It was on Monday 3rd November 2008 in the Cowdray Hall that the Kungsbacka Trio played a piece newly commissioned by what was then called Aberdeen Chamber Music Club. It was The Brook Sings Loud by Helen Grime. That concert was presented in collaboration with The Sound Festival. This year the Kungsbacka Trio were back in the Cowdray Hall for another concert bringing together the renamed Aberdeen Chamber Music Concerts with Sound 2012 and BBC-Radio 3 who were broadcasting the concert live.
This year’s contemporary piece had a family connection with the previous work by Helen Grime who is married to the Welsh composer Huw Watkins. His Piano Trio was the work that held the central position in Monday’s programme between Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D Major Op. 70 No. 1 “The Ghost” and Rachmaninov’s Trio Elégiaque No. 2 in d minor Op. 9.
The jagged rhythms of the opening movement were given a tingling brilliance by the glittering piano playing of Simon Crawford-Phillips matched by incisive playing from Malin Broman (violin) and Johannes Rostano (cello). The melodic lines as well as the harmonies had an icy bracing chill. It was as if the whole movement was composed of shards of shattered icicles. In the second movement, there were special moments of shining sweetness in the upper tones of the violin yet the sense of glassy chill was never broken. The finale opened with violin and cello in almost folksy dance-like fashion but as the piano joined in the dance it became a rather macabre skeleton dance. Jamie MacDougall was quite right when he drew a comparison between the mood of this work and the central movement of the Beethoven Trio which earned it the nickname “The Ghost”
In this great work which opened the concert it was once again the piano which stole the show. Throughout the first movement Simon Crawford-Phillips treated us to wonderful liquid outpourings from the piano. This was often maintained in the right hand while the left was more percussive in attack. The attractive melodic flow of the movement was shared between pianist and string players in what was a totally beguiling performance. The second movement was powerfully atmospheric with strings sounding eerily over ominous piano tremulandos. With Beethoven the music remains purely dramatic but for many Victorian and later composers it was the inspiration for their more melodramatic creations.
The exciting finale seethed and bubbled with brightness and energy totally blowing away the “brooding menace and mysterious melancholy” of the central movement.
There were shades of darkness too in the final work of the recital, Rachmaninov’s Trio Elégiaque. The rhythmic insistence of the piano part as well as the harmonies of the strings were reminiscent of a work for full orchestra that Rachmaninov composed some fifteen years later, The Isle of the Dead. The piano writing especially in Simon Crawford-Phillips’s rhythmically expressive playing suggested to me the strokes of Charon’s oars as he rows the departed souls towards Hades.
The strings were more often in the limelight in the set of variations on what was a very Russian theme in the central movement. The echoes of Russian orthodox chant reminded us that this was another musical genre in which this composer excelled.
The finale opened with an exciting piano cadenza followed by luscious string playing but since Rachmaninov was himself one of the most gifted concert pianists of his time it is not surprising that he allowed the piano full rein to excel in this movement. Towards the end, the opening music returned and once again we heard the insistent pull of Charon’s oars as he rowed off into the distance.