Last year saw the premiere of MacMillan’s
St John Passion
at the Barbican, an awe-inspiring
event that found the composer working on a large canvas.
Here is the other side of the MacMillan coin – an intimate
chamber work. Fourteen Little Miniatures
set of inter-related short pieces commissioned to mark
anniversary of the collaboration
of Peter Frankl, György Pauk and Ralph Kirshbaum.
MacMillan’s piece encompasses a wide variety of textures
and makes play with the relative importance of each instrument.
In some the cello will dominate, in others the violin,
in others the honours may be more equally distributed. There
is another recording - on an all-MacMillan disc issued
- but that might prove rather difficult to locate.
The sheer presence of the recording at the Wigmore Hall
is laudable, giving grit to the more outgoing, modernist
passages. The eighth variation, for strings alone, presents
some of those characteristic MacMillan ‘keening’ gestures
that here add almost a sense of pleading to the music.
They feature prominently in the penultimate variation,
also. The very next variation, the ninth, presents a virtuoso
side of the piano part - excellently judged by Benjamin
Frith. There is an extended silence after the final notes
have been sounded – as befits a performance such as this.
The title may be misleading, for these 14 ‘little’ pictures
contain a wealth of depth and add up to significantly more
than the sum of their parts.
The Schubert - D929, sometimes known as Op. 100 - emerges
as bright as a button, heard immediately after the MacMillan.
The performance is fluent, the tempo for the initial Allegro
being perfectly chosen. There is also a youthful freshness
here. Perhaps the freshness I not ideally coupled with
depth of interpretation, as on occasion in the first movement
the momentum stumbles. Schubert is thinking on a large
canvas here (the piece lasts over 50 minutes, after all)
and the maturity to project the longer-range processes
should be a given here. The Beaux Arts Trio demonstrates
this perfectly on the Philips twofer, 438 700-2. Despite
this, there are many, many moments of the utmost beauty
and the three players respond superbly to each other.
There is speculation that the Andante con moto
theme is based on a Swedish folk melody. It would presumably
have come to Schubert via the tenor Isaac Berg, a Dane
who was visiting Vienna at the time of the work’s composition.
This movement includes a passage - just after the six-minute
mark - of the most convivial conversation between violin
and cello. The Scherzo is deliciously pointed, while the
long finale (16:56) obviously brings out the best in the
players. Here joy seems all and it is only when we look
further beneath the surface that we begin to realise the
miracle of Schubert’s invention.
A worthwhile release, and a stimulating coupling.