Ronald Brautigam gets the Edinburgh International Festival 2022 at Queen’s Hall underway


United KingdomUnited Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2022 [1] – Fanny Mendelssohn, Schumann, Schubert: Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano), Esther Hoppe (violin), Christian Poltéra (cello). Queen’s Hall, 8.8.2022. (SRT)

Ronald Brautigam

Fanny Mendelssohn – Piano Trio in D minor
Robert SchumannFantasiestücke, Op.88
Schubert – Piano Trio No.2 in E-flat

And we’re back! After two pandemic summers of scarcity, the Edinburgh Festival has roared back into town with what feels like the most invigorating breath of fresh air you could imagine. The city centre hotspots feel very slightly less busy than in previous years, but after the fallow nature of the last two summers it is like manna from heaven. For someone like me, who lives for this time of year, it is a thrill to see the streets so packed and the concert halls full once again of non-distanced and (mostly) unmasked audiences. After the ravages of the pandemic, and with war being waged in continental Europe, the richness of what the Edinburgh festivals have to offer have never felt so welcome.

And it is perhaps especially welcome to see the morning Queen’s Hall series back again. This corner of the Edinburgh International Festival’s audience has always been on the older end of the spectrum (at 11am, after all, the audience has to be either on holiday or retired), the very section of the population at the biggest risk from Covid, many of whom were saying two years ago that they might never be back in a concert hall again. There are doubtless some who still feel that way, but this concert, the first of this year’s Queen’s Hall series that I have been to, was pleasingly full, with many familiar faces, and the predictably tediously slow queue for interval coffee might even be a sign that things could be back to normal!

And if the atmosphere was good then the music matched it. He’s much too vigorous to be called the grand old man of the fortepiano, but Ronald Brautigam remains one of the instrument’s most high-profile and well-established exponents. This programme of piano trios was well-curated to play to the strengths of all three musicians.

Every time I hear a programme involving a fortepiano, even though I know roughly what to expect, I am initially taken aback when I hear its gentle tinkle, and I spend the first few minutes turning over in my ear the slight strangeness of what I am hearing. By the end of the concert or CD, however, I am generally won over, and so it proved here. Brautigam played a 1832 Érard, most likely an exact copy of the piano that Mendelssohn himself would have owned. It was, therefore, perfect for the trio composed by Mendelssohn’s sister, but nevertheless it carried its fair share of surprises. The opening was significantly less stormy than we are used to hearing on modern instruments, for example, with the piano sounding both sweeter and more subdued. There was plenty of drama, but it was more internal between the instruments, making this a partnership of equals. Esther Hoppe’s violin and Christian Poltéra’s cello were played with plenty of vibrato, lending some welcome sweetness to the slow movement, and the surging passion of the finale benefited from the more equal balance between the instruments. That also helped in Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, where the piano was generally less prominent, the strings taking over in the beautifully lyrical slow third movement.

The greatest drama, however, came in Schubert’s E-flat trio, played here like a miniature theatre of emotion. Some of the counterpoint sounded impressively muscular, with a genuine sense of to-and-fro between the players. The strolling second movement was full of sweetness tinged with melancholy, with the third had a mischievous feeling of chasing its own tail. The finale managed to be both playful and architectural as all the pieces fell into place, and the whole work was played in such a way that it was easy to hear through the busyness and pick out lots of the details of the discussion.

The ovation at the end included the stamping of feet as well as applause. Foot stamping for a fortepiano concert?! Maybe the Edinburgh International Festival really is back to full health!

Simon Thompson

The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and is available to listen again on BBC Sounds until 6 September 2022. The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Monday 29 August at a variety of venues across the city. Click here for details.

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