Amatis Trio, Lakeside, Nottingham. 16 March 2023. 5*****. William Ruff


Amatis Trio

Lakeside, Nottingham

March 16 2023


Review: William Ruff


The Amatis Trio are outstanding advocates of two masterpieces of the repertoire

The ‘piano trio’ is one of classical music’s more confusing terms and has occasionally led to audience members being disappointed that it doesn’t mean three people sitting at Steinways.  In the case of Thursday night’s Amatis Trio it means Lea Hausmann (violin), Sam Shepherd (cello) and Mengjie Han (yes, piano).  Each is a remarkable musician; together they generate more musical power than at first sight seems possible.

They opened their programme with one of biggest piano trios in the repertoire: Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’ Trio, a work which reveals the composer in all his glory.  It’s a treasure trove for those who like technical complexity – as well as being both sublime and playful.  However, as Sam Shepherd said in his introduction, it was written when Beethoven was already deaf and a sad figure at the keyboard, jangling the notes or playing them so quietly that they couldn’t be heard.

No such problems in this Amatis performance.  The theme of the Olympian first movement was given space to breathe, its expansiveness perceptively explored and exploited.  The witty scherzo burst with high spirits; the hymn-like slow movement was infused with breath-catching serenity and the finale exploded with wild, wayward volatility – right up to the presto gallop to the finishing line.   Throughout tempi were well-judged, detail beautifully shaped and both profundity and wit were handled with sensitivity and eloquence.

The concert’s second half was much darker in tone and started with D’un soir triste by Lili Boulanger, a French composer whose enormous potential was snuffed out in 1918 at the age of only 24.  It’s a piece which radiates a sombre beauty, very slow and reminiscent of a funeral march, full of unconsoling harmonies, plunging ever deeper into despair.  The Amatis Trio gave a revelatory performance, their playing minutely controlled even as it recreated the most profound sorrow.

The final piece, Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No 2, is a work which manages to be both disturbing and exhilarating.  It was written in memory of Ivan Sollertinsky, a close friend of the composer who had died suddenly in 1944.  Once heard the opening of the first movement can never be forgotten.  The tone, mournful and despairing, is announced by eerily disembodied cello harmonics matched by a numbingly sombre melody on the violin.  This is followed by a brutal scherzo and a deeply moving slow movement based on a sequence of eight disturbingly percussive chords.  However, it’s perhaps the finale which most unsettles the listener with its unforgettable use of Jewish klezmer music, a reflection of the composer’s horror at the atrocities committed against the Jews in the Nazi extermination camps of the period.  The Amatis players were alive to every nuance in a work which swings violently between moods and which demands considerable virtuosity from each musician.  The piece ends with the eerie harmonics of the opening, leaving hearers with the vision of a landscape just as bleak and empty as when they entered it.  It was all handled with great sensitivity and drew loud, cathartic applause from an audience at the end of a taxing but electrifying journey.

Amatis Trio

Lea Hausmann, violin

Sam Shepherd, cello

Mengjie Han, piano

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