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Lammermuir Festival - 14/09/23

"The second of Trio Gaspard’s recitals at the Lammermuir Festival occupied the Coffee Concert slot on the morning of 14th September at the customary venue of Holy Trinity Church in Haddington.  If their first programme had been focussed (on romantic Czech masterpieces), their second was truly eclectic, with two Haydn trios and two Scottish premieres of works by Sally Beamish and Kit Armstrong, concluding with Schumann’s Op.88 Fantasiestücke.

Haydn wrote 45 Piano Trios, but No.26 in C-minor is the first to show the beginnings of a change, wrought entirely by Haydn himself, which was to lead to the genre as we know it, making him not only the “Father of the Symphony” and the “Father of the String Quartet”, but also the “Father of the Piano Trio”.  No.26 has only two movements and there is much of the ‘Trio-Sonata’ and ‘Accompanied Piano Sonata’ about it but, for the first time, the string players, especially the violin, are no mere accompanists but get to handle and drive forward some thematic material, including leading some variations in the theme-and-variations first movement and full participation in the antics of the witty rambunctious triple-time finale, including false starts, cheeky phrases with the rhythm (to modern audiences) of ‘Happy Birthday to You’, and prim passages of mock sobriety.  It was played with the same commitment and richness of tone and expression as the Slavic music of the previous night, but rather more smiles and playfulness. A thorough delight enthusiastically received by the Haddington audience. Pianist Nicholas Rimmer welcomed the audience with prefatory remarks introducing the rest of the programme.

Sally Beamish’s ‘Trance’, commissioned by Trio Gaspard to be performed with Haydn trios and premiered in June of this year at the West Cork Festival, is a meditative piece with a starring role for the cello (compensating for its somewhat Cinderella role in most of Haydn’s trios). The significance of Haydn’s spectral F#-minor Trio No. 40 to the composer, inextricably bound up with memories of her violinist mother, rehearsing Haydn trios while Sally played under the piano, explains why elements of the Trio are woven into the score, rarely overtly yet always present. ‘Trance’ is dedicated to the memory of Sally’s mother.  A slow tread of piano chords (with, at one point, birdsong-imitative ornaments reminiscent of Messiaen) underpin lyrical string melodies, mainly on cello with violin comments. Lovely morendo ending on solo cello, played with great sensitivity by Vashti Hunter. Quite moving.

By Trio No.36 in E-flat major, Haydn’s ‘democratisation’ of the parts is complete and the three players are equal partners, at least in the first movement. The result is a chunky sonata-form Allegro moderato with every ounce of the gravitas to be found in the Op.76 quartets.  The Poco adagio (which was played andante but felt just right) is admittedly the piano’s showpiece, but there are wee moments of ‘conversation’ too.  The triple-time Allegro finale, way too fast and syncopated to be a danceable minuet, is a typically witty Haydn romp, complete with three tongue-in-cheek cadenzas, one exaggeratedly flamboyant one for violin (played con brio by Jonian Ilias Kadesha) and two shorter ones for piano, the last of which launches the coda.  Fabulous characterful playing.

In his introductory remarks, Nicholas had mentioned that pianist/composer Kit Armstrong has a keen interest in mathematics and, in particular, topology, and that the structure of his Piano Trio owes something to the topological idea of a revêtement, a ‘covering’ of a topological space by a map that preserves connectedness.  Musically, this appears to have guided a three-movement structure, played without a break, where in each movement one instrument plots a solitary course while the other two ‘converse’.  In the order of the movements, the ‘loner’ is cello, violin and piano respectively.  Setting aside the sophistry, the actual music is engaging, intriguing and thrilling, very individual (though not without an element of Bartókian grit) and well worth a listen.  Melodic fragments in different keys, tempi and metres appear and vanish mercurially, sometimes rhythmic, sometimes atmospheric.  Exciting music performed with flair and skill.  What’s not to like?  It’s a thumbs-up from me.

