Verdehr Trio – Six UK Premieres

Clarinet Trio
Tibetan Dance

[All UK Premieres]

Verdehr Trio [Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr (clarinet), Walter Verdehr (violin) & Silvia Roederer (piano)]

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 28 October, 2005
Venue: Purcell Room, London

Founded in 1973, the Verdehr Trio has done for the ‘clarinet trio’ medium what the Beaux Arts Trio has done for the piano trio – which, in this instance, means building on the handful of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century works to create a repertoire almost from scratch. Six recent commissions featured in this recital – given under the auspices of the Park Lane Group, and opening with the headlong though intricate and effervescent motion of Jennifer Higdon’s aptly-named Dash (2002).

Contrast was provided with Jonathan Harvey’s atmospheric Clarinet Trio (2005), whose restraint is enlivened by subtle pentatonic inflections and a piano part tapped out on the lid of the keyboard: a telling complement to Peter Dickinson’s Lullaby (2004) – the most recent version of a song from a long- abandoned opera, and with an oblique but haunting melodic profile. More substantial is Joan Tower’s Rainwaves (1997) – a study in repeated-note patterns of alternate energy and lyricism, and working through its fast-slow-fast outline with satisfying coherence. Little has been heard in the UK of Towerover the last decade, and a piece such as this suggests performances should be more forthcoming.

Quite a lot has been heard of Wolfgang Rihm in recent years – enough to confirm he is a composer whose idiom takes in all aspects of ‘musical Romanticism’. In Gesangstuck (2003), the classicised Romanticism of Brahms is encountered in a substantial (25-minute) sequence of seven continuous sections; ostensibly those romances and intermezzos familiar from Brahms’s late chamber and piano works, and with a starkly poignant recitative-like passage towards its centre. Less a revisiting of old friends than a revitalising of past models, Rihm’s ‘Songpiece’ was given with dedication – and would sit ideally alongside the trios of Brahms and Zemlinsky.

Here, it preceded Bright Sheng’s Tibetan Dance (2000) – in which two brief movements of wistful demeanour proceeded a longer and more elaborate ‘finale’, with the melodic and rhythmic qualities of a folk-dance from Qinghai (Sheng’s home province) infusing the music to vigorous effect. As in his Third String Quartet, Sheng has evolved a vital and individual way of bringing traditional sources into a decidedly contemporary perspective.

Throughout this relatively short but eventful recital, the playing of the Verdehr Trio evinced both a commitment to the music at hand and an understanding of the medium only possible after years of devotion to its cause. Gershwin’s Promenade – suitably arranged – provided a nonchalant encore: hopefully the ensemble will return with a further such programme before long.

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