)


Haydn: Piano Trio No 40 in F sharp minor, Hob. 15/26; C P E Bach: Fantasia and Rondo in C; Mozart: Piano Trio in  B flat, K 502


St John’s Church, Wednesday 9 February, 1pm


The remarks by both Euan Murdoch and Douglas Mews on the tuning, instrument characteristics and performance techniques in the late 18th century were very illuminating for the audience, both those with some familiarity with and knowledge of the issues, and others. It emerged here that three keyboard instruments had made the journey from Wellington to equip performers for several of the concerts involving pre-1800 music: a chamber organ and harpsichord used in the Bach concert, and the fortepiano at this one. They were all loaned by the New Zealand School of Music. 


Those who had heard the Haydn played on modern instruments may initially have been disconcerted by the small, but very clear sound generated by the keyboard, the size of the sound being very similar to the contemporary harpsichord, given the smaller case, lower tension on the strings and wooden instead of iron frame. So it took little time for it to start to sound normal. The most conspicuous continuing difference is the rapid dying of the sound of the vibrating strings, which gave an altogether different meaning to those elements of the piece that might have been called ‘Sturm und Drang’,  that extreme aspect of the baroque that presaged the Romantic era.


From the same decade was Mozart’s Piano Trio in B flat. Because Mozart’s music generally seems slightly more modern than Haydn’, this trio, in ‘authentic’ clothes was perhaps more surprising than the Haydn. It emerged with short breaths, brilliant, brittle; there is nothing showy in the writing, as the piano trio was aimed more at the domestic market than at professional performance. The string players used very little vibrato, though it was not entirely absent, at the end of a long-held note. Melody is slight though agreeable, with more attention devoted to the style of ornamentation, which presumably entertained the amateur pianist more than it might today.


Between the two trios Mews played a rather extraordinary piece by Bach’s second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, who was more esteemed than his father in the late 18th century. Melody came in very abbreviated scraps, and any sort of development was abruptly denied, as another quite different idea was thrown into the progress, or an unexpected key-change into a distant key, perhaps after a strident foreign bass note, or simply a short silence.  It was an entertaining episode though I confess to having remained moderately unmoved by most of CPE’s music.  


The playing of both string players, with instruments of the era – Beilman’s a genuine antique though of confused provenance, and Murdoch’s a modern replica, had all the hall-marks of thoroughly practised musicians in the special field of historically-informed performance.


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