A stellar trio make Haydn, Brahms and Beethoven soar, plus the best of May’s classical concerts
What more civilised way to spend a wet Sunday afternoon than listening to three wonderful musicians playing three great piano trios? Like the string quartet, the trio of piano, violin and cello was born in the classical era of Haydn and Mozart, when music really could be like a conversation. The difference is that the four players of the string quartet are equals, whereas the piano can all too easily dominate the trio.
It was a tribute to the artistry of pianist Imogen Cooper, violinist Henning Kraggerud and cellist Adrian Brendel that the whole concert nevertheless felt like a true meeting of equals. It helped that the character of each player was so distinct. Cooper’s touch was clear but never hard; Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud had a sweetly lyrical tone, but when the going got rough he turned it surprisingly incisive and chippy. Cellist Adrian Brendel (son of the great pianist Alfred) was the most nervily intense player on stage.
All this combined with the subtle weave of the music made for something peculiarly rich and engaging. The players registered the unusually complex emotional palette of Haydn’s minor-key Piano Trio No. 40, which is a long way from the solid good humour we normally associate with his music. Then came a trio from Beethoven’s Opus 1, which may actually have been written before Haydn’s, but felt as if we’d moved into a new world. The gestures were bigger, the music roamed excitedly through distant harmonies, and the violin and the cello claimed a bigger share of the action. The players seemed gripped by the thrill of being in this larger universe, and we felt it too. Finally came a genuinely Romantic piece, in the shape of Brahms’s turbulent, surging Piano Trio No. 1. At last, Brendel had a big melody to play, right at the beginning, and he certainly seized the moment. Often Brahms’s piano part has a swaggering, energy that can all too easily overwhelm the other two players, but Cooper managed to keep a perfect balance without ever seeming to hold back – an example of art concealing art, which set the seal on a fine afternoon’s music-making.