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Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelssohn. The Atos Trio: Annette von Hehn (violin), Thomas Hoppe (piano), Stefan Heinemeyer (cello), Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, 6.03.11 (GPu)

Haydn , Trio in D Major (Hob.XV:16)

Beethoven , Trio in E flat Major (Op/70/2)

Mendelssohn, Trio no.2 in C minor (op.66)

The repertoire for piano trio constitutes one of my favourite areas of the chamber music canon, so I arrived well-disposed to enjoy this Sunday afternoon concert - in Radio 3's 'Performer +' series (organised in conjunction with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales). But you didn't have to share that particular predisposition, to enjoy this recital by the Atos Trio, no special pleading being needed. Formed in 2003, the Atos Trio (the personnel of which has remained unchanged) won the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson International Trio Award in 2007. At present the Trio is a participant in BBC Radio 3's New Generation Artists Scheme.

The highlight of their concert came after the interval with a very fine reading of Mendelssohn's Second Piano Trio in C minor. What a superb - and still underrated - work this is! And what tremendous advocates for it the Atos Trio proved to be. Their playing of the opening movement fully lived up to Mendelssohn's marking: 'Allegro energico e con fuoco'. There was real bite in the introduction and there were some powerful 'storms' in what followed. (Contrary to popular images of him, Mendelssohn could rage with the best of them, as in the incident when he tore his score of Egmont to shreds during a rehearsal!). Characterised by both its passion and its subtlety and by the trio's sensitivity to changes of dynamics, this was utterly persuasive; so, too, was the ensuing andante espressivo, played with a directness altogether free of forced rhetoric and ending with a sigh that faded into silence in a moment of great beauty. The scherzo was full of a contrasting business, of hectic activity (something of which Mendelssohn had much experience) played at breakneck, but not exaggerated, speed. In the allegro appassionato of the finale the moment when the onward impulse suddenly stills to let us hear the piano playing a chorale melody was altogether magical; the divine was invoked with simple and unpretentious eloquence in the midst of music which is also full of the pace and vitality of 'this' world. This performance of Mendelssohn's magnificent trio was chamber music of the highest order, an experience to treasure.

In the two trios played before the interval we had heard assured and accomplished music-making that didn't quite hit the heights of the Mendelssohn that was to follow. The Haydn had a pleasing sociability, the opening of the first movement marked by a limpid bubbling vivacity and impeccable instrumental balance, though there was a certain lack of sharp outlines in the way the movement's wide-ranging modulations were handled. In the slow movement there were moments that spoke of the work's emotional ambiguity; this is a subtle movement, more profound than many of Haydn's slow movements, and a good deal of that depth was captured here. The rondo finale was played with considerable exuberance and a lively sense of drama. In Beethoven's 'Ghost' Trio, for reasons it was hard to pin down, the performance never quite took off. The conflicting patterns of the first movement didn't carry their full weight of antithesis and argument; the famous tremolos of the slow movement made their effect, but the movement as a whole was, for so obviously accomplished an ensemble, slightly pedestrian. There was more to admire in the reading of the final movement, in a performance full of rhythmic dynamism and played with an appropriate humour (without entirely foregoing the music's hints of the heroically affirmative).

Above all, however, it was the ensuing Mendelssohn that stood out. The performance was rightly very warmly received by a relatively small audience - and the deserved warmth of reception prompted an unexpected bonus; a charming performance of the scherzo from Schubert's Trio in E flat (D.929).

Already very accomplished, it is to be hoped that the Atos Trio work together long enough to fulfil the tremendous potential evidenced in this very enjoyable concert.

Glyn Pursglove


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