Friday 18 September 7.30pm
Venue: St Chad's Church
Ludwig van Beethoven - String Trio in G Major Op. 9 No. 1
Herbert Howells - Fantasy String Quartet, Op. 25
Robert Schumann - Piano Quintet in E Flat Major, Op. 44
Katya Apekisheva piano, Simon Blendiss and Charlotte Scott violins
Matthew Jones and Jon Thorne violas, Tim Lowe cello
Composed over several years and finally written out by March 1798 the three string trios of Op.9 already show the young Beethoven changing things. String trios were thought to be a difficult ensemble to write for but the capricious twenty-something Beethoven was creatively explosive and his music was well-nigh impossible for any but the top players. Indeed for many years string playing technique lagged behind Beethoven’s demands. His creative process was not lacking in humility! The part for the cello, for example, requires a virtuoso player such as the famous Berlin court cellist Jean-Louis Duport (for whom Beethoven wrote his Op. 5 Cello Sonatas.) Nothing if not unconventional, these trios stretched the credibility of conservative Viennese audiences, were over the cliff for performers but to us are a great joy and prefigure what is to come!
It goes without saying in the city containing York Minster that Herbert Howells (1892-1983) is well known as a definitive sound of English Cathedral music. His early chamber music is less known and is infused with an English pastoral palette, especially redolent of his native Gloucestershire. The Fantasy String Quartet is in one movement – a beautifully crafted, free-spirited outpouring, rooted in the English folksong tradition, although the tune is the composer’s.
In the Spring of 1842, brooding and alone in Leipzig having left Clara on a concert tour – she was the most famous pianist of the day – Robert Schumann passed the time by a close study of the string quartets and trios of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. On Clara’s return and with her inspiration his creative voice suddenly erupted in what has become known as his ‘chamber music year’, which included three string quartets but also the idea of adding single voice instruments to a string quartet (oboe, clarinet, horn). In October he wrote out at top speed the Piano Quintet for Clara. It left him emotionally and physically drained but as she said the piece is, “…full of strength and freshness.” Schumann can be credited with the invention of the idea of the piano quintet which became the model and inspiration for Brahms, Dvorák, Fauré, César Franck among others and remains one of the greatest pieces of chamber music ever written; as Steven Isserlis writes, “miracle after miracle”.
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