Vienna Piano Trio at Wigmore Hall – Beethoven & Mendelssohn
Monday, January 20, 2014 Wigmore Hall, London
Reviewed by Ben Hogwood
The Vienna Piano Trio began its BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall with Beethoven, a tribute to Haydn that was published as the second of his Opus 70 pair (the ‘Ghost’ is the first) in 1808. It’s a free-spirited piece, with no obvious slow movement due to the second and third movements bearing Allegretto as their tempo marking. There are opportunities for Haydnesque humour, but these were largely shunned, the Vienna musicians favouring a lean sound that emphasised rhythmic drive, with an assertiveness that veered towards the aggressive. The third movement is the closest to a slow one and flowed nicely here, although there were some curious, vibrato-free stresses from Bogdan Božović and Matthias Gredler. The players thoroughly enjoyed the backwards and forwards of the middle section, ideas passing from strings to piano and back with a knowing smile. Such positivity held true for much of the music, though parts of the second movement were more obdurate, the double theme and variations wearing a frown whenever Beethoven moved to the minor key. The finale threw caution to the wind most enjoyably, its perky theme dancing a jig.
There followed a powerful account of Mendelssohn’s C minor Piano Trio, completed in 1845. There is a tragic air to the first movement in particular, full of nervous energy and tension here but thrown into relief by the much happier second theme. Ensemble between the Vienna members was extremely well drilled, and Stefan Mendl, with many notes to play, kept an ideal balance between the piano and the strings, his clarity giving the music its special energy. The warm-hearted slow movement fulfilled its role as a ‘song without words’, the strings dovetailing with inviting intensity, while the scherzo took its lead from this composer’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (completed three years prior), skating lightly through the outer sections while imposing syncopated rhythms on the trio. The struggles of the first movement were victoriously released in the finale, with the wide leap of its theme given particular emphasis, even more so when C major was reached in the coda. The players’ dynamic was huge here, the swell to fortissimo reaching striking volume as they powered to the finish. In a generous encore, the slow movement of Mendelssohn’s other Piano Trio (Opus 49) received a tender and affectionate rendition.