Leopold String Trio – 8

Piano Quartet in A minor
Scherzo for string trio
String Trio, Op.45
Piano Quartet No.2 in A, Op.26

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

Marc-André Hamelin (piano)

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 10 March, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The Leopold String Trio was joined for the second consecutive evening at Wigmore Hall by Marc-André Hamelin, a pianist who has made a particular reputation for recording works (usually for Hyperion) that are not often heard in the concert hall and who is also a composer.

Mahler wrote the single-movement Piano Quartet at the age of 16. The piece is a youthful expression as it is difficult to find any great emotional depth here. However, what was apparent is the way in which each member of the quartet can be heard with absolute clarity. This was a young-at-heart performance that left one wishing that Mahler had written more chamber music.

The memory of the Mahler was all but obliterated by Hanns Eisler’s Scherzo, which was written in 1920, when Eisler was a student of Schoenberg. The musicians clearly enjoyed playing this piece, and, whatever the ‘joke’ at the end is about, it did raise a laugh from many.

Schoenberg’s String Trio was composed as a direct response to his ‘death’ and being brought back to life by an injection of adrenaline into his heart, which got it beating! It opens with what can only be described as a jumble of ideas that, in one way or another, come together eventually. The ‘First Episode’, which follows ‘Part 1’, was more fertile ground for the musicians, especially Isabelle van Keulen (the new member of the Leopold Trio in place of Marianne Thorsen), whose glissandos were superb, and the innate style to the playing, especially in the more challenging ‘Part 2’ and ‘Second Episode’, was gratifying.

The influence of Brahms on Mahler was discernible when both were heard here in close proximity, especially since the Brahms immediately revived fond memories of Mahler’s piece. Brahms’s large-scale A major Quartet got off to a blinding start with only a second’s pause from tuning up. Some of the quiet passages from the piano seem to anticipate the finale of Saint-Saëns’s Third Symphony (which was composed more than 20 years after Brahms’s work).

The whole performance was characterised by loving and enthusiastic playing, and the Poco adagio second movement had some superb dialogue between viola and cello. Such wonderful Romantic playing was marred right at the end when one of the loudest coughs I have heard echoed through the hall – to the obvious displeasure of Lawrence Power. Furious playing, contrasted with serene passages, was delivered in the scherzo and the finale had such thrust that there was a whiplash effect when the music hauled itself back before a complete loss of control – an astonishing effect. The turbulent ‘animato’ coda was dashed off with finesse and confidence.

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