Leopold Trio/Paul Lewis, Wigmore Hall, London

Expanding the string trio's range
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The Independent Culture

When that questing young string consort, the Leopold Trio, first emerged a decade ago, it comprised three Graces, of whom two – the violinist Marianne Thorsen and the cellist Kate Gould – still survive, though complemented now by the eminently masculine viola of Scott Dickinson. Survive? They positively burgeon: unfailingly well-tuned, lustrously toned and responsively balanced, and ever alive to the interplay of phrasing and vibrato, nuance and colour that the choice, but perilously small classic string trio repertory requires to keep it fresh.

Nor should such supremely cultivated chamber playing succumb to the latent danger of mannerism, so long as these players continue to expand their range as vigorously as at present. Their latest Wigmore Hall concert opened with a substantial and beautifully written rarity: the Serenade Op 10 composed in 1902 by Erno Dohnanyi. Modelled on the classical serenade structures of Mozart and Beethoven, but with an often Brahmsian fullness of sound and touches of Hungarian rusticity – if not quite the folklorism of Dohnanyi's younger compatriot, Bartok – this five-movement structure proved, beneath its ebullient and songful surface, a positive thesaurus of string trio textures.

In utter contrast was the evening's other novelty: the Bagpiper's String Trio (1985) by Judith Weir, a characteristically incisive exploration of the "insides" of a sequence of tightly restricted textures – though the languorously "Celtic" cello melody of its finale already looks forward to the more relaxed structures of her recent music.

But then, to the extent that the Leopolds had evidently rethought details since their much-praised recording on the Hyperion label, Beethoven's core-classic String Trio in G major Op 9 No 1 came over almost as a novelty in its own right, in a poised yet volatile reading between the Dohnanyi and Weir.

Finally, the Leopold Trio was joined by the accomplished, young Paul Lewis for an expansive account, including both first movement repeats, of Mozart's innovatory Piano Quartet in G minor K478 (1785), making much of the turbulence that the composer always seemed to associate with that dark key – and with a rapt reading of the Larghetto from Mozart's other, more sunny Piano Quartet in E flat major K493, by way of a substantial encore.

Granted, not the combined sensitivities of Mozart, Lewis and the Leopolds could quite mitigate the initial shock of residual incompatibility between bowed and hammered strings, especially after so much well-focused string playing alone; and, for all Paul Lewis's care, one did just occasionally wish the piano lid a notch lower for better balance. All the same, this was a lovely concert.

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