Ludwig String Trio. Stephen Joseph Theatre. 08-03-12

Ludwig String Trio. (Peter Cropper VIOLIN, James Boyd VIOLA and Paul Watkins CELLO)

Beethoven. Serenade for string Trio in D Op 8 (1796-7)
Hindemith. String Trio Op 34 (1924)
Mozart. Divertimento in E flat K563 (1788)

This concert at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, given by three of the leading chamber musicians in the UK, was a real joy. We were lucky to hear genuine virtuoso playing in such a small space. Alan Ayckbourn was in the audience and I hope that he was proud of the fact that the SJT is able to attract musicians of such quality, he certainly should be. It is a gift that Scarborough doesn’t always appreciate. Those who were there absolutely relished it and knew how lucky they were but there were plenty of empty seats in a venue which is already small. Thankfully we have Music In The Round, the largest promoter of chamber music concerts outside London, to make sure that we will still get to hear music of a quality that would almost certainly never be heard in Scarborough without their support.

One of the fascinations of hearing chamber music live is that you don’t just listen, you also gain a lot from the chance to watch. There is an absolute kinship and understanding between players of this quality and you can see them communicate with the smallest of glances, seeing to fuse effortlessly into a single unit in the service of the music. The Ludwig String Trio have many years of experience playing with the best musicians in the country and they also know each other well as musicians. That experience was there for us to see as well as hear when we watched them play. The sound of James Boyd’s cello, made by Montagnana and Goffriller in Venice c 1730, was just beautiful.

I must admit that I admire the late Beethoven quartets more, but it was very good to hear one of his earlier and more cheerful pieces, something to make you smile. The Hindemith was not so much to my taste but it was brilliantly played. There was a wonderful pizzicato section, and the whole piece was full of light and shade and drama with mercurial mood changes, and I did find it interesting. The playing certainly impressed my companion, who knows it well, so much in fact that they uncharacteristically made a point of thanking the players in the bar afterwards. I will be waiting a long time to see that happen again. The Mozart was described by Peter Cropper as one of the most sublime pieces of chamber music ever written and while I do want to stick up for Schubert I am not going to disagree with that. It is light airy and joyous with a melancholy and yearning adagio thrown it. Just lovely.

One of the good things about a Music in the Round concert is that you also get to hear the players speak about the music. The three of them spoke confidently and wittily, both after the Beethoven and in the Q and A afterwards, and gave us some interesting insights. The Hindemith is a particularly difficult piece and I liked the way that James Boyd waved his score at us when they introduced it, showing us a relatively normal looking first page and then the second page, which was covered in dense black notes. “And that’s not just black. That’s tricky black!”

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