Three’s Company, Four is More at the King’s Hall Ilkley
The Florin Ensemble began this splendid concert with E J Moeran’s String Trio, a relatively extended work that requires quite a range of responses to bring out all its secrets. The Florins were fully up to the task, whether in the brooding slow movement or the robust dance-like music of the scherzo and finale. The lengthy first movement with its teasing seven-in-a-bar metre was engagingly projected, resonant pizzicati particularly memorable; the body language of the players demonstrating all the while how much they identified with this unjustly neglected score.
The Trio was then joined by oboist Joseph Sanders for Britten’s Phantasy Quartet. This is a testing work for all the players and they came through with flying colours. Britten’s typically piquant instrumental scoring was given full value, his very individual writing receiving an imaginative response from each player. In the central slow section Alistair Scahill’s viola solo was powerful and expressive. The oboe sound was beguiling throughout and it left me wishing we could hear more from the instrument after the interval.
But that was not to be as Mozart’s K563 String Trio Divertimento made for a more than generous second half. This masterpiece is a challenging one for the players, a real test of technical prowess. Textures are so clear, there is nowhere to hide, and at three quarters of an hour’s duration it’s a long haul for them; but as violinist Charles Mutter said in his excellent prefatory talk it’s gloriously rewarding to play as their committed performance fully demonstrated.
Correctly they used less vibrato than they had for the music in the first half, yet there was no lack of expressiveness in the playing. Where Mozart asks for the music to be repeated piano they had fun reducing the sound to near inaudibility. In an earlier minuet movement cellist Cathertine Rimer’s contribution was forthright and characterful as it had been throughout. A marvellous concert that sent us out into a very cold night with a warm glow.
As part of their excellent series of British Chamber Music for Naxos, the Maggini String Quartet made a recording of Moeran’s String Trio and String Quartets in E flat and a minor in 1995. The recording quality is very good and the performances first rate on Naxos 8.554079 (budget price).
Hyperion have an excellent recording of this work played by Sarah Francis (oboe) and members of the Delmé String Quartet on Helios CDH55154 (budget price). The disc is filled by other Britten works for oboe and piano and is very enjoyable.
There are many fine recordings of this wonderful work, but my favourite is performed by the Grumiaux Trio on Decca 470 950-2 (3 CDs for the price of 1 full price). This is the best way of purchasing this recording as the set includes magnificent performances of the 6 Mozart String Quintets with an extra violin and viola added to the Grumiaux Trio. The recordings are analogue but still sound very well. Should you want a modern digital recording, the Trio Zimmermann is excellent on BIS BISSACD 1817 (full price SACD playable on all CD players). The fill-up is a short Schubert String Trio D.471.
Finally, tonight’s artists have a very good medium priced recording, available via their web site www.florinensemble.co.uk. The disc is completed by Howard Skempton’s “Winter Sunrise” for string trio.