REVIEW: Pomegranate Trio

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Pomegranate Trio, Stratford Chamber Music Society at Shakespeare Institute, Stratford, Sunday, 15th January

CHAMBER musicians have come up with all manner of names for their ensembles over the centuries — the Amadeus String Quartet and the Beaux Arts Trio immediately spring to mind. But the Pomegranate Trio is in a class of its own.

What is the link between an exotic fruit and three hugely talented practitioners of a musical form that all the greatest composers have written for at various times in their careers? The answer, it would seem, is not simple and must — at least for the time being — remain a mystery.

There was no mystery, however, about the performance by the Pomegranate Trio at the Shakespeare Institute on Sunday afternoon as part of Stratford Chamber Music Society’s winter season of concerts. Unless, of course, you consider it one of life’s mysteries that music of this quality could be written in the first place and then brought to life with such stunning virtuosity.

The Pomegranate Trio gave its first concert only three years ago but its members — Fenella Barton (violin), Rebecca Hepplewhite (cello) and Andrew West (piano) — are seasoned musicians whose rendition of three great piano trios on Sunday radiated effortless aplomb.

They began with The Trio in E flat major, No 29 by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), written in 1797 when the composer was at the peak of his creative powers.

As with all of Haydn’s works there is that wonderful fusing of peasant earthiness with wit, elegance, technical brilliance and endless inventiveness that has captivated audiences throughout time.

From the opening bars it was clear that the players were going to give us some classic Haydn because of their essential grasp of this composer’s musical personality and the utter brio with which they undertook their task.

The following work — the Trio in G minor, Op 15 by Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884), known as the father of Czech music — was an altogether different affair. This was big Romanticism in a much more serious mood written, as it was, shortly after the death of the composer’s daughter at the age of only four and a half.

It exudes conflicting emotions, from happy memories to agonising sorrow (and anger as well), and contains some passages of exquisite beauty in a work quite clearly written straight from the heart.

The most famous work of them all was saved for the end. The Trio in B flat major, Op 97 (Archduke) by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) is the best-known and most popular composition for this group of instruments in the whole canon.

It was completed in 1811 and dedicated to the Archduke Rudolph, Crown Prince of Austria, to whom Beethoven gave piano lessons. It is written on a grand scale, with a sublime slow movement in variation form.

The Pomegranate Trio might have been in existence for only three years, but its members play together as though they’ve been a creative unit for a good many more. The Archduke was the icing on the cake of a tremendous and well-chosen programme.