Review of Stockbridge Music Patrons Concert on 22nd November in Stockbridge Town Hall

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This was one of those occasions when everything came together to produce an evening of wonderful music. Our Patron, David Owen Norris, is an outstanding pianist as well as a composer and broadcaster. He was leading his trio – John Mills on violin and Joseph Spooner on cello – in a recital that was partly familiar, with trios by Haydn and Schubert and between them a fascinating trio by Saint-Saens in which they played all its five movements. This was in the Hurford Hall of Stockbridge Town Hall with its brilliant acoustics and he was playing a superb Steinway grand piano loaned for the occasion. No wonder it was a sell-out two weeks before the day.

The Haydn trio, in F sharp minor (Hob XV 26) is one of three dedicated to Rebecca Schroeter. From the very start we knew we were listening to supreme players. The assurance of each player and their intuitive understanding of each other was a delight. Near staccato moments from the piano would blend with calmer answers from violin and cello. The andante gave us a lovely interweaving of all three instruments. This movement is based on the Adagio of his Symphony No 102, apparently a Schroeter favourite and a tribute to her. It was followed by a Tempo di Minuetto and the dance rhythms were happily rendered.

One of the pleasing features of an Owen Norris recital is his readiness to talk about the music between each piece – he is a natural communicator. He started by explaining that the windows behind acted as a sound reflector – so the curtains were drawn back. And with the Saint-Saens, he said, we were getting, not the four movements promised in the programme, but five.

Many will know Saint-Saens from his Danse Macabre, the Carnival of the Animals or the Organ Symphony. But the Trio in E Minor (Op 92), one of only two he composed, is less familiar and was a revelation. The first movement has a brooding theme leading to a powerful climax, then follows a more light-hearted Allegretto; after that an Andante with a yearning quality. The Gracioso poco allegretto which normally completes the trio, though it starts with a dark theme is soon gentler in tone. And then we were given an Allegro, which ends the trio, starting quietly and building to a tremendous ending.

After the interval we had Schubert’s Piano Trio in E flat major Op 100 D 929. David Owen Norris introduced this by talking about Schubert, who was known as ‘Little Mushroom’ to his friends. Owen Norris said he was very close to Schubert because he was preparing an edition of ‘Building a Library’ for Radio 3 which would be about the ‘Trout Quintet’ and would be broadcast on December 14. This will be worth picking up on BBC ‘Sounds’ if you haven’t already heard it.

The trio begins with what has been described as ‘an assertive gesture of Mozartian simplicity‘, later giving way to a gentler ending. Then, in the Andante, the cello takes the melody – based on a Swedish folk song – to begin with and is gracefully accompanied by the piano; then these roles are reversed, with the violin joining in the accompaniment as they move to a vigorous crescendo. The Scherzo starts with the strings imitating the piano but as it develops the main theme transmutes into a gentle waltz. Then the Finale, allegro moderato, begins with a theme suggesting a rondo until it moves into a sonata form. Then the ‘Swedish’ theme re-appears on the cello as the violin comments with a pizzicato. Throughout all this the trio was held together by the keyboard mastery of David Owen Norris. His smiles at the end showed that he felt the appreciation of a delighted audience.

This was very much an evening to remember.

Written by Hugh Saxton