Accomplished and delightful playing in a challenging programme of Mozart and Ligeti

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Ligeti: Ben Goldscheider Trio (Ben Goldscheider [horn], Callum Smart [violin], Richard Uttley [piano]). Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, 2.2.2024. (GPu)

Ben Goldscheider

Mozart – Horn Quintet K.407 (arranged for trio)
Ligeti – Trio for violin, horn and piano

Ben Goldscheider is, I suppose, the biggest name amongst these three musicians. However, this concert was by no means just a showcase for the horn player. Indeed, one of the most striking things about this performance was the constantly impressive ensemble work throughout, as in the accuracy of entries and instrumental interaction; this remained perfect in the very different challenges (all surmounted with confident ease) posed by a trio adaptation of Mozart’s Horn Quintet and Ligeti’s Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano.

In sheer technical demands the Ligeti demands most. Here it got a performance which negotiated all the rhythmic challenges, whether those set in the remarkable passage in the first movement, in which the piano and violin start off in perfect unison, and then diverge by one sixteenth note, then two sixteenth notes, etc. Nor was this trio at all troubled in the exciting second movement (Vivacissimo molto ritmico) with its fierce rhythmic switches and complexities. Ben Goldscheider so relished the interplay of Balkan, African and Latin American rhythms that he was able to make some nifty dance-floor moves while playing!

The third movement (Alla marcia) was full of disciplined energy, sometimes offering what felt like sardonic comments on militarism and its ways – Ligeti spent time in a labour camp during the Second World War. The magnificent closing movement (Lamento: Adagio) was very moving, shot through with poignant melancholy, though its emotional range and variety cannot be captured by any single epithet. I am tempted to call it a kaleidoscope of sounds and emotions, but that might suggest connections with a children’s toy.

Ligeti had some years of illness after writing his opera La Grand Macabre in the middle years of the 1970s; this Trio was the first substantial piece he wrote thereafter, in 1982. While it has some personal dimensions (Ligeti’s mother died in the year of its composition) it is also a response to a renewed engagement with the classical and romantic tradition. Ligeti designated it a ‘Hommage à Brahms’; Brahms being, effectively, the inventor of the Horn Trio. Perhaps Ligeti had it in mind that 1983 would be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Brahms?

Certainly, Ligeti’s Trio should be seen (and heard) as a renewal and extension of the tradition, rather than a rebellion against it. As this performance demonstrated, it is by turns exciting and moving, not least in the tenderness of it closing bars.

Goldscheider and his colleagues had opened their concert with a performance of an (uncredited) trio adaptation of Mozart’s only Horn Quintet. The original is scored for (natural) horn, violin, two violas and cello. Much that is most memorable in the work relates to the way in which the horn is heard in conjunction with the sound of the low strings. Without the two violas and the cello this reduction makes considerable demands on the pianist, demands well met by Richard Uttley. Yet, for all his skill and hard work, I did miss the sound of the lower strings.

Even so, we were treated to some beautiful interplay between horn and violin, always precise (without ever sounding remotely pedantic). The good humour and charm of the work was joy shared between performers and audience.

It was much to the credit of Ben Goldscheider and his colleagues that they were so completely at home, and so convincing, across such a range of musical idioms. All three musicians richly deserved the applause they received.

Glyn Pursglove

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