Triple Pleasure At Milverton

Vienna Piano TrioThe first concert of 2017 presented by Milverton Concert Society was a winner from start to finish. We heard the renowned Vienna Piano Trio – Austrian born Stefan Mendl on piano, American David McCarroll on violin, and Munich born Matthias Gredler on ‘cello. Stefan was a founder member of the trio (in 1988) and they have a formidable reputation in the chamber music field.

Their first item was the 1786 Trio in G major by Mozart. From the lovely, fluent piano opening onwards it was obvious that the three players were really enjoying the music, and their intimate rapport showed very clearly. They produced a rich sound and their clarity of line was exemplary. This first movement has some unexpected tonal progressions (Mozart experimenting!) and the trio’s perfect ensemble allowed us to savour these. The second movement consists more of musical fragments being tossed around the instruments rather than long flowing lines, again with some unusual key shifts and harmonic resolutions. This was played with great precision, but it did not in any way seem regimented or constrained.

The finale is a ‘theme and variations’ movement, and the performance was joyful throughout. The movement is not melodically complex, but rhythmically demanding – I was particularly struck by Stefan’s virtuoso playing of the piano part; here is the Mozart of the late piano concertos. For all the tonal quirkiness of this piece it sounded perfectly natural and the ensemble sound was gorgeous throughout.

The next item on the programme could not have been more different. Schoenberg’s ‘Verklärte Nacht’ (‘Transfigured Night’) written in 1899 was originally for string sextet and then for full string orchestra, but Eduard Steuermann’s transcription for piano trio is now well known and a very worthy addition to the repertoire. It is ‘programme music’ and was inspired by a poem of Richard Dehmel, a work regarded as sexually scandalous at the time of writing. The Lisztian piano opening, then joined by spare, eerie string phrases soon blossoms into impassioned melody and the Vienna Trio gave it their all. Special mention must be made of Matthias’s stunning ‘cello contribution throughout (I felt for him in the Mozart – his role was very constrained there). He produced sounds of true nobility in the passages depicting the loving and forgiving utterances of the man in the poem towards the despairing female character. On the other hand, the impassioned outbursts of despair from the ‘ruined woman’ were equally well presented even in the most fiendishly difficult pages – the trio’s rapport with the music and each other was consummate.

After the interval we moved into the sunny uplands of one of the greatest composers of chamber music, Schubert. His B Flat Trio, Op. 99 was written just before he died and is of large scale, taking almost 40 minutes to perform. This is gracious, smiling music and it was hard to believe that we were hearing only three instruments. This was a big, gorgeous sound, but in no way overblown – perfectly suited to the music and the venue. The violin/’cello octave passages in the first movement were perfect – it sounded like a single two-voiced instrument. Throughout the second movement the balance between the three instruments was masterly, although again we gasped at Matthias’s virtuosity in the sections where the ‘cello was written to be the star.

The eminently danceable tunes of the third movement were given an air of insouciance by all three players and the waltz-rhythm second subject was very graceful and lilting. Simple melodies, but anything but simple to make them sound so easy on the ear.

Throughout the finale, there was again that sense of complete cohesion whether playing delicate phrases or powerful ensemble pages. The players were totally immersed in the music and so were we. The applause was long and loud and deservedly so. The encore of the slow movement of Brahms’s second Trio was a very different musical genre, but this only served to reinforce the versatility of the Vienna Piano.

A wonderful night – thank you, Milverton Concert Society.

Review by Harold W. Mead – 26/11/2016