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Concert review: Visontay-Walton-Johnson piano trio

This first concert in the new season, on Sunday 5 July 2015, was dedicated to the memory of Linda Holmes, the surviving Founder Patron of Concerts at Cratfield whose death earlier in 2015 followed only a few months after that of the other, her husband David, in 2014. Her memory has also been marked by a beautifully crafted and inscribed wooden bench by the south wall of the church, where attenders of the concerts and visitors to the church may sit and enjoy the view over the countryside.

The concert itself was also a fitting tribute to the vision of David and Linda Holmes when they started the concerts, initially in Walpole in the early 1980s but moving to Cratfield shortly afterwards. And to those who have taken up and continued that vision in these series of concerts which, for me at least and despite strong competition from further east, are one of the highlights of the summer months in this area.

This Trio, violinist Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay, cellist Jamie Walton and pianist Adam Johnson, comprises players distinguished as performers in their own right who also meet to perform in the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival each year. They obviously know each other well and play superbly as a group as well as individually.

The programme started with Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E flat op 70 no 2. I must say that this work came as a surprise to me and a very pleasant one. Less well-known than its companion op 70 no 1 (‘The Ghost’), it appeared to me to carry pre-echoes of Beethoven’s greatest piano trio known as ‘The Archduke’, also in E flat and written some three years later. Its structure is unusual with no slow movement but instead a set of variations marked allegretto (shades of the second movement of the Seventh Symphony). There are also some very strange harmonic and melodic twists and turns, as if Beethoven were using the work to experiment with some ideas almost in private; both op 70 trios were first performed in the salon of the woman who may or may not have been ‘The Immortal Beloved’, so were there perhaps hidden messages? Probably not.

The second work was A Voyage to Fair Isle by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, a typically evocative and atmospheric piece, generally gentle in tone but twice interrupted by vigorous Strathspeys by the violin and cello. I found it immensely attractive and would like to hear it again soon.

Third was Haydn’s Piano Trio in D minor Hob xv:23, another work unfamiliar to me but there are so many delightful chamber works by Haydn that it is difficult to keep up. Typically quirky, it starts with a set of variations instead of the conventional sonata-form movement and ends with a catchy and unexpectedly brief German dance finale.

Last was one of my own all-time favourites, Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor. Many years in the writing but completed in a hurry at the outbreak of WW1, it was given its first performance at a Red Cross benefit concert in Paris in 1915. There is little useful that I can say about it in a few words except that, to me, it is one of the very greatest chamber works of the twentieth century, and that, especially in as outstanding a performance as it received here, is always an experience to be treasured.

In summary, an excellent concert by a group I look forward very much to hearing again if they can be gathered together. Next time (on Sunday 19 July) something completely different: English Renaissance motets by the 5-man a cappella group Gallicantus. Not to be missed.

John Sims

8 July 2015