The set of Schumann Fantasiestücke comprise a 4-movement piano trio in all but name and the pieces are even thematically related.  The lilting opening Romanze features a melancholy folk-like melody, rendered with achingly beautiful mutually-responsive phrasing by all three players, and it was thoroughly excellent.  The Humoreske begins and ends with a strutting march with witty stresses on the upbeats, bracketing a number of characterful episodes, the cheekiest using a typical Schumann dotted rhythm found in the first Trio of the Spring Symphony and the finale of the 4th, as well as countless other places.  Delightful. The Duett, where a liquid rippling accompaniment on the piano underscores a love duet between the strings, was absolutely magical.  I wrote in my notes: “This is what chamber music is all about”.  The Marsch, related to that of the second piece, but not at all parodic, is developed through a series of contrapuntally ingenious episodes, eventually appearing to wind down to a calm conclusion, before a surprise flourish delivers a big finish.  A great way to finish a concert.

Trio Gaspard bring a freshness and a commitment to chamber music playing and have begun a project to record all of the Haydn Trios for the Chandos label.  Heartily recommended."

- Edinburgh Music Review, September 2023

Lammermuir Festival - 13/09/23

"Trio Gaspard’s first outing at the Lammermuir Festival, at North Esk Church in Musselburgh on the afternoon of 13th, was an all-Czech programme of 3 pieces for piano trio, by Smetana, Suk and Dvořák.  Trio Gaspard comprises violinist Jonian Ilias Kadesha (whose solo Bach had wowed a Coffee Concert audience two days previously), cellist Vashti Hunter and pianist Nicholas Rimmer.

Smetana’s Piano Trio in G minor is dedicated to the memory of his eldest daughter Bedřiška, who had died before her fifth birthday, and begins with a desolate violin solo sul-G in D-minor, representing deep anguish and grief, a theme which recurs throughout the work.  However, the work is far from unrelenting elegy and the second theme on cello is far from gloomy, later developing to a dance-like più animato (Smetana loved dancing and was, by all accounts, a fair hoofer). This was a first hearing of the piece for me and I must say it is an absolute gem. The ensemble chamber playing was gloriously committed and immersive and there was a sense of direct connection with the composer, candidly unburdening his innermost soul.  The second movement, a scampering rustic dance with lyrical conversational episodes, including a glorious love duet between violin and cello and a ghostlier anxious interlude, returning to a less carefree form of the dance, brought to an abrupt close by three emphatic chords: “that’s enough of that”!  The Presto finale is another dance, a tarantella rondo with lyrical episodes, initiated by the cello and taken up in conversation by the others.  One of these is a funeral march and it seems as if the overwhelming grief has won.  However, after an intense impassioned climax, the tarantella makes a teasing false start, cut short by a final flourish.  This is a super piece and I cannot imagine a finer advocacy of it.

The pianist Nicholas spoke of the Josef Suk ‘dynasty’, from the father of the composer, through to his grandson, the famous violinist, whom both he and the violinist Jonian had met as an adjudicator in competitions they had taken part in.  Suk’s Elegy is his only work for piano trio, written for a memorial event for the Czech writer Julius Zeyer in 1902.  Sombre slow piano chords support an upward searching melody on violin, joined by the cello high in its register, in a tender Late Romantic style.  A more turbulent impassioned central section briefly succumbs to grief, then subsides to a calm acceptance.  The morendo ending was quite magical.  Very moving and another first listen.

After the interval Dvořák’s ever-popular ‘Dumky’ Trio in E-minor continued the theme of exploration of the Slavic soul. The dumka is an originally Ukrainian song, contrasting a lament of life’s woes and injustices with a musical shrug and a “life goes on; let’s have a knees-up” – a creditable attitude in my book. The nearest Irish equivalent is the aphorism “sure, ye’ll be a long time dead”, the tacit implication being “drink up and have another”.  Dvořák adapts the form to a Bohemian outlook and his own melodic flair, fashioning no fewer than 6 dumky into a Piano Trio of great expressive character and not a little whimsy.  I knew it would be good and it was, frankly, thoroughly marvellous.  The three played their hearts out with the same commitment that had characterised the Smetana and Suk, excelling not only in performance but also in communication.

As an encore and a teasing appetiser for their following morning’s Coffee Concert with two Haydn trios on the menu, the gloriously gleeful Presto from his C-major Trio Hob. XV 27 was their scrumptious parting shot. Perfect."

