Leopold String Trio & Friends

Bach arr. Mozart [attributed]
Largo and Fugue in E flat [after BWV526]; Adagio and Fugue in G minor [after BWV883]
Colin Matthews
Luminoso – Oscuro – Scorrevole – Calmo [BBC commission of Luminoso & Scorrevole: world premieres]
Piano Quintet in E flat, Op.44

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

Lawrence Power (viola) & Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)

Leopold String Trio with Benjamin Nabarro (violin) & Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 28 August, 2006
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Each of the Bach arrangements was preceded by an introduction written in a totally different style – both possibly by Mozart. The voices of the fugues had been distributed among the three string players in order to clarify the structure for 18th-century sensibilities. This was sometimes an awkward matter, such as when, say, there were four voices, not three. On the whole, the arrangements worked quite well, giving clarity to the fugal structure, but, in the end, sounding rather bitty and inconsequential. Certainly the parts were played with conviction and sonority – with the somewhat Romantic seriousness of the Emerson Quartet playing The Art of the Fugue.

Colin Matthews wrote Oscuro and Calmo as a direct response to hearing Lawrence Power at a concert. The pieces explore the viola modestly and reticently. Calmo, in particular, has quiet, cool, reflective serenity. It stood well as the final section of this four-movement work for viola and piano – as a composer’s last word. The previous three pieces, including the BBC commissions, moved about agilely, but gave little sense of the darker sonority of which the instrument is capable, its silkiness or its potential for passion. Perhaps, on a first hearing, I picked up less than there was to find – but I did find that Calmo caught and held my attention to a degree that the other pieces did not.

There was also a surging, striking performance of Schumann’s Piano Quintet, the Leopold String Trio joined by Benjamin Nabarro and Simon Crawford-Phillips. The playing was both clear and youthfully exuberant. The performing style was classical rather than romantic; befitting as Schumann had been studying Haydn’s chamber music intently before and during 1842. The first movement was often enthralling but also rather emptily repetitive – particularly when Kate Gould (through no fault of her own) found it her turn, yet again, to display Schumann’s lovely cello theme. A house-style prepared to make a slight concession to Romantic involvement and variation would have been more interesting.

The slow movement fared better. A starkly clear and steady beat showed it as rather more skilfully constructed. Its darkness was most impressive – likewise, the unexpected, lighter-toned variant towards the end. The scurrying agitation of the last two movements dominated and stirred. Simon Crawford-Phillips was an assured pianist of some sensitivity.

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