REVIEW by Richard Amey
Aquinas Piano Trio - Coffee Concert at The Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA), Sussex University, Falmer, on Sunday, March 24, 2019 (11am).
Ruth Rogers (violin), Katherine Jenkinson (cello), Martin Cousin (piano). Trios by Haydn (1732-1809) in E major Hob XV:28 (1797), Mendelssohn (1809-1847) No 1 in D minor Op 49 (1839), Robert Schuman (1810-1856) No 2 in F major Op 80 (1847).
Poor Robert Schumann. Having married the love of his life after enduring vindictive opposition, not from his future mother-in-law but her husband, who was his own piano teacher (intimidating or what?), he got a rough old deal with his health and was gone by the age 46.
He had an exciting time with his compositional inspiration after at last thwarting Clara’s father, with music to warm the world, and he was an authoritative and prophetic writer about German music. Then his introspective brain broke down, he was shoved away into asylum isolation and that, protractedly, was that.
His Piano Trio in F came seven years after the wedding day (definitely no itch) and is full of beauties, and easy-goingness, contented dancing and structural rigour.
Mendelssohn never even made 39, poleaxed by losing his sister Fanny and maybe like Mozart, shattered by composing, conducting and playing so many notes in so short a time. He departed the very year of Schumann’s F major Piano Trio.
His marriage was only two years old when he wrote his first No 1 in D minor – about which Schumann went overboard, according to ‘Origins of The Pieces’ (my title), alias the Coffee Concert programme notes by Chris Darwin.
The intuitively spot-on Schumann placed Mendelssohn’s Trio on his rostrum alongside the best and, by heaven, Aquinas Trio now showed us why on a prize sunny morning, four days into official springtime. Had it been wet outside, their performance of almost delirious verve, bravura and near-swaggering confidence, of music teeming with melody and unfettered in energy and joie de vivre, would have sent the audience away humming through the rain.
Except that the Aquinas had chosen to play it before the interval. After which Schumann’s Trio, as would anybody else’s, fell flat against the enduring optimistic mood Mendelssohn ignited, one movement after another, with his tour de force scherzo the Aquinas even topped with his chirping yet steely finale.
Poor Schumann: scheduled after the Lord Mayor’s Show! Absorbing and rewarding as his Trio was, melodically and contrapuntally, too, while set in a more benign key, to me most of it seemed to be going on in a separate room at a different time of the day and season.
The Aquinas gave it their all but they were puffing and blowing into a brown party balloon after having already magnificently inflated and liberated a multi-coloured hot-air one up and away over the horizon. After Schumann’s hard-earned shedding of his overcoat in his ending there was nothing we could do except applaud, and somewhat sympathetically.
We had taken to fiddler Ruth Rogers’ bouncing welcome and introduction to the concert. “It’s good to be back here after six years.” We had enjoyed her full-length fitted ice blue dress and bolero, her springtime white shoes, her long cascading wavy then curly fair hair, and her on-stage energy and smiles alongside her fulsome playing – her feet frequently leaving the ground.
We had been absorbed by Katherine Jenkinson’s cello sound, which grew in substance through the morning, her relaxed watchfulness and easy contained delivery style, her bolero matching Ruth’s, and we adjusted to her long brunette look whereas the programme picture proclaimed she was long blonde.
And the “I’m staying in the background because I’m extremely busy” Martin Cousin? We’d appreciated his almost constant dazzling and dashing up and down the piano in his modest mid-blue lounge suit and diagonally-striped tie, because he’s obviously one of the entertaining head-rollers/swayers/nodders of the chamber keyboard world.
Mr Darwin’s consistently entertaining information includes careful management of our expectations. Necessary ahead of this Haydn was pointing out his parental role in the Piano Trio’s evolution, and the constraints of the contemporary weak pianos. To be well-heard, Haydn’s musically fundamental bass lines and tunes needed reinforcement by the violin and cello before either could be allowed to stray off anywhere else.
Ruth told us that the generous breather Haydn gives his string players in his Baroque-mannered slow movement lasts an unusual 28 bars. She and Katherine could have downed tools and sipped some coffee while Martin worked his way through it. The finale, for its blossom and spring-lamb feel, made this a good choice with Mendelssohn coming next – and, handily, the Aquinas’ CD of his Trios Nos 1 and 2 going on sale during the interval.
Perhaps if the Aquinas had asked Schumann not only to play the piano in his own Trio, but also first to stand at the table and sell their CDs for them, and grab the chance to chat up and prepare his audience, the listeners might then have made the mood adjustment.
It would have been an interesting exercise. But knowing Schumann’s judgment of the Mendelssohn Trio, I suspect he’d shrewdly have refused to play his own music next. “Sorry, Felix. I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can’t follow that. Let’s go to lunch.”
The Coffee Concert season thus concludes. Next season’s dates (Sundays, 11am) are October 20, November 17, December 8, January 26, February 23, March 15. Artistes and music confirmation awaited.
Meantime, at Brighton Festival (all 1pm): Marmen Quartet at the Theatre Royal on May 10; Jerwood Glyndebourne Young Artistes at All Saints Church on May 17; and Ruist Quartet at The Old Market on May 21.