Sans Souci Piano Trio – 5th October

Piano Trio in G, Op.1/No.2
Bernard Stevens
Piano Trio, Op.3

Sans Souci Piano Trio
[Elizabeth Cooney, violin; Gabriella Swallow, cello; Cathal Breslin, piano]

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 5 October, 2001
Venue: St James’s, Piccadilly, London

St James’s Church, Piccadilly, has long been a favoured venue for chamber recitals; the immediacy of the acoustic outweighing the all-too-frequent reminders that this is a central London location.

Making its debut here was the Sans Souci Piano Trio, formed in 1999 by students at the Royal College of Music, and taking its distinctive name from the Belfast street in which the cellist was born.

Beethoven’s G major trio was a good choice, in that it is the least played of his Op.1 triptych. Less weighty and formal than the E flat trio, and less provocative than the stormy C minor, this is among the most relaxed of Beethoven’s early chamber works, the first movement’s ’Adagio’ folding into the ’Allegro vivace’ with an almost Mozartian fluency. The Sans Souci’s could have characterised this movement more robustly, but it had the measure of the gentle pathos of the ’Largo’, and despatched the scherzo and closing ’Presto’ with finely judged vigour. The spontaneous interplay of the ensemble was a constant source of pleasure.

So it was too in the Piano Trio, written in 1942, by Londoner Bernard Stevens (1916-83), a toughly-argued work, the three movements of which traverse a wide emotional range in their 16-minute course. The agitation of the opening ’Allegro deciso’ is barely relieved by the brooding intensity of the ’Adagio’ before the ’Allegro con brio’ works up to a conclusion of defiance, securely drawing together the work’s thematic threads in the process.

Recipients of the 2001 Bernard Stevens Prize, the Sans Souci has clearly taken the work to its collective heart, and delivereda gripping performance which communicated to an attentive audience.

An absorbing and well-balanced recital from a group of keenmusicianship and evidently wide sympathies; we’ll doubtless be hearing more of them.

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