Great Panache

MIKE WHEELER listens to the Aquinas Trio


For a number of years now, Derby Chamber Music patron, cellist Katherine Jenkinson, has opened each season with one or other of her various ensembles. On this occasion, she came with her colleagues in the Aquinas Trio - Ruth Rogers, violin, and Martin Cousin, piano - to say goodbye and thank you to three members of the Society's committee, who have stepped down after organising a three-concert autumn season - Multi-Faith Centre, Derby University, Derby, UK, 2 December 2022. The good news is that Katherine will now be more closely involved in arranging programmes and booking performers, with two concerts being set up for first months of 2023.

The Aquinas Piano Trio
The Aquinas Piano Trio

After a presentation and thanks, the Aquinas Trio began with an unbilled extra, Haydn's two-movement Piano Trio in G, Hob XV:32, a late work composed during his first London visit, 1791-2. They brought an apt degree of charm and amiability to the opening set of variations, and a spirited sense of fun to the finale.

Former Derby resident Lawrence Rose played a major role in setting up Derby Chamber Music. After retiring from legal practice, he moved to Chicago, for personal reasons, and has been composing prolifically since. Having composed Danses pour Quatuor for Jenkinson's Iuventus Quartet, he wrote his Piano Trio, Op 26, for the Aquinas Trio in 2019. Although they have recorded it, this was its first public performance. It is in seven movements, a conscious nod to Beethoven's String Quartet, Op 131. The first movement runs directly into the second; the others are joined by short linking passages.

A trickling piano figuration sets the Trio in motion, with new ideas popping up without pulling the structure apart. The playing underlined the sense of continuity. After a slightly eerie pizzicato introduction, the second movement is a set of variations whose changing character: from angular to song-like, was clearly delineated. This expressive polarity was well sustained by the players, through the third movement's edgy, Shostakovich-like fugue, the 'wistfully lyrical' - Rose's own description - fourth movement, and the fifth and sixth movements, a sardonic scherzo and march respectively. Elsewhere, there was calmness and frailty, and the elegiac character of the cello and piano link into the seventh movement was an apt preparation for the concluding coming to terms with what's gone before, the players at one with the composer as he digs deep into the experiences of this powerful work.

The Aquinas' fresh, bouncy, take on Lili Boulanger's D'un Matin de Printemps was a delight, with the long ecstatic lines in the middle section singing out as Boulanger asks, Cousin delicately supporting his colleagues' dialogue.

They launched the first movement of Beethoven's B flat Piano Trio, 'Archduke', with a finely-judged balance of relaxed ease and forward movement, along with glimpses of more secretive places. The understated recapitulation simply floated into place, and the no-nonsense ending was dispatched appropriately. The second movement started on tiptoe, the rhythms danced, and though the switches between the mysterious and the rampaging in the Trio section were given full value, it still emerged as a cohesive unit.

The third movement opened in rapt stillness, as a springboard to following Beethoven's exploratory path through the ensuing variations - in particular, the graceful dialogues of Variation 2, and Variation 4's delicately pulsing repeated-note figures. The downward semitone shift on the final chord, Beethoven's usual sign that something important is about to happen, made its point without undue underlining, before the finale set off, hopping and skipping. The darker central episode was boisterous rather than threatening, and the coda romped away with great panache.

Copyright © 21 December 2022 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK









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