Cerovsek/Brendel/Fellner – review

Wigmore Hall, London

Harrison Birtwistle embraced chamber music relatively late in his career, but recently it has been absorbing much of his considerable energy. His new Trio finds him writing once again for cellist Adrian Brendel and pianist Till Fellner. They gave the premiere in Germany last week, but the intended violinist, Lisa Batiashvili, was ill and handed over that performance and this one, three days later, to the breezily virtuosic Corey Cerovsek.

The Trio, Brendel told us, occupies similar territory to Birtwistle's Violin Concerto, premiered in Boston earlier this year, and his Oboe Quartet, to be heard at Aldeburgh this summer. In one 15-minute movement, it eschews the conventions of the classical piano trio form, while seeming to pay homage to it.

There are three distinct sections. The first is searching, beginning with climbing gestures, angular yet lyrical – perhaps the "long sobs of autumn violins" to which Birtwistle refers in a quote from Verlaine at the end of the printed score. The violin and cello are often out of step with each other, but always on the same team. The piano is a different beast, insidiously introducing the stuttering, mechanical rhythms that will dominate the second section, the work's core. Having won the strings over, it is the piano that begins to rein the music in again; a quiet, hesitant dialogue ensues, by the end of which all three instruments sound like exhausted automatons.

Succinct, effective and beautifully played, Birtwistle's Trio held its own even next to Beethoven's epic Archduke Trio, which followed. Moreover, it seemed weightier than the opening work, Haydn's Trio in D, a piece so unfamiliar that as its third movement flowed amiably to a close nobody knew when to clap. Fellner was rather too reticent in this, a work that the piano should dominate, but by the encore, another Haydn slow movement, the balance was better.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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