Haydn Trio Eisenstadt – a review
Haydn Trio Eisenstadt in rehearsal

Haydn Trio Eisenstadt in rehearsal

 By Dr. Luis Dias

 Harald Kosik, piano

Verena Stourzh, violin

Hannes Gradwohl, cello

 “Architecture is music frozen in place and music is architecture frozen in time”.

A happy marriage of the two took place in the splendid setting of the recently refurbished St Inez church last Saturday evening.

The Haydn Trio Eisenstadt, formed in 1992, is a sterling ensemble, with a reputation far beyond their native Austria. 

The programme began fittingly, with their namesake composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), and traditionally considered the Papa of chamber music as we understand the term today. This year is also the Haydn’s 200th death anniversary and is being commemorated worldwide. 

The Eisenstadters chose two of his later piano trios, the Trio in C major (Hob.XV:27) and in E flat major (Hob.XV:29). Good as Haydn’s earlier trios were, these are in a different stratosphere altogether. Ideas are developed further and even more inventively; harmonically Haydn is more adventurous; movements are often on a larger scale than their predecessors; most require more all-round virtuosity, especially from the piano. 

From the very opening strains of the first movement (Allegro) of the first work, it was obvious that we were in for a treat. Their playing combined energy and insight with warmth and affection. Their rapport was palpable, and they breathed as one. The gorgeous Andante was beautifully rendered, and Stourzh glittered in the Presto.

 The first movement of the second Haydn offering, the E flat major trio, (Poco allegretto), was taken at a leisurely pace. Kosik’s keyboard technique is impeccable, with a consistent evenness and lightness of touch that is delightful to the ear. The second movement (Andantino et innocentemente) had a hymn-like quality and was played with tender grace, in this most apt of surroundings. The Finale in the German style was ebulliently delivered, with solid support from Gradwohl. One feels that the sense of balance between the voices got a little unhinged due to the raising of the piano lid at the beginning of this work. A lot of the violin passages seemed submerged by the piano especially in the last movement. 

The last work for the evening was Beethoven’s monumental Trio in B flat major, op.97, the “Archduke”. The Archduke Rudolph was one of many nobles who were both patrons and pupils of Beethoven; this Trio was sent to him in 1811 with a request from the composer that it should be copied ‘only inside your Palace, as otherwise one is never sure it will not be stolen’. Beethoven clearly valued this work highly himself. It is a crowning masterpiece, and the last in his cycle of piano trios. Beethoven himself played the piano part at its public premiere, and it was his last public appearance at the keyboard. 

The first movement opened with the statement of the broad majestic theme on the piano (reminiscent of one of his Razumovsky quartets); the strings join in, leading to the second theme in an unexpected G major, followed by a development, recapitulation and a brilliant coda. Kosik had to restrain himself to let the other voices sing.

 The Scherzo Allegro was delightfully relaxed and nonchalant.

 The third movement (Andante cantabile ma però con moto) is the core of the whole work, a series of variations on a hymn-like melody. (After Beethoven’s death it was adapted to a choral setting of verses by Goethe).   Kosik’s presentation of the theme, truly semplice, as Beethoven asks, suggested the music’s sarabande background palpably;  and the second and third variations frolicked and capered with transcendent levity.

 The concluding movement was a freely handled Allegro moderato, alternating light-hearted passages with heroic outbursts. The extended coda was full of surprises, ending in a manner which was thoroughly and unmistakably Beethoven. 

The enthusiastic applause from the audience produced a spirited encore (the last movement of the Haydn E minor trio). 

Timely announcements put an end to clapping between movements, and the ringing of mobile phones. One wishes that similar rigour is devoted to stopping the click and flash of cameras, by members of the press and public, in mid-performance. These only distract performer and listener alike, and add little to the coverage of such events.

(Text and photograph: Dr Luis Dias. This article appeared in the Herald, 29 September 2009)

Programme notes © Luis Dias