The Georgian Concert Society: Trio Goya Back

Relationships, influences, rivalries and occasional scandals between composers can provide fascinating insight to the development of their own personal style. Whilst younger artists might commonly idolise and emulate an older master, an experienced composer who responds to the ingenuity of a younger colleague potentially heralds a new chapter of creative output. Such was the relationship between Haydn and Beethoven. Comparisons between the string quartets, piano trios and piano sonatas show that ‘Papa Haydn’, who had achieved much success by the time they met, sought to experiment and expand his approach in response to Beethoven. Haydn began a process of re-examining his use of harmony, texture and form.

Trio Goya is a collaboration between Maggie Cole (fortepiano), Kati Debretzeni (violin) and Sebastian Comberti (cello). Equally matched in experience and passion for music of the Enlightenment, they presented in an entertaining and informative manner. In contrast to the piano trios, their programme was constructed to allow Debretzeni and Comberti to demonstrate their skill with Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 4 in A minor, Op.23, and Cello Sonata in F major, Op.5 No.1.

Haydn’s Piano Trio in D major, Hob XV:24, Op.23, contains the familiar playfulness of melody and motives, but still maintains a sense of serious urgency in tempo and harmonic character. The ‘pacing’ motive employed in the andante second movement is reminiscent of Haydn’s Symphony No. 22 (‘The Philosopher’). Use of subitio fortes to emphasise chords of particular tension interrupts phrasing and undermines the steady beat. In an older style of chamber music with piano, solo instruments were really accompanying the keyboard – a remnant of the use of basso continuo in Baroque trio sonatas. As in this Haydn trio, the strings doubled much of the keyboard writing, providing colour to melodic lines.

The emergence of independent lines for soloists was a later development, yet the piano continued to feature prominently with virtuosic episodes. The two sonatas presented at this concert are contrasting in character. Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 4 is filled with anguish and swiftly changing character in the opening presto. Scherzo-like in character, the second movement again used off-beat rhythms and interrupted melodies to tease the audience’s ear. The Cello Sonata in F major features a fully independent solo part, exploring the higher register whilst engaging in conversation with both hands of the keyboard. Cheerier in nature, its finale is similar to a gigue, possibly a nod to the solo cello repertoire of the Baroque period. Both Debretzeni and Comberti were using the late-classical bow in their performances, resulting in a softer attack on the gut string and a smoother, less brash tone. Their passionate playing conveyed much of the works’ complex emotional depth and communicated much understanding of the sonatas as complete works.

Dramatic gestures and more poignant writing define Beethoven’s Piano Trio in G major, Op.1 No. 2. Long lines of tension and release are marked by soaring violin lines juxtaposed with deeper, weightier lines in the cello’s low register. When making a comparison between Beethoven and Haydn, it is worth considering their use of humour as a musical element. Beethoven is less obvious than Haydn though it serves a deeper purpose in its intent: Haydn seeks to simply amuse an audience, whereas Beethoven intends to provoke a reaction.

Deciding to use a fortepiano in Beethoven’s early sonatas and chamber works proved refreshing to the ear. Although it was the instrument on which he intended the works to be performed, the balance and power of the instrument is far gentler than the stormy weight of nineteenth-century and modern pianos. Any player has a considerable task mastering the most challenging and physically demanding work for the instrument without making any concessions on the composer’s intentions. The instrument’s distinct tone proved subtle yet maintained a firm presence, even with one or two notes in quieter, thinner textures. The fortepiano used in tonight’s performance, and throughout Trio Goya’s Scottish tour, was a Paul McNulty copy of a 1795 model by the renowned Viennese piano builder, Anton Walter.

The fourth performance of the Georgian Concert Society season took place on 28th January 2017 at St. Andrew’s and St. George’s West Church, Edinburgh.