The Chichester Chamber Concert on Thursday 18th February provided a wonderful opportunity to hear two major works for piano trio. Both the Schubert Piano Trio in E flat D929 and the Mendelssohn Piano trio No. 1 in D minor Op.49 are exuberant and powerful works and the performers in the Assembly Room were the highly accomplished London–based Busch Piano Trio.
The Schubert trio was written in the last year of the composer’s tragically short life when he was just 31. In the same year he produced another piano trio as well as the breath-taking String Quintet in C major, three piano sonatas and the Symphony in C major. He second piano trio, D929, is a towering masterpiece, massive in breadth and length and abounding in thematic ideas. In a powerful performance, the Busch Piano Trio included some 99 bars that Schubert cut from the last movement at the behest of the publisher Probst of Leipzig, taking the piece to a full 50 minutes in length. From the brisk opening bars the balance and cohesion of this group of players was evident. Only very occasionally, and in the very lowest registers, was Mathieu van Bellen’s violin submerged below the more powerful instruments of his colleagues Omri Epstein (piano) and Ori Epstein (cello). The glorious cello opening to the second movement was beautifully rendered by Ori Epstein with his brother Omri providing a rippling piano accompaniment. This was a spirited and dramatic performance. The last movement, whilst long, never flagged and the decision to reinstate the "missing" bars seemed to be eminently justified.
The Busch trio displayed an equally deep musical understanding in their rendition of the Mendelssohn trio. Mendelssohn rewrote his original piano part for this work at the suggestion of fellow composer Ferdinand Hiller, giving the piano a much more prominent, and virtuosic, part. Omri Epstein rose to the challenge magnificently making light of this brilliant piano part. As with the Schubert, the Mendelssohn contains a profusion of themes, many of them given to the cello to introduce. Ori Epstein’s sonorous cello was particularly eloquent in the great opening theme of the first movement and in the prominent singing melody in the finale. In between these movements, the Scherzo, surely one of the most delightful ever written, was taken at a brisk and invigorating pace.
Between these great works the Busch Trio played Ackermusik by the Dutch composer Theo Loevendi, best known as a jazz musician. A very oriental–sounding opening, led by the muted violin against a drone on the cello and spasmodic bell–like piano flourishes in the upper register, gives way to a development involving all three instruments before the piece dies away with some rather disturbing sliding passages from the strings. Lasting about 8 minutes, the piece received a committed performance from the Busch Trio.
Undoubtedly however the evening belonged to Schubert and Mendelssohn. Linking the two trios that we heard to Beethoven’s magnificent Archduke, Schumann wrote: "This [the Mendelssohn trio] is the master trio of our age, as were the B flat trio of Beethoven and the E flat trio of Schubert in their times. It is an exceeding fine composition which will gladden the hearts of our grandchildren and great grandchildren for years to come." Our hearts were gladdened by both works in these outstanding performances.