FringeReview UK 2018
Violinist Ellie Blackshaw, pianist Yoko Ono, and cellist Paul Gregory Piano Trios performed an early Schubert Piano Trio movement D28, written at fifteen. Then Blackshaw’s own Piano Trio, ad finally Beethoven’s mould-breaking Piano Trio in C minor, Op 1/3.
What a musicianly treat this was. Violinist Ellie Blackshaw, Pianist Yoko Ono and cellist Paul Gregory teamed up for Schubert, Beethoven, and Blackshaw by request of the two other trio members. Quite right too.
Most regulars and concert-goers in the south-east will know these musicians though Gregory more as guitarist and lutenist. The Chapel Royal’s seen him as a fine chamber ensemble cellist too.
The Schubert Trio’s a rarity, written at fifteen a single movement Sonatensatz D28, meaning simply it’s a sonata-form opening movement to a trio that wasn’t written, or simply an exercise. It’s a leisurely take on early Beethoven, attractive and some passagework possesses thumbprints of the older composer’s abrupt shifts in it. But late on there’s a double chord fermata from the piano, before the actual end. It’s pure Trout Quintet stuff, from about seven years earlier in 1812.
Next Blackshaw’s own Trio, which was heard at St Luke’s two years ago. It’s a finely-controlled ruminant late-modernist piece. That is, it’s delicate with a muted dissonance; but inhabits a distinctive melodic world too. A four-figure theme, with a delay on the last note, rises out of the texture. There’s exposed writing for Blackshaw’s violin and striking melodic chromaticism from the piano’s chords. It made a strong impression before, but does so more here.
The Beethoven Op 1/3 in C minor is the main item. Haydn to whom Beethoven played all his three Opus Ones loves the first two but reckoned this was too symphonic and people would complain. Wait till they’re used to you, Hayden counselled. Ni chance. Beethoven’s big-boned first foray into C minor is as dark as you’d wish, but not right away.
The first movement’s Allegro con brio in C minor is not as dark as you’d expect, and breaks into more rhythmic geniality than you might credit. But it’s serious, symphonically developed.
The E flat Andante cantabile con Variazione tells you immediately its no slow movement either but a walking-pace gentle unfolding. Beethoven avoids tragedy again in the scherzo-like Minuet and Trio Quasi allegro in C major edging us to memorable territory.
But it’s the C minor finale Prestissimo with its plangent six-note repeated figure where Beethoven’s genius takes off. It’s nagging, insistent, superb. Though it ends in C major it’s a diminuendo, not a thunderous crash, but a quiet fade-out. It’s as unexpected as anything in Haydn. No wonder the older composer was unnerved.
The players all dig into this work. Ono’s piano shines through but never overpowers. Gregory’s cello projects the right tone for chamber ensemble: clear but supportive and not fuzzy. Blackshaw’s violin has the task of negotiating much exposed soloist work without appearing to. In her own pieces she’s placed in an exposed spectral place and makes more expressive use than I recall previously. They’re lucid too, allowing a clarity between instruments laying bare the counterpoint and the way each work’s pieced together. If you care about chamber music, and want to be surprised, this is the place to be.