A Night of Stars

Trio IsimsizAnd so it was, both inside and outside Milverton Church, to kick off the 2018/19 season of the Milverton Concert Society last Friday. ‘Trio Isimsiz’ is a Spanish/English/Bulgarian trio who all speak fluently the most international language there is – music. Three young students at the Guildhall School of Music formed the trio in 2009 and from the outset have won awards and made a name for themselves. Now all Fellows of Guildhall, their appearance at Milverton was one of the happy events made possible by the hardworking team at MCS, whose skill at providing concerts of the highest quality is undiminished.

A modestly-sized audience heard a varied programme, and in keeping with so many of the events held in Milverton, we were exposed to music which we would probably not normally encounter – more about this later.

The evening began with the second work in Beethoven’s Op. 70, the Trio in E Flat. The spare sounding opening on strings (Pablo Benedi, violin, Michael Petrov, ‘cello) led to a beautifully balanced ensemble sound when they were joined on the piano by Erdem Misirlioglu. The good-natured Allegro section produced a rich, well-blended sound which nevertheless allowed us to hear each line clearly and distinctly. Well balanced on the whole, there were a few times when I felt the piano was a little too reticent, but the trio soon had the measure of the church’s acoustic and things settled down. Beethoven crafted a lovely ‘cello line in this movement and Michael made the most of it with bold, confident playing. The second movement alternates a genial C Major tune with a more stormy one in C Minor – the playing was a delight throughout with wonderfully crisp ‘cello pizzicato, and the ending was explosive. A warm-hearted waltz tune is passed between piano and violin in the third movement with a secure ‘cello underpinning, and lovely double stopping by Pablo gave an impression of a fourth player.

The finale produced a forthright, stirring sound, with a terrific rapport between the three, and Beethoven’s quirky modulations of the main tune were handled beautifully.

Next was the ‘Fantasie Triptych’ by British violinist and composer Natalie Klouda. Composed in 2014 the work was inspired by the relationships, correspondence, personalities and styles of the celebrated triumvirate of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms. Named ‘Explorations’ (Clara), ‘Reflections’ (Brahms) and ‘Vexations’ (Robert) the work is in three movements.
The opening bars of ‘Explorations’ required the ‘cellist to reach inside the piano and perform plucked glissandi over the opening piano chords, producing a cembalom-like effect. Indeed the piece had a folkish sound, the tonality wandering, wistful and reflective in tone. There were indeed explorations of timbre and sonic effects, using pizzicato, bowed notes, glissandi and spooky high harmonics, quite unsettling at times, but also with impassioned outbursts.

The “Brahms” movement opened with a soulful ‘cello soon joined by the violin, with a gypsy-music tonality about it. No surprise there, when one considers how fond Brahms was of that musical idiom. The movement then shifted into a series of fleeting motifs, again making use of high violin harmonics. The ‘Reflections’ were suggestive of regrets, nostalgia and contemplation of the past.

The final movement was turbulent, angular, spiky music – vexatious indeed, and it was very easy to relate the sound we heard to what we know of the anguish of Robert Schumann’s mental decline in his later years. Technically this is fearsome music, rhythmically terrifying but played with colossal virtuosity. Michael’s stunning pizzicato ‘cello passages were jaw-dropping and the vigorous and long-lasting applause for all three players was thoroughly deserved.

After a much-needed interval refreshment (I love the cheesy breadsticks to go with the wine) we heard one of the staples of the Romantic chamber repertoire, the Op. 87 C Major Trio of Brahms, first performed in 1882.

Obviously on familiar and much-loved ground, Trio Isimsiz launched into the opening Allegro with gorgeous, full-bodied ensemble sound. They made extensive and expressive use of rubato, very varied but perfectly controlled and disciplined. They made a big sound in the movement’s climaxes, and the conclusion was majestic. Brahms visits gypsy tonality again in the wistful A Minor tune of the second movement, before embarking on series of five variations. In the first of these, Erdem exploited the very rich piano part to the full, a full-blooded Brahms sound – delightful. All of the variations were beautifully played but special mention must be made of the gorgeous maestoso fourth and the soulful, melancholic fifth.

The scherzo is a skittish, fast moving piece made of fleeting fragments expertly stitched together, in a Mendelssohn-like manner. The excellent rapport between the three players made it sound effortless, but I’m darned sure it wasn’t! The finale was played with obvious joy and enthusiasm, the insouciant start to the coda leading to a majestic, thrilling conclusion.
This was top-notch playing by three virtuoso performers who have the extra gift of being able to blend their first-class individual skills into a superb ensemble. As I went out of the church into the star-studded autumn sky, I was once again grateful to the Milverton Concert Society for providing such first rank entertainment.

Review by Harold W. Mead, 27/10/2018