December 15 2022
Review: William Ruff
Playing of brilliance, emotional depth and transparency by the Fidelio Trio
Just three instruments (piano, violin and cello) but what a universe of energy and emotion the piano trio can contain. On Thursday night at Lakeside the Fidelio Trio seemed keen to prove that there are, in fact, no limits as far as the expressive capability of their medium is concerned.
They started their programme with the Piano Trio in G minor by Clara Schumann, a composer too often overshadowed by her more famous husband, Robert, but whose music is now receiving the recognition it deserves. She wrote this Trio in 1846, at a time when women were so associated with home-making and child-bearing that contemporary critics were astonished at its quality. Surely her husband had written it? they opined. But no, it was hers – and written against the odds. The couple’s fourth child had just died and both Clara and Robert were ill. Against this troubled background the sure-footedness of her Piano Trio seems even more remarkable and the Fidelio Trio clearly believe in the quality of its inspiration, the way Clara was able to control the large-scale outer movements whilst sandwiching a playful scherzo and lyrical andante in between. The finale has considerable intellectual weight and includes an expert, serious-minded fugue, something which impressed fellow composers such as Mendelssohn. The Fidelio Trio infused their performance with elegant, transparent textures, clearly revelling in the music’s inventiveness.
They followed this with a work which dates from as recently as 2017, the Piano Trio No 2 by Alexander Goehr, a composer/academic who has recently celebrated his 90th birthday. This second Trio, written some 50 years after the composer’s first, isn’t an easy listen, but its visual, dramatic nature gives it a very different character from its younger, more abstract sibling. Inspired by the ‘Entrance into the Nighttown’ episode from James Joyce’s Ulysses, it consists of a series of grotesque visions in five interlocking movements in which the three instruments not only play together but are also used individually and in pairs, as if in conversation, with the central section exploding into a sort of wild and vulgar dance. No matter how challenging Goehr’s musical language may seem at times, the Fidelio Trio gave a performance which was never less than beautiful, making even its silences as dramatically vital as every note.
In the second half of their programme they played the Piano Trio No 2 by Franz Schubert, one of his most deeply personal compositions. The Fidelio players captured all the turbulence of the opening movement, making it sound abrupt, imploring, even tortured. The emotionally weighty slow movement was set in motion by some heartfelt playing by the cello as a forlorn-sounding tune is set to a slow march rhythm. The scherzo offered some lighter relief, a sort of nonchalant Viennese dance. In the finale the Fidelio Trio deftly contrasted the relaxed, lolloping theme with which it begins with much more brilliant and boisterous writing. The whole Trio needs high-calibre musicianship combining deeply felt emotion with wit and fantasy, if it is to grip and move its audience over nearly 45 minutes. The Fidelio Trio’s Darragh Morgan (violin), Tim Gill (cello) and Mary Dullea (piano) ensured their performance had all this and much more besides.
The Fidelio Trio
Darragh Morgan, violin
Tim Gill, cello
Mary Dullea, piano