I always get a little anxious about writing reviews. Not least is the problem of attempting to present something in a creative and engaging way, and it occurs to me that it mildly echoes the challenge faced by all musicians performing ‘core repertoire’ as part of their programmes: how to say something fresh, interesting and insightful yet still stay true to the composer’s intentions, the musical ‘brief’ presented in the score. And so, with the André Trio offering two major ‘standards’ of the piano trio repertoire in their concert at Cratfield, at least a part of any review must address this issue.
I have just watched some of the highlights of the Olympic Games in Rio. I’m not a great fan of sport (although my wife keeps reminding me that I’m in denial about that) but I am hugely enthusiastic about and greatly admire all who, in pursuit of their passions and interests, develop their skills and talents with singular focus and intensity. And perhaps this is where music and sport have much in common: there is something life-affirming, joyful and celebratory in both which the ancient Greeks recognised when the Games were instituted. Indeed, music was a major feature of the Games from the start (apparently the pentathlon and long jump were accompanied by music) and musical contests were the major focus of the Pythian Games dedicated to Apollo, God of the Arts.
So perhaps, if you will allow a little self-indulgence, there may some analogies that can be drawn between the Games and the André Trio’s performance. Certainly the choice of repertoire was ‘Olympian’ in its musical demands; the trio rose to those demands admirably, sustaining our rapt engagement and excited attention throughout the whole 90-minute programme. Here was energetic, muscular, athletic, honed and toned playing, unwavering in its forward drive and sense of direction and intent. Even when we reached the slow movement of the Mendelssohn there was no temptation to wallow in its ‘sticky’ sweetness, an over-indulgence which mars many performances; instead, just enough refined sugar to sustain us to the end of that particular musical marathon.
What then of the ‘set routines’, the ‘required elements’ and how were those given that something special that takes a performance to a different level? I suppose that we all have our favourite version or versions of core repertoire such as the Archduke or the Mendelssohn trios. It may be the one we first heard or grew up with or even chose from Radio Three’s ‘Building a Library’ series and it becomes the interpretation by which we tend to measure all other performances; the standard against which others are, both consciously and unconsciously, judged. And this is the challenge for the musician: to ‘convince’ us of the integrity of their interpretation: to win us over to a new way of seeing the familiar, of awakening us to new possibilities.
There was a real sense of conviction in the André Trio’s performances, a sense of meticulous attention to preparation and to the shifting roles each had to play in three very different musical dramas which gave their interpretations great integrity in all three works. It would have been difficult not to be won over by their musical arguments in all three works.
This reminds us, also, that all chamber music is based on ‘teamwork’, a democracy of shared ideas and inspirations in rehearsal that will shape and govern the outcome, whilst still remaining flexible enough to allow individual spontaneity and sudden insight and respond accordingly in performance. This latter requires extraordinary trust in one’s ‘team mates’, an almost intuitive understanding, and there was much evidence of an intense musical bond amongst these young musicians which we could all enjoy, appreciate and applaud.
If I could stretch the Olympian theme further, we might see the whole programme as something of a Triathlon; three very different musical styles, each with their own particular demands, and the André Trio showed themselves technically and intellectually prepared to meet the musical challenges of Beethoven, Fauré and Mendelssohn in their perfectly paced programme.
In short, the André Trio certainly ‘brought home gold’ in a precious and glittering performance. I hope that Apollo was honoured; we, as audience, most certainly were.
27 July 2016