Nuzzled by the shallow boats of the River Alde, the occasional Thames barge, sails furled, tied up by the Plough and Sail, looking out across the wilderness and reed-beds of Snape Marshes to the leafy secrets of Iken Hoo, Aldeburgh and the German Ocean to the east – there's nowhere quite so atmospheric as Snape Maltings for concerts or recording, even if the dishevelled barns and broken buildings of Britten's time have been more than a little gentrified since. Following a day of rain, this was an evening of washed blue skies, leaden clouds turned golden by the setting sun. A ribbon of water among the mudflats reflected dawning stars ... Mars, suspended low in the darkness, ascending the heavens ... eddies of mist brushing hedgerows.
To what extent, if at all, the Trio Isimsiz responded to the light and breath of this landscape (Turner loved this countryside famously) is debateable. Occasionally, yes, you'd catch glimpses of smoke and magic hidden away among the curtains of notes and repeats, Brahms benefitting the most, Mendelssohn to a lesser extent. Yet too often the tide seemed to be out. Overall these were calculated performances, less illuminating, more cautious and structurally episodic than one would expect from a prizewinning YCAT group that's been together nine years. Erdem Mısırlıoğlu, at full lid though you'd never have guessed it, steered a safe course, pianistically reliable but disinclined to open the throttle, appearing happier to read the page than paint pictures or argue battles. Strongest link of the ensemble was Michael Petrov, winner of the Guildhall Wigmore Prize in 2016, whose relaxed, phrased contribution to the Brahms was one of the evening's discoveries: a sensitive musician responsive to style and period. On the night, Pablo Hernán Benedí disappointed, his intonation slips and glitches below par.
Haydn's A-flat Trio to start (1790, not the 1794 date given in the programme book) boasted cultured clipped-rhythms but needed more forthright statement: you can take intimacy and reserve only so far. The teasing two-bar pause of the first movement's development, though, came off with suitable suddenness and drama. And the rhapsody of the E-major Adagio's muted minore – aria versus pizzicato – found Mısırlıoğlu willing to see where casting a spell or two might take him.
Notwithstanding certain moments – the lyrical passages especially – the Mendelssohn gelled indifferently. The first movement, in particular, needed bite, fire and climax (energico e con fuoco says the score), as well a less shifting pulse. Maybe the tricky acoustic of the venue didn't help, but by the end the overriding impression was one of self-effacement and reined-in resonance, the tough symphonism of the music, the inexorability and cumulative power of the Finale (from the end of the composer's life), wanting in greater onward momentum and more urgent personality. Without ever quite reaching boiling point, the feathering and attack of the Scherzo came closest to convincing.
Brahms to finish (the shortened 1889 revision) suggested a tweed jacket with frayed lining. I didn't especially warm to the worthiness of the first movement nor its hard-worked development. And the muffled, passionless tone of the Finale detracted from its bigger gestures, as well as loosening its minor-key thrust. Again, one sensed an emotional structure and formal design too often imaged sectionally rather than organically, the paragraphing either short-winded or prolonged at the expense of electricity and tension (the Adagio notably so – a long haul). A-B-C is one way of doing things … but A-Z invites the possibility of artistic highs. This said, there were beautiful pages, the endings of the first and second movements not least, Mısırlıoğlu glowing expressively, conjuring dreams and waterfalls.
Better behaved than their London counterparts – no misplaced applause for one – the audience was staunch and attentive. But the dearth of younger listeners was to be regretted.