Amatis Piano Trio at St Finian’s Church, Dublin, on 10 October 2018
Music Network opens its Autumn season with that most venerable of chamber music groupings, the piano trio. While the combination certainly has a history – and one that’s celebrated in this programme – the Amatis Piano Trio is as fresh as they come. The ensemble, barely four years old, and made up of three players still at the beginnings of their careers (violinist Lea Hausmann, cellist Samuel Shepherd and pianist Mengjie Han), is already winning prizes across Europe, and draw a curious mid-week audience to St Finian’s.
Opening with Haydn’s Trio in C Major, the players prove responsive and well-attuned to each other. They bring out a real sense of rhetorical interplay between the instrumental voices, and show clear affection for this material. Everything is as it should be: crisp, articulate, yet warmly expressed, the phrasing both smooth and sensitive. The poised exchanges of the slow middle movement bring out some thoughtful playing, reflected even in their body language and the careful glances they exchange at key moments. The brilliant cut and thrust of the finale brings a spiky edge, the perfect palate cleanser.
By contrast, the Trio No. 3 in G minor by Robert Schumann takes the combination into far darker and more dramatic territory. There is no introduction: instead we are put in the midst of the work’s material from the very opening bar, and the ensemble responds to this theatricality with arresting playing. The cello’s dark tone projects a rich sense of mystery, creating beautifully-tuned moments of close harmony with the violin before they split away again. There is much to enjoy in the trio’s playing of this surprisingly neglected work, both in attention to detail and a feeling for its intensity and shifting emotional palette. The tenderness and gentle drift the players bring to the slow movement transforms into the stylish wit of the scherzo, before we reach the vibrancy of the work’s close.
As much advocates for new music as for lesser-known corners of the ‘standard’ repertoire, the Amatis Trio tonight includes a new work by Amanda Feery, Gone to Earth, specially-commissioned for this tour by Music Network. The title, taken from Mary Webb’s novel of 1917, evokes issues of predation, pursuit, and refuge, its sexual politics recast in the materials at hand: the play of bow, gut, and wood – and rhythm. Han’s piano is partially prepared, with one note stopped to create a hollow, hammering sound, a rhythmic drive which punctuates the work, strange and alien, its rawness a violent incursion. Against this insistent drumming, the sustained string lines suggest a stillness and a vivid sense of space. Sensitively interpreted, the work creates a dynamic that could well be extended further.
The trio saves the most familiar piece in the programme to last, dragging us back to the 1830s in a way that renders Feery’s piece a strange crack in time. A performance of Mendelssohn’s wonderful Trio No. 1 in D minor is always welcome, though, and the ensemble play this work with fabulous intensity. The virtuoso piano part is given a vivid performance by Han, balanced by the close rapport of the two string players, with Hausmann’s deft phrasing a real pleasure to watch. The level of communication and feeling for the material at hand from all three players is something that works across the programme, and shows to particular effect here.
Responding to the audience’s warm reception, the trio returns with a suitably late-night encore, a Tango by Astor Piazzolla, gritty, dark, and stylish. Touring nationwide to October 17, audiences across the country are in for a treat.
Joseph Haydn, Trio in C major, Hob XV:27
Robert Schumann, Trio No. 3 in G minor, Op. 110
Amanda Feery, Gone to Earth
Felix Mendelssohn, Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49
Images of Amatis Piano Trio by Alison Laredo