Leopold String Trio – 5

String Trio in D, Op.14/4
String Trio (Le Chimay), Op. posth
Divertimento in E flat, K 563

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

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

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

The fifth concert in the Leopold Trio’s ongoing series of imaginatively planned concerts – the following evening’s recital features music by Krása, one of the Czech Jewish composers imprisoned in Theresienstadt – and this programme was notable for allowing us the rare chance to hear Ysaÿe’s belatedly premiered and posthumously published String Trio ‘Le Chimay’ which is so-named because it was given its first performance at the Château de Chimay in 1964. (Chimay is also the name of an extremely powerful Belgian beer!)

Although the Trio received its first performance more than 40 years ago, the original autograph score on which that was based gave few dynamic or tempo indications and the work has only recently been published (2002) by the Berlin house of Ries and Erler, in an edition where the interpretative details have been worked out by reference to Ysaÿe’s Sonatas for Solo Violin. It was this that the Leopold used.

Given that Ysaÿe was born as long ago as 1858 and the Trio dates from 1927, just four years before his death, it is a quite remarkably forward-looking work. Its extended single-movement opens in an atmosphere of keening Expressionist angst with impassioned strings at the lower end of their register creating an almost orchestral sonority. The opening motif – nearly a tone row – could have stepped straight out of the world of Verklärte Nacht and indeed it returns transfigured towards the end of the opening Lento, a moment of real frisson. The work continues with an oddly elliptical scherzo, alternating aggression with playfulness and moments of ecstatic repose and even at one moment dissolving into a shadowy waltz before culminating in a virtuoso coda.

The Leopold Trio played it with the sort of impassioned conviction they bring to Schoenberg’s String Trio. Ysaÿe’s work is a significant addition to the rather sparse trio repertoire. It is to be hoped that it will soon be recorded.

Of Mozart’s masterpiece the Leopold Trio have already made a notably fine recording for Hyperion. On this occasion, despite a magnificently poised reading of the Adagio with perfectly timed pauses, elsewhere there frequently seemed a degree of over-interpretation, a reluctance to let the music speak for itself. The opening Allegro, taken quite swiftly, encapsulated this; there was slightly breathless quality, with every I dotted, every T firmly crossed, so that when we reached the development where shadows suddenly cloud the landscape, these failed to register fully precisely because so much that had preceded had been forceful and overstated. So it continued with every nook and cranny of the fourth movement Andante variations fully explored (to their benefit), yet with the second Minuet over-inflected and spoiled by Power’s hamming-up the Trio.

The opening Boccherini – one of the nearly 50 string trios he wrote – was wholly delightful, at once amiable, rich-toned and like a conversation between three rather garrulous old friends. Its central movement marked Andantino is anything but, being a scherzo in all but name, whilst the closing Allegro assai is vigorous, chattering music, almost operatic its relentless vivacity. It received a deliciously insouciant reading wholly at one with the music’s character.

  • Leopold 6 @ Wigmore Hall on 11 November – Krása, Schubert & Bach
  • Wigmore Hall

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