The debut in Leicester of this high flying Trio almost didn’t happen. At the last moment their pianist fell ill but, as their violinist Jack Liebeck told the audience, they really did want to fulfil the engagement and, as their luck and our luck would have it, they managed to sign up for the trip the distinguished pianist Daniel Grimwood . Twenty four hours later, and ,we were assured, after intensive rehearsal, the newly constituted trio walked onto the platform of the New Walk Museum to perform.
And what performances they gave! I am fully persuaded that there are occasions when concerts given under less than ideal conditions result in performances that thrill in a way that those which are more considered and matured do not quite. Perhaps the adrenalin takes over. Whatever, these performances certainly did thrill this listener. Jack Liebeck is, of course, an established international soloist who has appeared in the city before, but the cellist Christian–Pierre La Marca was completely new to me and the pianist only known by reputation. Exploration of the internet suggests that that had been very much my loss and what happened in this concert re-inforced that feeling . Barely a moment went by without the trio as a whole or one or other of the ensemble causing one to catch one’s breath with delight.
In the opening work , Haydn’s Piano Trio No. 43, there was perhaps some settling down. At times in live performance piano trios can create considerable problems of balance and here there were moments when the piano tended to over lay the two string instruments. However, the way in which from the beginning the latter so naturally leant into the phrases suggested real class. The opening movement of this joyous work had a great lift and bounce, the sudden change from the lyricism of the opening of the second movement into the dramatic was memorable and the wit of the last movement was brilliantly effected. By this time it was as if the three had been playing together for years. Of all the great composers Haydn can be relied upon to deliver the feel good factor and that is exactly what was communicated here.
And then came Dvorak’s Dumky Piano Trio which for me has special memories. Decades ago there was a very moving serial on TV which charted the lives and deaths of a Jewish family during the Nazi period and in which the pervading accompanying music was a cello tune of infinite sadness. At the time I thought it to be music of Jewish origin.
Then, sometime later I heard this Trio for the first time and in the fourth movement immediately recognised where the tune came from. Of course, by that time the associations already formed were not to be dismissed from the mind and perhaps they shouldn’t be. The fact that the dumka is of Ukrainian origin possibly makes little difference. The choice of this music for the subject matter of the serial could be argued to be absolutely apt. Is it fanciful to feel in the work at times a sense of an Eastern European culture and its music soon to be lost? After all throughout Europe at this time there was an urgent recording of folk music for posterity before it disappeared for ever. In this work it is made all the more poignant by the way, together with many moments of elegiac sadness, the joy and the vitality of that culture is so vividly communicated as well.
The work is also something of a riposte to the assumption that an episodic structure in music is inferior to that which displays symphonic argument. This performance made clear that the range of feeling, the subtlety of so much of the music in its colouring and in its dramatic contrasts, together with the sheer magic of this composer’s melodic gifts , all serve to keep the work constantly afloat and stamp it as one the greatest in the chamber music repertoire. Indeed, during the performance I effectively gave up scribbling because I found myself literally overwhelmed by the felicities that I was noticing on the way. In the second movement, for instance, the cello melody of infinite poignancy was played to aching effect, the piano playing created at times a crystalline silver bell- like quality in the treble, the violin danced its way wonderfully through the polka section before all three combined to create a sound world of breathtaking beauty as the quiet of the opening returned. To this listener the exquisiteness of the sound produced almost stopped time in its tracks for an instance. After that I very wisely stuffed my pen into my pocket and surrendered utterly to the music. Words in this instance could simply not do justice to either the music or the playing, so why try, I thought.