Saturday, 21 May 2011

Mozart Unwrapped (5) - Cropper-Welsh-Roscoe Trio, 21 May 2011

Hall One, Kings Place

Violin Sonata in A major, KV 526
Piano Trio in G major, KV 564
Violin Sonata in E minor, KV 304
Piano Trio in E major, KV 542

This latest instalment in Kings Place’s ‘Mozart Unwrapped’ series was the third concert of trios and duos given by the Cropper-Welsh-Roscoe Trio. The performance took a little while to get going, the extraordinarily difficult A major violin sonata – I remember battling with it as a schoolboy pianist – receiving a sometimes unsettled, as opposed to unsettling, performance. There was vigour, especially from Peter Cropper’s violin, but Beethovenian stabbings in the first movement’s second subject proved too much for Mozart. Cropper’s wavering intonation did not help either. Those notorious problems of balance remained unresolved as often as not. Period instrumentalists often point here to the easier blend of fortepiano and Classical violin, but that should present a challenge rather than an impediment to musicians playing on modern instruments. Even in the first movement, however, there were passages in which both instruments sang, especially Martin Roscoe’s piano. Roscoe imparted a nice rhythmic bounce to much of his music too, likewise a welcome yet never excessive flexibility of tempo. The slow movement was poised and happily vocal in apparent performative inspiration. If sometimes the music sounded close to Beethoven, that is simply a reflection of the score’s qualities; in any case, the operatic cantilena was unmistakeably Mozart’s. If I readily admit to preferring a somewhat slower tempo in such an Andante, I appreciate that not everyone shares my apparently antediluvian preferences. The finale, however, emerged rather breathless at times, though Roscoe introduced charming moments of relaxation. Intonation, again, stood a little too distant from flawless.

When Moray Welsh joined the players for the G major trio, KV 564, balance immediately improved; the performance sounded more at ease too. There was sparkle without rushing, though occasional roughness remained. The slow movement benefited from a simple yet never simplistic – an exam script I marked the other day referred unfortunately to Die Zauberflöte as ‘a simplistic opera’ – dignity that again hinted at Beethoven, without quite reaching his still-foreign shores. Mozart’s chromaticism in the minor-key variation could only ever have been his: Roscoe delineated its twists very well. Cropper imparted a winning lilt to the finale theme when he took it over, proving refreshingly willing to play out: no Mozart as Meissen china here. Welsh’s cello tone was beautifully rich without straying into inappropriate territory; his sure touch with respect to the music’s harmonic contours was greatly appreciated.

The greater ease announced by the trio was not simply a matter of the extra player, for the E minor violin sonata, which followed the interval, received a fine performance, very much alive to the moment. The first movement (of two) possessed a quality of Sturm und Drang tempered by lyricism, that one might be tempted to call Schubertian, were that not a case of getting things the wrong way around. (And even then, I am still tempted to do so.) There are still awkward corners to be navigated at this stage in Mozart’s career – again, I retain not entirely happy memories here as a performer! – but Cropper and Roscoe handled them well. The Tempo di Menuetto movement proved truly moving, Mozart smiling, as so often, through (vocal) tears, that mixture of senses seeming especially apt here. It harked back to the fantasy-world of CPE Bach, albeit with none of that composer’s shortness of breath, a shortcoming of which Mozart could never be accused.

Welsh returned to the stage for the E major trio, KV 542. What a rare key this is for Mozart, if not for Haydn, nor for Beethoven! One immediately perceived its tonal warmth, aided by rich, lyrical instrumental tone. The Andante grazioso sounded like true chamber music, with all the natural give and take that seemingly innocuous description implies, and without loss to essential simplicity. Mozart’s sinuous line in the finale almost inevitably brought to mind the minuet of the Jupiter Symphony, but the movement had a character of its own, inviting none of the (neo-)classical formality of the other work. Again, it was treated to a fine example of unforced chamber music playing. The minor mode section was especially touching, its pathos genuine rather than overwrought.

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