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S & H Recital Review

Dohnányi, Beethoven, Weir, Mozart: Leopold String Trio / Paul Lewis. Wigmore Hall, January 5th 2002. (M.E.)

The Leopold String Trio are one of those groups where you spend the first minute or so after seeing them wondering where you've encountered them before; the violinist Marianne Thorsen, for example, also leads the Nash Ensemble, and very good she is, too. The only problem with this programme was that, despite a well-judged balance of works, there was a little too much music for trio and not quite enough piano. Since the pianist was the outstanding Paul Lewis, it might perhaps have been a better idea to end each half with a work including the keyboard, instead of saving him for the very last part.

The concert began with Dohnányi's wonderfully evocative "Serenade" Opus 10, a work written when the composer was only 25. Bartók opined of his compatriot's music that there is "nothing really new in it," but this hardly seemed to matter when it was played with as much verve, commitment and panache as it was here. The following work, Beethoven's G major String Trio, fared somewhat less well. The playing was never less than sound, and in the lovely Adagio, considerably more than that, the violin in particular phrasing with keen expressiveness, but the ensemble at times tended towards the ragged, most notably in the Allegro.

The second half of the concert began with Judith Weir's "Bagpiper's String Trio," based upon the life of a bagpiper in the Jacobite army who was executed after the bagpipes was classified as a weapon. Some might say that all bagpipers ought to be executed, and their instruments with them, but this little work was much better in performance than one might have feared; with its melodies so clearly influenced by the intervals of pipe tunes, the structure of the piece was impressively brought out by each instrument in turn.

Mozart's G minor Piano Quartet was the evening's major work, and here the Leopold Trio really shone, inspired perhaps by the collaboration of Paul Lewis, whose playing seems to acquire more confidence, more of that aristocratic elegance combined with fervour which one usually associates with Brendel, each time I hear him. This revolutionary work, the first to combine all the instruments in equality, is one of the great challenges of the repertoire; so dense are the textures, so complex the developments that it requires ensemble of the most collaborative kind, which it certainly received here. The string trio played with impressive ferocity, but the high points had to be those where the piano was most in evidence, and the Andante provided the finest playing of the evening; that characteristic Mozartian grace, the fluently shaped phrases and the confident sense of structure were all there, and the audience was finally able to react with unaffected enthusiasm to playing of the very highest calibre.

Melanie Eskenazi

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