As I shuffled to this concert in the teeth of Storm Doris several thoughts occurred to me. One had little to do with music. I found myself wondering what the amiable and solid Auntie Doris of my childhood would have made of finding her name attached to a severe Atlantic gale. She would certainly have been dismissive of a Met Office who, true to modern hype, have started using for our kind of weather a naming system hitherto associated with catastrophic Caribbean cyclones. I also wondered with all the warnings how many good Leicester folk would venture out for this concert. True, I did see one other indefatigable elderly pensioner in the distance plodding his way to the Museum so I was at least assured that there were two of us showing the bulldog spirit to make up the audience at the concert, assuming, of course, that the performers had arrived safely.
Imagine then my pleasure on arrival at the Museum finding that it was business as usual. Clearly I had not sufficiently counted on the admirable streak of imperturbability in the Leicester character, not to mention the dislike of not getting what had been paid for! The Museum Gallery was full, the tempest was not to be heard and we awaited with eagerness the Leicester debut of the Busch Trio.
Apparently the violinist plays on an instrument once owned by Adolph Busch, hence the name of the Trio. It did occur to me that the group, made up of Dutch violinist Mathieu van Bellen, Israeli pianist Omri Epstein and his brother, cellist Ori Epstein, all three of them having received a crucial part of their musical training in the UK, was certainly aiming high by associating themselves with one of the most well known family names in 20c. music. Adolph was the founder of one of the most famous string quartets of all time and Fritz the first musical director of Glyndebourne, both setting standards as high as they go.
Well, we have heard a number of fine concerts this season and it was quickly clear that this group needed to fear nothing in comparison. The quality of the playing was of the very highest order. They have such a complete rapport that they appear able to react apparently by instinct to the music, which in the case of this concert often required sudden shifts of mood and texture. The basic sound was warmly beautiful but it never seemed an end in itself as it can be in some prestigious and ever so finely tuned ensembles. In such cases I can find myself yearning for the warmth to be dissipated sometimes. In their case where sharp attack and exhilaration was required, they could lift you off your seat. Conversely their pianissimo playing had one listening to the slightest thread of sound, sound which was yet perfectly formed.
The opening work, Suk’s Elegy for piano trio did not at once fully reveal the quality of the ensemble. One immediately noted the violin’s warm tone, the main theme was played with passion and the soft ending beautifully delivered. It was all thoroughly agreeable. However, the central melody did not really establish itself as very memorable and rather cruelly reminded me that the composer’s father-in-law, one Dvorak, did this kind of thing rather better. In truth, over the years what I have heard of Suk has never convinced me that he ever quite made the leap into greatness, particularly when put beside his contemporary Czech composer, Janacek.
The truth of this was apparent by what followed in this concert. Somehow Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio Op.50 ,written after Anton Rubinstein’s death and dedicated to his memory, had never registered on my radar. So, for me this was a very special occasion, hearing for the first time a major work of a great 19c. composer. Right from the beginning that greatness showed in a melody with all of Tchaikovsky’s unique fingerprints. One was also soon alert to the possible reasons for the work perhaps not receiving that number of performances. Its structure of two vast movements is hugely demanding on an ensemble’s capacity to hold things together. It is packed with such a variety of often memorable ideas that it must be difficult to avoid it sounding episodic. However, the Busch played it so that, while there were so many delightful moments, the first movement also had a tremendous sweep to it.
And then we had the second movement of no less than 12 variations on what seemed a tune so simple as to be felt hardly suited to such treatment. Such a thought was rapidly proved wrong. Indeed, the scope of the music was prodigious, ranging from on the one hand the witty to at the other extreme music of darkly passionate mourning. One moment the piano was sounding like a music box, and wonderfully played by the pianist here, the next moment there followed a waltz as only Tchaikovsky could write. Even when my heart might have sunk at the prospect of a fugue in Variation 8, particularly when the composer himself had apparently indicated it could be omitted(!), it was lifted by the energy and exhilaration of the playing. This was followed in Variation 9 by playing of great intensity from violin and cello in concert and so through lighter variations to Variation 12, a finale worthy of Tchaikovsky at his symphonic best. Here in the final return of the theme the trio managed a passionate sound of the darkest hue, before the music died away.
Great applause resulted in an encore of one movement from Dvorak’s Dumky Piano Trio and its soulful, slow melody brought a very fine concert indeed to an end. Storm Doris had been well and truly consigned to oblivion by the power of music.