Leopold String Trio – 11

String Trio in C minor, Op.9/3
Duo for Violin and Cello, Op.7
Signs, Games and Messages [selection]
Serenade in C, Op.10

Leopold String Trio [Isabelle van Keulen (violin), Lawrence Power (viola) & Kate Gould (cello)]

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 7 March, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

With this penultimate concert, the Leopold String Trio nearly reached the end of its current three-year residency at Wigmore Hall, and did so with a typically imaginative and wide-ranging programme.

The Leopold String Trio. Photograph: leopoldstringtrio.comThis offering opened with the last of Beethoven’s Opus 9 String Trios (1798) – the C minor being among the most forcibly-argued and emotionally-charged of his early works in this key. The Leopold musicians certainly had the measure of its fraught Allegro, whose initial unison motto permeates the discourse,and eased through the Adagio with no levelling-off in intensity. The scherzo’s treacherous rhythmic profile caught no-one unawares, while the finale’s journey to C major-security was finely sustained – Beethoven here defining the expressive trajectory that he was so potently to build upon thereafter.

A feature of this series has been the Leopold’s willingness to include works utilising only part of the trio formation. Thus Kodály’s Duo for Violin and Cello (1914) – one of a series of major chamber works that dominates his early maturity, and the freest in terms of its overall evolution. The first movement unfolds as the alternation between passages of intense contrapuntal interplay and those deploying ingenious takes on the ‘melody and accompaniment’ principle. The central Adagio brings the instruments into close accord for a highly-wrought threnody, something the finale’s slow introduction picks up on as it heads into an incisive Presto whose dance inflections anticipate Bartók’s achievement with a similar stylistic amalgam. Superbly brought off by Isabelle van Keulen and Kate Gould, it reaffirmed Kodály’s achievement in the period up to the First World War.

Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)That Kodály never penned a full-scale string trio is a matter of some regret, though he did leave the lively Intermezzo (1906) which began this recital’s second half. The varied re-appearances of the main theme (indirectly modelled on that of Wolf’s Italian Serenade) frame a moodier section with its pronounced Magyar characteristics. On this occasion, it provided an admirable foil to the selection from György Kurtág’s Signs, Games and Messages (1989/97) that followed. One of several series that have taken shape in the course of its composer’s evolution, it admits of any number of selections and permutations – with the eight pieces for string trio a viable entity in their own right. From the subdued elegy of ‘Flowers we are, for Miyako’, though such as the distilled intensity of ‘Ligature Y’ and the fugitive gestures of ‘Hommage à Ránki György’, to the teasing interplay of ‘Perpetuum mobile’, it made for a sequence as provocative as it is pleasurable – making one wonder what a ‘real’ Kurtág string trio might be like.

Finally to Ernö Dohnányi. His Serenade (1902) is among the most durable of his chamber works. The opening ‘Marcia’ might be a little foursquare, but the following ‘Romanza’ has a melodic generosity and textural richness that confirm a true mastery of means, with the ‘Scherzo’ an equally impressive demonstration of fugal ingenuity and lyrical warmth. Fine as they were thus far, the Leopold members excelled in the cumulative expressive charge brought to the ‘Tema con variazioni’, before relishing a ‘Rondo-Finale’ whose climactic reappearance of the march theme rounds off the work in scintillating fashion.

A fine conclusion, then, to a well-planned concert typical of those that the Leopold String Trio has given here these past three years. Hopefully this is an association that will be renewed before long.

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