Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Beacon Piano Trio

The Beacon Piano Trio
Anna Cockroft violin, Joyce Clarke piano, Ruth Lass 'cello
The amazing free-admission lunchtime concert series at Glenorchy Church in Exmouth continues.  This Wednesday (9 Feb) there was a one hour recital by the Beacon Piano Trio.  Violinist Anna Cockroft, familiar in Exeter as the leader of the Bach Society orchestra, was joined by orchestral 'cellist Ruth Lass and pianist Joyce Clarke.  This was a return visit by this extremely popular trio, and attracted a large audience.
First we heard an arrangement of Handel's Violin Sonata (Op1 No 10 in G minor) from 1732.  Normally the violin would by accompanied by figured bass which would often have been played on the flute.  Ruth and Joyce supported Anna's skilled playing perfectly.  Every movement was smooth and controlled, and wonderfully moving.
In good 'Classical Journey' style the date moved on to 1776 and the first of Mozart's six Divertimenti for Piano Trio, in B flat.  The opening allegro assai showed off Joyce's beautiful craft at the piano, while Anna and Ruth supported with superbly restrained playing.  As Ruth played her gentle sustained notes they died away to a sound like the relaxed buzzing of a bee accompanying Joyce's piano.  The leisurely and beautiful adagio gave way to the rondeau which started equally gently but, as the theme recurred, became more convoluted and vigorous with an interesting side-line in pizzicato playing by Ruth on the 'cello and delightful trills on the piano from Joyce.  The last few bars were something of a surprise.  Suddenly serious, Joyce played a couple of descending scales on the piano leading to two brisk chords on the violin to say, 'That's all folks'.
The next piano trio was composed by a quite different composer, Bedrich Smetana, in 1855.  His daughter Bedriska had just died and Bedrich was understandably in a very emotional state.  Liszt liked the original version but Bedrich revised it a couple of years later following negative criticism.  We heard only the first movement which gives the violin the moody G minor baroque theme of grief.  Anna's opening was very ominous and passionate, in contrast to the Mozart.  The full trio came in very soon and was very passionate, alternating between aggression and light lingering grief.  The group's ability to work together, to make these sudden and disconcerting swings, left us in no doubt of the composer's state of mind when he wrote the music.  Anna's brief solos were agonising.  The build to the conclusion involved violent ricochet on the 'cello and impassioned piano playing dying to a gentle piano solo with Anna adding a pizzicato melody over Ruth's increasingly restrained and tremulous notes on the 'cello.  Joyce's playing slowly died away to a whisper as the movement drew to a close.
Although the Smetana was very enjoyable and masterfully played, it would have left people in a rather somble mood.  To break the spell the Trio finished the concert with an arrangement of the 'Miniature Viennese Waltz' by twentieth century violinist Fritz Kreisler.  The opening two notes on the strings told us exactly how this was going to work.  A prancing dance theme repeated at various speeds but always with an air of silliness and self-parody - all brought out very engagingly by all three players.  Lively and animated right up to the last throw-away note, it left everyone in a very positive mood.

Many thanks to the Beacon Piano Trio for a feast of music for a Wednesday lunch-break.  Thanks also to organiser David Lee - and congratulations on the impressive performance of the Nelson Mass and Durufle Requiem on Saturday, where David sang with the basses.

I have just received a very welcome message from the Beacon Piano Trio's pianist Joyce Clarke telling me that the Trio will give another lunchtime concert, at Sidmouth Parish Church this time, on Friday 1 April at 12.00 noon.

Anna Cockroft and Ruth Lass are much in demand as free-lance orchestral and chamber musicians so we shall be seeing plenty of them in events in the South West for the rest of the year.

Anna was also founder of the 'Classical Ambiance' quartet with 'cellist Hilary Boxer.  I wonder if that ensemble is still in operation?  (Hilary Boxer definitely is still performing in her own 'Beare Trio' with clarinettist Chris Gradwell and pianist Andrew Daldorph.  They will be at Crediton Parish Church on Saturday 5 March - details on this week's 'Concert Run-Down'.)

Joyce Clarke is currently working on a recording of herself playing the collected works or her father, the composer Harold Noble.  I hope to include some of these new - and very locally significant - recordings in 'Classical Journeys' in March.

(Sadly, Harold Noble died in 1998.  We can read his obituary by Tim Bullamore for the Independent at

This week at Glenorchy we can hear soprano Alison Burnett (without her 'singing pupils', who have to stay at school and concentrate on their studies!)

Soprano Alison Burnett
Glenorchy United Reformed Church Exmouth Wednesday 16 February 12.30pm
Lunchtime Recital
Admission Free

The Beacon Piano Trio
Sidmouth Parish Church  Friday 1 April 12.00 noon
Lunchtime Concert
Admission Free (I think)

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