Leopold String Trio – 3

String Trio in G minor (Variations on a Russian Theme)
String Trio in E flat, Op.31
String Trio
String Trio in G, Op.9/1

Leopold String Trio [Marianne Thorsen (violin), Lawrence Power (viola) & Kate Gould (cello)]

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 10 March, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The Leopold String Trio’s traversal of repertoire for, and featuring, Its medium continued here with the first of two concerts comprising Russian and Viennese ‘classics’. Not that Borodin’s G minor Trio (1855) is overly significant as such, but these seven variations draw a fair range of expression from the soulful folksong heard at the beginning and end; the more so when (as here) the second violin part is transferred to viola, freeing the piece from the exigencies of domestic performance which was Borodin’s only way to hear his music played at this formative stage in his development.

The Leopold rendered the Borodin sympathetically, but it was a mere entrée into the String Trio (1911) that Taneyev composed as one of the fine series of chamber works from his later years. As one would expect from this most academically rigorous of Russian composers, it builds on the achievements of Viennese classicism in a four-movement structure that draws the three instruments into fervent contrapuntal accord. An aspect the Leopold clearly relished – whether in projecting the evolutionary process of the first movement with cumulative intensity, or dispatching the scherzo’s deft motivic interplay with Mendelssohnian lightness. The intense Adagio was searching but never lachrymose, while the finale extracted maximum variety from its single theme on the way to a vibrant conclusion. One day, we will perhaps hear this work with the tenor viola instrument for which it was conceived; but the music likely gains in timbral depth from this part being played on a cello, and the significance of the piece to the string trio repertoire cannot be gainsaid after so persuasive a performance as this.

From a repertoire that has grown markedly during recent years, the String Trio (1985) by Alfred Schnittke stands out both for its resource and its sheer unrelieved intensity. A tribute to Berg, on both the centenary of his birth and the 50th anniversary of his death, the work centres on a salient theme (Bergian in allusion rather than actuality) which is heard at the outset of an expandedsonata-form Moderato, then further developed – along with its motivic subsidiaries – in a fantasia-like Adagio that duly intensifies the expressive potency of the musical material. And, if the Leopold did not emphasise this intensification as keenly as have other interpreters, it rightly ensured that both movements were drawn into a tight unity which brought out the cohesiveness of Schnittke’s thinking.

Cohesiveness as such is hardly an issue where Beethoven is concerned – certainly not in the G major String Trio (1798) that, along with its C minor counterpart, is his principal achievement in a medium to which he never returned. The Leopold caught unerringly the quizzical humour that complements the energy of the Allegro (its Adagio introduction drawn unobtrusively into the overall ground-plan), and found just the right pathos in the delicate part-writing of the Adagio. The effervescence of the scherzo was all of a piece with the piquancy of its two trios, and if the concluding Presto could have been taken with even greater dash, it at least gave the players room to manoeuvre in the coda – whose brilliance positively leapt off the platform.

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