Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Haydn, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky from the Mithras Trio at Conway Hall

Mithras Piano Trio
Mithras Piano Trio

Haydn, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky; Mithras Trio; Conway Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 4 October 2020
Playing full of character and vivid sense of engagement from a young piano trio

On Sunday, 4 October 2020, I gave the pre-concert talk at Conway Hall, in advance of the concert by the Mithras Trio (Ionel Manciu, Leo Popplewell, Dominic Degavino) where they performed Haydn's Trio in E Hob XV:28, Mendelssohn's Trio No.2 in C minor Op. 66, and Tchaikovsky's Trio in A minor Op. 50.

The concert was only available on-line, but as I had delivered my talk live in the hall (rather than via Zoom), we were lucky enough to be able to stay to hear the concert live; a great privilege to be in the audience of five!

Haydn's Trio in E was one of a group written after his second visit to London and dedicated to a pianist, Teresa Bartolozzi, whom he had met there. She was clearly no mean pianist, the keyboard parts in the trio are challenging and overall the instrumental writing in the trio is clear inspired by Haydn's working with the talented professional instrumental players in London, rather than being aimed at the amateur market as many of his earlier trios were.

The opening movement was all elegant charm, but with some vivid and imaginative moments, whilst the striking second movement started rather misterioso with a long, long piano solo. When the strings were finally allowed to join in the three players developed the music into something rather strong. By contrast, the finale was engaging and almost skittish, the players showing clear enjoyment. Throughout the trio, they gave us stylish playing full of character.

Mendelssohn's Trio No. 2 dates from 1845 and was his final work in the genre. Less showy, perhaps, than his first trio, the work has remained somewhat in the earlier work's shadow. The fifty-something years which separate the Haydn and Mendelssohn trios had been significant for the form, Beethoven and then Schubert writing large scale works which most definitely moved the genre out of the salon and into the concert hall. From the opening notes, it was clear that here was a different sound world. The Mithras Trio's playing was urgent and lyrically passionate, they also kept a clear ear on the balance. Mendelssohn's rather busy piano parts can easily dominate the texture, but here whilst Dominic Degavino sparkled he was well-balanced by the other players. The second movement featured a lovely singing piano solo, developing into an attractively lilting movement, with a vividly scurrying and rather urgent Scherzo for contrast. The finale then plunged us right in, and there was something almost Hungarian gypsy about the music, rendered with engagingly youthful passion by the performers, this was a vivid and vibrant performance.

Finally, Tchaikovsky's only Piano Trio, a work in a genre he professed to dislike and written in memory of his friend the pianist Nikolai Rubinstein. It is a big, passionate work, and the group responded with fabulous sound and vivid playing. The first movement was full of a sense of lyrical melancholy, yet also bold, passionate colours and even hints of Borodin in the melodic writing, and of course the moving funeral march at the end. The long second movement's variations were rendered with great stylistic and emotional variety, many of them being real tours de forces, and then at the end, Tchaikovsky's master-stroke as the opening material returned for a final, moving funeral march. 

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