An upside of a composer’s life (let’s not start on the downsides) is attending your own performances and hearing additional music you weren’t planning to listen to. I, for instance, would not otherwise have turned out on a sweltering Friday night to hear piano quartets by Frank Bridge and Fauré, especially as the experience included rush-hour train travel to Cambridge. But having got there, I was ‘all ears’ for a very thoughtful and well-prepared concert by The Hague String Trio, who are a group of string players originating from the Residentie Orkest.
The string trio repertoire is remarkably small; I know this because my micro-sized Bagpiper’s String Trio is surprisingly often squeezed into trio concerts, as during this evening. For repertoire enlargement, the group is often joined by an extra player, on this occasion pianist Daniël Kramer (not the ENO guy, opera followers.) I enjoyed his droll introductions to the quartets, including the fascinating facts that Bridge’s quartet became well-known thanks to his pupil Benjamin Britten playing it in Aldeburgh Festivals; while once when Fauré himself performed the piano part of his own 1st Piano Quartet, the viola player was Frank Bridge.
Also featured by The Hague String Trio was Robin Holloway – and his Terzettino no. 2. In a very interesting talk, he explained that he had recently written six Terzettini, a collective noun which would possibly be more suitable to a new kind of pasta. These short trios have all been portraits of friends and acquaintances. It sometimes seems (I think) that composers are almost too frequently asked to write short pieces about other people; either because these people have recently died, or more happily because they have recently lived to a significant age. That kind of composing activity can feel like ‘composing-lite’; what’s wanted is just the gesture of writing something-or-other, for a particular occasion. But Robin has come to the art of musical portraiture very seriously and intentionally, as a painter might do. He cited the inspiring model of Elgar's Enigma Variations, and thinks carefully about his subject’s characteristics and quirks, working them into musical shapes. It turned out that the subject of Terzettino No.2 was not anyone I knew or would have heard of. So, to my ears, the person it sounded like was Robin himself – the cogent, carefully but passionately argued, musical style is unmistakeable.
Pictured – after spending last week amidst the gorgeous honeyed stone of Oxford, I wondered what was the Cambridge equivalent. Of course ! it’s these off-colour yellow-grey bricks, seen to good effect at Cambridge Station. Another unmistakeable phenomenon.