String Trio in G minor, Op.6
Madrigals for Violin and Viola
Piano Quartet in E flat, Op.87
Leopold String Trio [Isabelle van Keulen (violin), Lawrence Power (viola) & Kate Gould (cello)]
Paul Lewis (piano)
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 8 March, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
This was the last of twelve Wigmore Hall recitals by the Leopold String Trio.
In Martinů’s three Madrigals, Isabelle van Keulen and Lawrence Power were outstanding. The style of this music – a good deal more cerebral than the works that flanked it – fitted them like a glove. They made Martinů’s astringent yet harmonic polyphony leap and spring with lean animation. His thrusts of romance swung-in intermittently, with vigorous, cool and dispassionate ardour. The first Madrigal was alert and vital; the second softer and more lyrical; the third a spectacular display of blazing virtuosity, cruelly exacting in its demands on technique and stamina. At its conclusion, van Keulen and Power briefly embraced, exultant and relieved.
Leo Weiner’s String Trio is a youthful work, from the first decade of the last century, and concurrent with Frank Bridge’s Phantasie String Trio, Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No.1 and Bax’s In the Faery Hills and written just before Stravinsky’s The Firebird and Bartók’s “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle”. The programme note, quoting Bartók, seems – inappropriately – to admonish this man, then in his early twenties, for being musically staid in the decades of his life still to come.
Weiner’s trio certainly has an early-Romantic lineage, recalling something of Mendelssohn’s elegance. The brisk, bare performance was a dexterous run-through without frills – an unadorned skeleton, ‘classical’ in tone. Eschewing the late-Romantic idiom, the players deprived this engaging work of subtlety, charm and flesh. Weiner’s work thrives on being played in velvet Edwardian tones, attentive to glancing harmonic inflexions and wisps of rubato.
The story was much the same for the Dvořák. His more energetic, exuberant writing was treated in a loud, abrasive and staccato manner with little vibrato while Paul Lewis gave peremptory, isolated chords without continuity of phrasing or the gentle liaison of discreet pedalling. Dvořák’s assertive, nationalistic extraversion sounded as if being played through gritted teeth. The gentler, more-romantic passages did receive some vibrato and played beautifully if a little clinically and without full-blooded conviction. Their phrasing was intelligent but lacking in emphasis and vigour. Paul Lewis’s percussiveness was often louder than need be.
Relief was at hand. In the slow movement, Kate Gould let me hear what I had been missing hitherto. Her extended solo used space to give a luminous, seamless legato, totally at ease with itself. Here, at last, was the robust yet melting lyricism for which Dvořák is famed. The succeeding two movements presented a couple of Bohemian village-dances, played with a joyless, whip-crack rasp – too cerebral to mistake for a dancing stamp, but possibly reminiscent of a butcher’s cleaver cracking onto a chopping bench, such as the young Dvořák might have heard in his father’s shop.
Indeed, much of this glorious piece sounded as if it were being sliced off and dissected. Yet Gould’s solo and, indeed, Martinů’s Madrigals, caught my heart.