Baillie Trio at St Mary-at-Hill – Schubert, Beethoven & Mozart

String Trio in B flat, D471
String Trio in G, Op.9/1
Divertimento in E flat, K563

Baillie Trio [Helena Baillie (violin & viola), Max Baillie (violin & viola) and Alexander Baillie (cello)]

Reviewed by: Tully Potter

Reviewed: 11 July, 2012
Venue: St Mary-at-Hill Church, Lovat Lane, London EC3

Take three members of a musical family – cellist Alexander Baillie well known, his son and daughter less so ¬– a nice airy Wren church and music by three great composers of the Viennese classical era, and you have a recipe for an enjoyable evening. Performers and audience were placed side-on to the altar, which seemed to work well for both acoustics and sightlines.

Max Baillie took the violin part in Schubert’s single movement, all that the composer completed of a String Trio in B flat, with Helena Baillie making a good dark sound on the viola. This work needed firmer shaping and a slightly faster basic tempo, in order to make its full effect.

Beethoven’s G major String Trio, with Max Baillie again leading, created a much more positive impression and was very well interpreted, with real drama in the opening movement. Max Baillie led off the Adagio with glowing tone and both the scherzo and the Presto finale were delivered with character and spirit. Had Beethoven progressed no further than Opus 9, we would still see him as a significant composer.

With Helena Baillie taking the violin part in Mozart’s wonderful Divertimento, the whole ensemble acquired a richer sound. The opening Allegro was taken at an excellent tempo, fast enough to hold the interest, yet slow enough to allow for a real conversation – and for the cello to get its phrases in without any lurches or bumps. Of course Alexander Baillie’s skill had much to do with it. We were given the first repeat but not the second, a fair stratagem in a concert performance. The Adagio was very sensitively played, the first Minuet went with a swing and the Variations were thoughtfully differentiated, the minor one played with virtually no vibrato. Once or twice a passage might have been given a more loving inflection, in both rhythm and phrasing – the viola’s solo in the first Trio of the second Minuet, for instance – and the finale would surely have benefited from a slightly less sedate tempo (no doubt the players were concerned not to make it sound too trivial, but Mozart always wrote his divertimento finales in popular vein and a carefree reading can make a virtue of it). One or two little accidents betrayed the fact that this is not a regular ensemble, but did not detract from an absorbing performance, in which all three players had chances to display their wares.

If I understood Max Baillie correctly, this ensemble last played in this country some 16 years ago, when he and his sister were teenagers. I hope we shall not have to wait a similar time for the next performance – after all, there is a lot more music of quality to explore – not only more Beethoven and Schubert, but also Boccherini, Rolla, Reger, Hindemith and Françaix, to name only a few (Hans Keller would have added the name of Schoenberg but I am a kinder man).

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