String Trio in B-flat, D471
The Ogre Lover
James Francis Brown
String Trio No.2 [Presteigne Festival commission: world premiere]
Serenade in C, Op.10
Mathilde Milwidsky (violin), Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola) & Alice Neary (cello)
Reviewed by: David Truslove
Reviewed: 24 August, 2019
Venue: Church of St Mary Magdalene, Bleddfa, Powys, Wales
Situated twenty minutes or so from Presteigne, in the fold of gently rising hills, is the church of St Mary Magdalene, Bleddfa, which has served a tiny community for 700 years and is blessed with a near-perfect acoustic.
With fine playing from exceptionally gifted musicians, the programme opened with Schubert, from 1816, a prolific year for the composer. The Trio’s charm and agreeable invention was fully underlined with nuanced phrasing and well-articulated dynamics. There was also much to enjoy in Ernő Dohnányi’s Serenade, 1902, of immediate appeal. Solid craftsmanship is evident in the five movements and if the opening ‘Marcia’ was somewhat bland then the Scherzo fizzed with nervous energy. There is more than a hint of the salon in the elegant ‘Romanza’ and the ‘Tema con Variazioni’ is pleasantly diverting. However, intonation issues developed and a re-tune interrupted the Finale.
It was in the recent pieces (both composers present) that the players conspicuously brought their talents to bear. From Cheryl Frances-Hoad the ten-minute The Ogre Lover, 2007, inspired by Ted Hughes’s Fairytale, exploring the dreams he and his wife Sylvia Plath experienced “of high places with forty-nine doors … and an ogre lover that waits ‘inside death’ for Sylvia to return to him every night.” The ensemble fully realised the music’s frenzy, digging hard into the obsessive rhythms and relishing its expressionistic manner, the whole emotionally fevered yet at times strangely soothing. James Francis Brown’s String Trio No.2 is an engaging single movement alternating vitality with sober restraint, while also providing Sarah-Jane Bradley and her beguiling viola to frame a central passage of grave beauty.