In a sense Beethoven was the true winner in the Gwyneth George Award of the BPSE Chamber Music Competition 2010, held in association with the Piano Trio Society. Three outstanding young ensembles each performed a Beethoven trio of their choice before the distinguished Jury of Martin Lovett OBE, former cellist of the Amadeus Quartet, the cellist Gwyneth George, who donated the annual award, and Alberto Portugheis Vice-Chairman UK of the BPSE. The result was a fascinating and inspiring concert, in which distinctive ensembles drew out a wide range of varying aspects of Beethoven's style, his drama, poetry, surprise and intensity, and highlighted the richness and wealth of invention and interaction in the trio repertoire which still rewards exploration and fresh investigation.
The competition took place on 22 April 2010 before a select audience in the attractive surrounds of Steinway Hall, 44 Marylebone Road, W1, thanks to the generosity of the director of Steinway, Glen Gough, who is also Chairman of the Piano Trio Society. Each of the trios had earlier, on Tuesday 20 April, benefited from participating in a masterclasses with Martin Lovett OBE, whose influence was evident in the high standard of musicianship and interpretation throughout.
All nine young players elicited magical sounds from their instruments in the pristine acoustic and from the magnificent concert Steinway Grand piano. The first to perform was the Bager trio, Michael Foyle, violin; Hannah Masson-Smythe, 'cello; Frederic Bager, piano, all first year students at the Royal College of Music. They chose Beethoven's Piano Trio Op 70 No 2, in E flat major, a work that is less often played and whose delicate geniality belies its subtle structure. The initial Allegro was well projected, the modulation of the development well highlighted, if the tempo was a little on the safe side. The cellist always drew interesting colours from her comments and asides, and her exchanges with the violin; the finale was virtuosic and built steadily to its climax.
The next competitors were the November Trio, comprising Agata Darashkaite, Violin, Mikhail Shumov, 'cello, and Olga Jegunova, Piano, all third year or postgraduate students at the RCM. They performed the first of the Op. 70 trios, nicknamed the 'Ghost'; on account of the eerie second movement, with its wayward chromatic harmonies and recurrent diminished 7ths. In this interpretation, there was plenty of drama here, the textures well balanced with lean vibrato less sustained notes in the strings against the rather clear and clean radiant colours of the piano. The trio brought alive the exuberant first movement Allegro vivace e con brio, with plenty of sonority, and the string playing was most arresting, especially the cellist. Most was made of the surprises, the sudden sfz or pp, the contrasts of dynamics, particularly in the second movement, Largo assai ed espressivo, where the ending was enthralling in its unpredictability. The Presto finale was dynamically propelled, rounding off what was a very professional and admirable interpretation and realisation of the piece.
The concert - for that is what the competition turned out to be - concluded with the Greenwich trio's riveting rendition of the trio in B flat op 97, 'Archduke' full of new fresh insights that emerged in their expressive and passionate performance. The three members of the Greenwich Trio, Lana Trotovsek, violin, Stjepan Hauser, 'cello, and Yoko Misumi, piano gave a performance of the 'Archduke' Trio which formed the impressive climax of an exciting event in which three young trios competed The pianist's delicate limpid touch helped throughout, from the very start where the lilting octave theme grows from silence. The richness of the ensemble when Stepjan Hauser and Lana Trotovsek joined was one of the delights of the evening. Hauser is always interesting in his articulation, the sound of his lightweight modern instrument particularly impressive. Their duets had an almost Schubertian lyricism here. There was a real feel for the architecture of the work, and their experience was showing in the wide range of dynamics (as opposed to the rather extreme contrasts of the earlier performances). The Scherzo was delicate and airy, though it could have been a tiny bit more humorous and cheeky in character. Yet the trio, with its fugal treatment of the undulating theme was masterly, building up in layers of textures towards a climax; the reappearance of the texture in the coda was most effective. The highlight was the slow movement superbly expressive, with wonderful dueting and interaction for the strings, and meshing with the piano. The ensemble plays as one, and there as plenty of communication within the group. The finale had zest and panache, and the Presto coda drew some effervescent risk taking from the group already well saddled into their account. Of course there are still room to develop, some of the rhythmic coordination in the Presto needed extra control, and the violin's tone could resonate and sing even more; yet theirs was a first rate performance full of originality and intensity. Interestingly Lara Trotovsek was the winner (with a different pianist) of the duo competition in the previous year.
Following all three performances, Alberto Portugheis, BPSE Vice Chairman UK, introducing the Jury decision, thanked Glen Gough for hosting the event, and also expressed gratitude to the founder of the Piano Trio Society, the violinist Jane Faulkner and the secretary Christine Talbot-Cooper for their help in organising the event. As Martin Lovett OBE, Jury Chairman and Spokesman observed, all the musicians performed beautifully; and choosing a winner was thus a difficult decision, though they finally chose the Greenwich Trio. Indeed the Greenwich is a highly experienced young ensemble at the cusp of a promising career and they have performed for the BPSE series and in major venues throughout Europe, while the two other ensembles were made up of students both at the start of their studies and in advanced courses. While the Greenwich Trio received the Gwyneth George Award, a cash prize, all three trios will receive recitals as part of the BPSE concert series in recognition of their great promise and the high standards displayed at the competition. Details will be posted on the BPSE website, www.bpse.org