Concert Review

Bochmann String Trio
Lion Ballroom, Leominster
8 September 2013

An Espressivo promotion

Was the String Trio, as musicologists assure us, born from the Baroque Trio Sonata, where two solo instruments were supported by a bass continuo? Or was it actually invented to save impecunious impresarios (and what impresario is not impecunious these days?) the cost of hiring an extra fiddler to make up a ‘proper’ String Quartet?

These days, anything to do with chamber music is a challenge to performers as well as to promoters: and the String Trio has always been a challenge to composers - every line, every note, every nuance, texture and colour has to count. Melody and counterpoint are starkly, nakedly exposed. Less has to be shown to be more.

The Lion Ballroom is a beautiful venue, refurbished to original early Victorian splendour, with a Steinway B grand piano absolutely appropriate in scale to the setting. The restoration and the piano were both achieved with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Ballroom, now with all mod cons and a lift, can house a variety of functions, from lectures and wedding receptions to dances and concerts. Balancing the books must be a perpetual challenge for the Committee responsible for the Ballroom’s survival, and they are fortunate in having Gill Shuck managing its operation: the booklet about this new series of recitals is splendidly presented, and the eight pages of adverts and sponsorships testify to her sheer hard work. The booking arrangements, with facilities for payment by card, are professional and welcome.

Espressivo, having moved from Worcester to Leominster and with their long specialized expertise in concert promotion, clearly like a challenge, and are not lacking in ideas, enterprise and courage. They are the other welcome factor in what one hopes will be a new dawn for the Ballroom, heralded with this series of recitals and concerts, roughly one a fortnight, running through to next May.

This first concert attracted an audience of close on a hundred - nearly a full house: no mean achievement, given that the String Trio repertoire is not the most natural crowd-puller. But those that ventured out on a sunny autumn afternoon were richly rewarded, for unintended circumstances conspired to make this a very special experience indeed. The Trio’s cellist, Nella Hunkins, was taken ill only a few days before the concert. Now cellists familiar with String Trio repertoire are not there hanging on trees, or waiting to be cut out of hedgerows. But Michael Bochmann knew a cellist in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, David Powell, who miraculously was able and willing to take up the challenge at virtually no notice, and arrived in full panoply of starched wing collar, bright bow tie, and shiny patent leather shoes. Also, along with quiet aplomb, bringing a huge dollop of musicianship and technical skill.

The musicians had not ever publicly performed together in this repertoire, and there had to be one change in the programme - Beethoven’s Opus 9 Trio No I instead of No 2. But the Schubert D471 Movement, and the Mozart Divertimento K563 were performed as listed, with the bare minimum of rehearsal.

No one listening would have guessed this situation. Indeed, it did not diminish the performance in any way but enhanced it. For the finest music-making is surely like a conversation where anticipation and communication merge, and in this instance the artists were exploring together new territory, watching and listening with heightened concentration, breathing the same music.

Each player in turn introduced one work, finding something to add to the excellent programme notes. Carol Hubel-Allen recounted how Mozart himself played the viola part in the Divertimento when, desperately poor and despairing at the death of his daughter Teresa, he went on tour to try to raise money. And Carol’s own playing of this part made clear why Mozart (like Haydn and so many other great composers) preferred to play the viola rather than any other stringed instrument.

And what a work is K563! You would never, from the music itself, have guessed at the composer’s personal plight. The programme note was little short of ecstatic about the Divertimento’s quality, and even then fell far short of being proved OTT. One thought of Bruno Walter, asked by a reporter whom, of the great composers he conducted, he regarded as the greatest of all. Walter mused: “Well, Beethoven is very great, and so is Schubert....and Brahms...and...” - he broke off, seeing the expression on the reporter’s face. “What’s the matter?”, he asked. “But, Dr. Walter,” stammered his interlocutor, “you speak of Beethoven, and Brahms, and Schubert, but... no mention of Mozart”. “Ah, replied Walter, “when you spoke of the greatest of all composers, I assumed that you meant the greatest after Mozart”. The Divertimento showed what he meant: even Beethoven and Schubert had to stand lower on the podium.

This recital whetted the appetite for those to come. We mortals are creatures of habit: what better habit to acquire than regular visits to the Lion Ballroom, through Autumn, Winter and Spring, to feast on music – and enjoy a non-fattening diet to boot!

Peter Williams

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