Sunny moods and bitter grief at lunchtime at St Andrew’s

Koru Trio (Rachel Thomson – piano, Anne Loeser – violin, Sally Isaac – cello)

Schumann: Adagio and Allegro for cello and piano, Op 70
Shostakovich: Piano Trio No 2 in E minor, Op 67

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 11 September, 12:15 pm

When I reviewed the Koru Trio’s performance of Schubert’s B Flat piano trio last October, I exclaimed at the blessings that were available to the legions of public servants in the vicinity of St Andrew’s who could recover their sanity and humanity (words to that effect) in their lunch breaks at these wonderful lunchtime concerts. I was one of them till the late 1980s, but I see very few of my latter-day colleagues at the concerts now, even on days when an indoor sanctuary is necessary; it was a foul day outside. I suspect spiritual redemption would be ever-more essential in today’s political climate.

Schumann’s later compositions are commonly regarded as inferior to the wondrous inspirations for the piano and the Lieder that he produced up till 1840. This short piece, Adagio and Allegro, dated 1849, was originally scored for piano and horn, though the composer directed that it could also be played on violin or cello. Thank goodness! For the cello, certainly that played by Sally Isaac, was beautifully matched with the softly lyrical character of the music.  I don’t know how much these players work together, but the ensemble, the perfect unity of tone and expression between cello and piano seemed to speak of close affinity in their musical temperament. The one instrument was never obscured by the other, apart from the momentary sharpish attack from the piano at the start of the Allegro.

This was such a gorgeous performance of a little-known piece that I have to refrain from saying that it was the Shostakovich that was the real reason for being here. Both were simply wonderfully understood and eloquently expressed performances.

The opening of Shostakovich’s second piano trio is famously unique, and arresting; cello, violin and piano signaled, in succession, through those other-worldly harmonics, a deep understanding of this remarkable music and the capacity for its expression. Much as one was entranced by the technical mastery and scrupulous articulation, its real impact lay in the profound emotion that surfaced.

It would be easy for the more energetic second movement to deliver a very different mood, but it appeared simply as another facet of the sense of loss and pain that the composer felt both for the death of his friend Sollertinsky and for wartime suffering in general.

The Largo, starting with insistent piano chords, moves promptly to more extended, contrapuntal passages that lie at the funereal heart of the piece. Then, in the final movement, the players imposed a heavy rhythm, suggesting a dark, peasantish dance of death, as if stamping on the ground, venting anger at the blind cruelty of fate, or the State. The violin tone became brighter, even elegant, though it also served to raise the level of emotion which increased further with hard piano chords and insistent down-bow strokes on the violin and cello.

The way in which the trio comes to its end, in a mood of increasing quiet and calm actually speaks of the composer’s sense of despair, a conviction that nothing will change, and the way the players allowed the textures to thin out, diminuendo, to slow down without any actual rallentando was a memorable feat.

It’s not every lunchtime that one can be brought face-to-face with such musicianship and an utterance of such powerful politico-emotional despair.



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