Nikau Trio: Karen Batten (flute), Madeleine Sakovsky (oboe), Margaret Guldborg (cello)
Haydn: Trio No 3 in G, Hob. IV:3 (originally for two flutes and cello continuo)
J S Bach: Trio Sonata in G, BWV 1039
Beethoven: Variations on ‘La ci darem la mano’ from Don Giovanni, WoO 28
Vivaldi: Chamber concerto in G minor RV 103
St Mark’s Church, Lower Hutt
Wednesday 5 September, 12.15pm
The lunchtime concerts at St Mark’s church on Woburn Road have been growing in popularity, and there seems to be a trend towards presenting music of greater substance over the past year or so. But that’s not the only pleasure in making the journey. The church has a light and open lobby where free tea and coffee are available before the concerts; and the church itself, with its high vaulted wooden ceiling, allows the music to bloom in the most engaging way.
The little trio in G by Haydn, written while he was in London for the Salomon concerts that featured his twelve last great symphonies, might be slight in terms of musical profundity, but perfectly matched the sunny day and the temperament of the three polished musicians. All free-lance, professional musicians, they created a beautiful ensemble, perhaps even more attractive than the original for two flutes would have been. Attention moves from one to another as they play, to admire the polish and individuality of each in turn, but then the sound of the trio as a unit overtakes you.
Given the work’s origin, it was to be expected that both flute and oboe would lie in a similar range, mostly quite high. To my ears, the oboe’s contribution lent a welcome textured colour to the sound, and the fine cello playing of Margaret Guldborg kept it well grounded.
Bach’s sonata was one of his few ‘Trio Sonatas’ (this one for two flutes and continuo); it was a very common genre in the early 18th century, and Bach wrote it during the years at the small court of Anhalt-Cöthen during 1717 – 1723, his instrumental music years (because the Prince was a Calvinist and was not interested in choral music). Cöthen is a bit north of Leipzig, in the present province of Sachsen-Anhalt.
It is in the traditional slow-fast-slow-fast pattern, and though hardly one of his major works, it offered enough musical substance in the form of counterpoint to hold the attention. And the opening Adagio was of a sanguine character, spiced by the Bach gift for the slightly unorthodox, to end the movement on an unresolved cadence. Though I can’t recall hearing the piece before, the second movement, Allegro ma non presto, and the last movement, were familiar. A trio sonata might stand somewhere between a solo or duet sonata and a concerto, and there were hints of the texture of one of his concertos in the third movement.
The Beethoven variations too were originally composed for a slightly different combination: two oboes and cor anglais, in 1796. It is quite an extended work with considerable variety between the eight variations though its pattern is little different from the very common variation form that prevailed across the centuries. The three players here exhibited considerable delight in this variety, whether tossing motifs back and forth or enjoying a brief duet in charming harmony. The eighth variation became more elaborate in its concertante character, both flute and oboe extremely busy while the cello looked after the melody. The rhythm in the coda turned into a gigue, with the cello again important; but the piece subsides to a quite poignant conclusion.
The Vivaldi concerto is one of his less common excursions for particular instruments: here he wrote for recorder, oboe, bassoon and strings. In G minor, it opens brightly, with Guldborg’s cello fluent and lively, then taking on a serious quality in the Largo led by the flute and oboe and the trio’s always splendid sharing of the motifs as well as the warmth and accuracy of the ensemble made this a thoroughly delightful recital.