Bochmann Trio Offer Insights into the String Trio Medium Including a Rarity by Holst

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bach, Schubert, Holst, Beethoven: The Bochmann Trio [Michael Bochmann (violin), Carol Hubel-Allen (viola), David Powell (‘cello)], Thirlestaine Gallery, Cheltenham, 28.10.2016. (RJ)

Bach (arr. Sitkovetsky) – Aria & Variations from Goldberg Variations
Schumann – Allegro for String Trio in Bb, D.471
Holst – String Trio in G minor (1894)
Beethoven – String Trio in C minor Op.9 No.3

Compared with string quartets the corpus of string trios is relatively small, perhaps bearing out David Powell’s contention that a string trio is a more difficult medium to write for. Yet, as this recital demonstrated, the effort can be very well worthwhile.

The evening began with the Goldberg Variations, not in their usual form but in an arrangement for string trio made by Sitkovetsky in 1984, which has proved remarkably popular. The Bochmann Trio opted to play just six of the 30 variations clearly chosen for the variety of moods they represented. The animated first variation was superseded by a more emotional second, while the third had a strong pizzicato element shared between the instruments in turn and proved particularly successful. The fifth, was a moving lament and the final variation had a jubilant character. While Bach purists may carp at the liberties taken, the performance was an enjoyable and striking opener to the concert.

Schubert wrote two string trios in the key of Bb and we heard the (incomplete) first of these, D471, composed at the age of 19. It consists of a single movement (he started on a second movement but did not get very far with it) but there was so much to relish, and the three musicians bestowed plenty of loving care on it bringing out its wit and charm.

Holst was more or less Schubert’s age when he wrote his string trio as a student at the Royal College of Music in London, and what a remarkable piece it is! Although composed in the dying years of the 19th century it strikes one as a modern, forward-looking work comparable perhaps with his friend Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony written for much larger forces years years later. The first movement conveys vividly the spirit of London – its hustle and bustle, street cries, its grandeur contrasted with the tranquillity of the tree-lined parks. Did I hear a fog horn? Certainly one could hear a range of interesting sounds from the different instruments and the nonchalant mood continued into the more extended second movement – a succession of contrasting sections – ebullient, elegiac, light-hearted and graceful. The Bochmann Trio gave such a persuasive and scintillating account of this fresh, youthful work by the composer of The Planets – that one wonders why it is not better known.

Beethoven’s string trios are not as well known as his quartets, but at least they get an airing from time to time. Interestingly, he composed these trios before going on to explore the medium of the quartet, and in the last of these, the Op 9 No 3, there was plenty to savour. There was an sense of foreboding in the C minor opening nut a more cheerful second theme dissipated the clouds. Particularly effective was the serene adagio in the major key on which the Bochmann Trio worked their magic before launching into the spirited scherzo which with its strange and disturbing noises seemed well suited to Hallowe’en revels. The sprightly cheerful finale sent everyone home with a smile – as did the encore, Beethoven’s Minuet in G.

Roger Jones

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