United Kingdom Brian Elias and Schubert: Rautio Piano Trio (Jane Gordon [violin], Victoria Simonsen [cello], Jan Rautio [piano]). Hall One, Kings Place, London, 30.5.2021. (MB)
Brian Elias – Piano Trio (world premiere)
Schubert – Piano Trio No.2 in E-flat major, D 929
Written in five relatively short, interconnected movements (Allegro-Lento-Presto-Adagio-Presto), Brian Elias’s Piano Trio makes for an impressive addition to the repertoire. If the composer seemed very much at home in the medium, the players seemed equally at home in his idiom. The Rautio Piano Trio certainly gave this world premiere as if they had lived some time with this music and its possibilities. An arresting opening, angular and lyrical, for all three instruments, seemed even on a first hearing to set up ideas and possibilities for the rest of the work. Not that that material is simply repeated; rarely did it seem to appear in quite the same guise. Rather, it is varied, transformed, and above all developed: in melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic terms. Here we heard a composer comfortable with roots in tradition, without in any sense being hidebound by it or otherwise backward-looking. Both work and performance imparted a strong sense of every note counting, of being made to count; for this sounded as a case of material being shaped, even mastered, as sculpture in sound. As Webern once put it, ‘To develop everything … from one principal idea! That is the strongest unity … But in what form? That is where art comes in!’ Freedom, as we must seemingly constantly remind ourselves and others, is not licence. Perhaps this is to indulge in undue anachronism, but it seemed to me there was indeed something of a Second Viennese School rigour and/of expression beneath the surface. The central Presto movement bears some resemblance to a Classical scherzo and trio, without necessarily ‘being’ such a movement; yet it also springs from and leads to the two slow movements that flank it. It is, moreover, in that ongoing transformation of musical figures that both some degree of formal symmetrical balance and thoroughgoing development occur — and are felt to occur.
It took my ears a minute or so to adjust to the greater expansiveness and, at least in this performance, greater lightness of Schubert’s E-flat major Piano Trio. The first movement did not lack sterner, darker passages, nor Schubertian Sehnsucht when called for, but its initial mood was, rightly, quite different. Maybe it was hearing this music in the light of Elias’s new work, but the Rautio Piano Trio seemed unusually attentive to thematic transformation in Schubert’s writing too. At any rate, the sadness that is rarely too far from the surface of Schubert’s music began more strongly to register as the music developed (that is, not only in the development section). The paradoxical combination of lightness of tone and onward trudge in the opening of the Andante con moto was well judged. If I sometimes missed a greater sense of tension later on in that movement, the tragedy of its close held the attention in arresting manner. The apparent insouciance of the scherzo is just that, of course: apparent. The players being wise enough not to opt for one side or the other, that ambiguity was well served here. So too was the qualification in Schubert’s marking for the finale, ‘Allegro moderato’. A spacious account that was not slow but rather unhurried, permitted detail to emerge throughout, often in telling fashion.
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