Three Stars in Concert

Brahms Horn TrioIt’s not an unusual happening in the classical music world for soloists with careers and high reputations in their own right to join with others to perform together, and this was the case in the latest concert from the enterprising Milverton Concert Society.  Built around a specific work, the Brahms Trio of 1865 for horn, piano and violin, the evening saw the collaboration of Richard Bayliss, Sam Haywood and Arisa Fujita respectively.  And what a fine evening’s music making it was.  The Brahms was the only work of the night which brought all three together, but the other combinations (perm any 2 from 3!) were all very rewarding in their own right.

The Schumann Adagio for Horn and Piano is a very romantic work, and  the composer himself was pleased with his output in ‘my most fruitful year’ (1849).   Written for the relatively new valved horn, this piece abounds in large and sometimes awkward intervals for the soloist.  It was a cruel start for Richard on a rather chilly autumn evening, and although for the most part he coped amply with the demands, there were occasional fluffs and cracked notes in the Adagio movement.  The Allegro positively exploded on us with a cascade of notes, and this was a joyful performance.  The balance between the two players was generally fine, but I felt that in the slightly slower sections of the second movement, the horn was a little too subdued.  This problem disappeared in the romp of the final pages and the work rounded off splendidly.

Arisa Fujita is one third of the stunningly talented Fujita sisters trio, who have played for us in Milverton.   She and Sam played Beethoven’s Op. 96 Sonata of 1812.  In the first movement the piano seemed to have the best of the writing.  However it soon became clear that the composer knew exactly what he was doing, and what seemed like prosaic interjections by the violin were actually the ‘glue’ of the long phrases and ensured the harmonies were equally well joined up.   That said, Sam really relished the piano part and just occasionally in the first movement he was a little overpowering.  In the second movement, Arisa kept vibrato to the minimum (exactly right for music of this period) and she endowed the rather severe melody with a sad beauty.  The very determined opening of the Scherzo showed the constantly improving communication between the two players.

Brahms Horn Trio 2013 011Beethoven was a little concerned about the technical ability of the player (Pierre Rode) chosen to premiere this piece and made the finale a little less pyrotechnic than he might have done.  It’s a set of variations on a rather rustic tune, and Arisa’s rich sound over a constant stream of fluent and masterly piano playing from Sam showed these two artists to be in perfect accord with each other.  The very jolly coda was a joyous end to a fine performance.

After the interval we were treated (and that is definitely the word) to an exciting and fiery performance of the Brahms Scherzo for violin and piano taken from the so-called ‘F-A-E’ sonata composed for the violinist Joachim by three of his friends.  Sam and Arisa produced wonderful richness and sonority in the slower middle section, leading back to a demonstration of sheer power under perfect control for a virtuoso ending.

The climax of the evening was of course the Brahms Trio, and from the start the ensemble sound was lovely.  There is a feeling of spaciousness in this music, and Brahms said he got the germ of the idea for the first movement while walking in the woods.  Unlike the Schumann we heard earlier, this work was written with the unvalved ‘natural horn’ in  mind, and it was noticeable that in the spiky and rhythmically fiendish Scherzo, many of the more outlandish key changes were left to the violin and piano.  That’s not to say that Richard had it easy – it’s still a virtuoso horn part and he played it very well indeed.  The ensemble sound was consistently fine and the ending of the Scherzo was a tour de force.

The funereal opening chords of the third movement reminded us that Brahms wrote this work to commemorate the death of his mother that year.  These led into a lovely, wistful duet between violin and horn, and the later very sparse lines shared by violin and piano produced an air of real sadness.

In total contrast the finale is cheerful  and bouncy, with the horn producing what are obviously representations of hunting calls.  This is extrovert music and there was wonderful interplay between the three soloists, who produced a melded sound of great beauty and stormed along to a rousing finish.  The applause was deservedly long, and the audience were very clearly in a happy frame of mind.  Quite right too.

Review by Harold W. Mead