Review of Dolgellau Concert in the Cambrian News Feb. 2016

It’s surprising, when you hear how beautifully French horn, violin and piano combine together, that not more chamber music trios for them have been written. This was certainly the feeling generated by the fine recital given by the Pleyel Ensemble in Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor on Friday, 5 February, which featured two of the best known chamber music trios – the Horn Trio Op 44 (1953) by Lennox Berkeley and the Horn Trio Op 40 (1865) by Brahms. Before the Berkeley in the first half, Sarah Ewins (violin) and Harvey Davies (piano) played Mozart’s Sonata K 296 in C major (1778), a sparkling product of the 22-year-old’s genius that made a perfect concert opener. Impeccable technique is called for and this was delivered, with a sense of exuberance and control-led abandon that conveyed vividly Mozart’s extraordinary powers of invention. Harvey’s brother Laurence then joined them for the Berkeley. This is an immediately accessible piece in which all three instruments are clearly characterised and contrasted, and the ensemble’s performance made a persuasive case for it. The opening Allegro’s springy rhythms are followed by an eloquent Lento in which the horn spins long melodic lines, and violin and piano grow transformations of them. The final movement is full of brio and humour.Franz Strauss is best known as the father of Richard, but for almost 50 years he was a leading orchestral horn-player who took part in many Wagner premières. Wagner memorably said of him: “He’s an unbearable, curmudgeonly fellow, but when he plays his horn one can say nothing; it’s so beautiful.” Strauss Sr could compose beautifully as well, as the Davies brothers showed in his Nocturno Op 7 (1864), with Laurence seemingly effortless as he spun yet more extended lines of lyrical melody. This quality was shared by all three musicians in the climax of the evening, Brahms’ masterpiece. For all its subtle counterpoint the piece has at its heart a German folksong learnt from his mother, an element that adds pathos to the sense of structural rigour that gives the piece such strength. An exhilarating Allegro con brio, played by the Pleyels with evident relish, brought the evening to a triumphant close.

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