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On Wednesday 9th November, the wonderful Primavera Chamber Ensemble returned to St Gregory’s Centre for Music for another academic year to warm us on a cold autumn day with a beautiful programme of music with a Hungarian theme; pieces by Pärt, Haydn, Beethoven.

The ensemble consists of incomparable musicians Michael Dussek (piano), Paul Manley (violin) and Andrew Fuller (cello) who have been playing together since 1986. They have performed at major festivals at home and abroad, and appeared in two TV series entitled Music in Mansions for ITV (Meridian). Commissions have included works by Gavin Bryars, Phillip Glass, Malcolm Lipkin and Paul Patterson which have been performed on the South Bank and the Wigmore Hall. Performances abroad have included concerts at the Vasto, Parma, Emilia Romagna and Sadurano Festivals in Italy at the Almera Festival in the Netherlands and at the Ljubljana International Music Festival. 

In a slight change to the order of the written programme, the trio began with Joseph Haydn’s Piano Trio in G Major, also known as the Gypsy Rondo. The composer wrote some three dozen piano trios, including one fascinating example with two obbligato horns. The ‘Gypsy Rondo’ was composed in England in 1795, shortly before he returned home after his second extended visit to London. Haydn‘s trios were always piano-based, though the strings won ever-greater independence in the later works. Haydn is known to have appreciated English piano makers. On 27 April 1792 the Morning Herald published an open letter from him in which he describes Charles Clagget‘s pianos as ‘perfect instruments’.

The piece opens with a set of variations on a tender theme with delicate chromatic harmonies, the variations alternating between major and minor modes. The slow movement, in the totally unexpected key of E major, is nevertheless peaceful and has a simplicity that only the greatest composers can achieve. Finally comes the riotous gypsy movement. Research has spared no effort to trace the original melodies, with some success. Haydn would have heard gypsy music from visiting bands, one of which can be seen in a 1791 engraving of Eszterháza castle. Their intoxicating music was used (assisted by the local Tokay wine) to entice illiterate peasants into putting their mark on a paper conscripting them into the army.

Next, Primavera moved into a more atmospheric piece, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D Major, known as The Ghost. It was written in 1808, immediately after the Symphony No.6 (the ‘Pastoral’). The measured tread of the slow movement is in extreme contrast to the high speed and drama of the outer movements. The strings manfully hold their own, often sandwiched between the extreme span of the piano part, as in the opening. The music is extraordinarily virile for the pre-Viagra era and its slow eeriness has links to the witches scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a composition which he intended but never completed.

The trio finished their set with the Mozart-Adagio for Piano Trio by Arvo Pärt, an arrangement written in 1992. It is dedicated to the memory of the Russian violinist Oleg Kagan, who died in 1990 at the age of 43. It is based on the slow movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F, K280 (189e). Pärt adds characterfully to Mozart’s harmonies in accordance with the principles of tintinnabuli. This was a compositional technique which he himself devised, combining a melody in one part with fixed notes of the triad in another. The clashes reveal Mozart in 20th century costume.

We look forward to welcoming Primavera back to the School of Music and Performing Arts again next year!