The Florin Trio

Concert date: 18 January 2014
Reviewed by: JRC

The Florin String Trio gave the fourth in the 2013 /14 series of NADSA concerts. Following such names as Paul Lewis, Martin Cousin and Jack Liebeck, they had hard acts to follow; but what a gem their concert was. Their programme, a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar styles, demonstrated a confidence to perform works seldom heard. How wonderful for west-country audiences to have the opportunity to be introduced to works of Dohnanyi and Schnittke by such intense musicianship.

There were no flamboyant gestures or dramatic visual interactions; however, after only a few bars into Dohnanyi's Serenade in C major, I felt confidently led in their march by an amazing mix of energy and subtlety. As we were taken to subsequent movements, there were moods ranging from the pensive and ponderous to the lively and frantic: what phenomenal skill the Florin has; to hold our emotions at such boisterous heights and then fade them, with a pianissimo, into silence.

The Dohnanyi work was unfamiliar to me, but its somewhat romantic style was well within my comfort zone. The Schnittke, I anticipated, was unlikely to be anywhere near my comfort zone, and I was approaching it with some trepidation. Charles Mutter, the violinist, gave us a brief introduction to the context of Schnittke's String Trio [1985]. As a result I had a miraculous change of perception. He told us that, with influences from Schoenberg and Shostakovich, and an Iron Curtain environment, the going was going to be tough: but by admitting to this with his impish humour, Charles demonstrated psychological skill as well as musical excellence.

The two movements of the Schnittke were characterised by huge contrasts; but underlying all, persisted a great sadness. Between the composer's score and the trio's implementation we were variously stimulated, not least by the deft use of open harmonics on the Cello. Piercing dissonances shrieked out; but also there were floating melodies which were shattered, became smothered, or fizzled into a disturbing silence.

During the interval there was a palpable buzz amongst the audience: we had been present at something very special.

Beethoven's Serenade in D major took us to a different world. An early work of his, this lacks the gravitas one usually associates with Beethoven: the style was light. The opening march of this serenade was lively and spirited, contrasting with the following adagio of lyrical serenity. A crisp and dancey minuetto was then followed by a reflective adagio itself interrupted by playful scherzo episodes. A polonaise movement was another strong invitation for the spirits to dance; and then it seemed the score was giving each instrument of the trio the opportunity melodically to shine in what was obviously an enjoyable and sophisticated environment. The only regret of the final march is that it brought this concert to a close.

How decadent I felt, whilst listening to the Beethoven, that I should be able to enjoy this music when Schnittke, via the same trio, had so recently led us to such distressing sadness. I then considered that perhaps Schnittke, having worked so directly on our emotions, could stake a claim to be a 'Romantic' composer.

One of The Florin rushed off to an engagement in Madrid, whilst London beckoned the others; the BBC and Buckingham Palace are engagements they shouldn't miss. That the individual players have very separate careers, perhaps gives The Florin Trio a particular frisson which is expressed through their music, and it is the Music that takes centre stage.