- Edinburgh Music Review, September 2023

West Cork Chamber Music Festival

"I was introduced to the Berlin-based Trio Gaspard cumulatively over the course of Friday and Saturday, starting with a solo concert by violinist Jonian Kadesha performing alternating works by Telemann, Winkelman and Schnittke, each with a miniature by Kurtág acting as prelude. Kadesha played these with boundless energy and commanding technique, connecting these first six works so that he played without a break. He finished with Kurtág’s Hommage à JSB and Bach’s famous D minor partita, which he performed with lush phrasing and rich decorative ornamentation.

Gaspard’s cellist Vashti Hunter proved a match for Kadesha’s energy and passion in the nighttime concert on Friday. The selection of works showed the pair’s range, from the sparkling and spare Ravel duo to a brooding work by the twentieth-century Greek composer Nikos Skalkottas. The early Xenakis piece that opened the performance, Dhipli Zyia, was downright playful. They were joined by the group’s pianist Nicholas Rimmer for the following evening’s performance of Dvořák’s ‘Dumky’ trio. Again vigorous and exciting, I found this performance almost too much to take; the group plays with a relentless drive and weight not unlike Mischa Maisky. Not a millimetre of bow hair goes unused.

My overwhelmed response to the ‘Dumky’ may not have been helped by the preceding performance by Nurit Stark of Valentin Silvestrov’s Five Pieces for violin and piano, with Rimmer again accompanying, which I would happily have left as the last piece I heard of the festival. These were heart-stoppingly beautiful, played with supreme delicacy, and hardly a breath could be heard in St Brendan’s Church throughout.

Stark also performed Ernest Bloch’s two suites for unaccompanied violin at the beginning of the evening concert at Bantry House on Friday. She clearly knows these melancholy, insular works intimately, and there was a power and immediacy to her playing.

At the same concert, a trio made up of Viviane Hagner (violin), Claudio Bohórquez (cello), and Lilit Grigoryan (piano) performed Brahms’ second piano trio and Mendelssohn’s first. The Brahms had several beautiful moments – the close of the second movement struck particularly well – but the Mendelssohn was more convincing, with a more coherent through-line. Hagner and Grigoryan returned to Bantry House the following afternoon for the four o’clock Crespo series concert with works by Brahms, Babajanian, and Bartók. Here the Brahms was deeply moving throughout, but the standout work was Babajanian’s fiery and tumultuous violin sonata. The performers were thoroughly in sync, Grigoryan picking up Hagner’s pizzicato passages with deft touch on the piano, or the two unleashing a flood of emotion."

- The Journal of MusicJuly 2023



"Her voice is purple, of engaging warmth, radiant in the high register, beguiling in the diction even in the songs without words: The soprano Katharina Konradi, a member of the ensemble of the Hamburg State Opera, has come to the Boulez Saal together with the Trio Gaspard for a Russian song recital.

Russian, these days? The singer from Kyrgyzstan makes her point right at the beginning when she sings the fourth of Beethoven's Russian folk song arrangements in Ukrainian as a gesture of solidarity for the people there suffering from Putin's war.  

Yes, Beethoven also arranged Russian songs, a commissioned work with which the sponsor was not satisfied: the result was too skilful. By the way, one is about mosquitoes. In their song journey , Konradi and the congenially sensitive trio (Jonian Ilias Kadesha, Vashti Hunter , Nicholas Rimmer) focus primarily on those passages that disturb or transcend the folksy, sometimes bold, sometimes pale and deathly pale, sometimes aiming for the mystical. Jewish, Slavic, funeral music, lullabies, anti-war tunes: the ensemble demonstrates the diversity of what is otherwise often shortened to the cipher "Russian soul".

The program includes less well-known works by dissidents, those who were harassed and displaced: Shostakovich's early Piano Trio in C minor, some of his Preludes op. 34 arranged for violin and piano (delicious, the distorted, splintering A-flat major waltz) and his seven songs based on poems by Alexander Block. In addition, the exiles Sofia Gubaidulina, Lera Auerbach and Stravinsky and, conversely, Mieczysław Weinberg, who fled from Poland to Russia to escape the Nazis.

In his "Jewish Songs" op. 13, the four cover the entire spectrum, from cheerful homage to freshly baked rolls to laments about the dead of Auschwitz."

- Taggesspiegel, April 2023

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