Wednesday, November 21, 2012


at St John's Smith Square

Henry Cotter Nixon anyone ?
Me neither, until the new CD by the London Piano Trio landed on my desk, courtesy of Essex-based international violinist Robert Atchison.
Once dubbed "father of the English tone poem", Cotter Nixon turns out to be a late Romantic composer, with a respectable body of work to his name, now largely forgotten.
Not the first British composer Atchison has rescued from oblivion. On the evidence of this Piano Trio, which dates from 1879, his is an attractive voice, influenced by continental models like Schumann, Schubert and Mendelssohn, whose first piano trio of some forty years earlier is also on this disc.
Cotter Nixon's is a substantial work, and at St John's we heard only the opening Allegro.
Played with enthusiasm and affection by the trio [Robert Atchison violin, Olga Dudnik piano, David Jones cello], the jaunty alla marcia theme of the opening particularly compelling. Impressive passagework on the piano, with the two string parts melded perfectly. Towards the end, the tempo slows to a sombre, introspective Lento.
The Mendelssohn, as celebrated as the Cotter Nixon is neglected, was eloquently interpreted [though not helped by taking the interval after the opening Allegro]. This first movement is built around a cantabile theme – I liked the way that this theme melted back in a moment of reflection before returning in triumph to end the movement. A warm rapport between the players in the Andante, then a pleasingly effervescent Scherzo, though not without some sinew where it was needed, and an energetic, ebullient Allegro Vivace finale, with Dudnik's piano impressively fluent.
The other CD whose launch was celebrated in a very enjoyable winter evening in St John's features more late Romanticism, French this time, with a collection of songs by Massenet. Soprano Sally Silver is joined by Richard Bonynge, long a champion of Massenet, and by the flamboyant cello of Gabriella Swallow. Silver's rich tone is well suited to this repertoire, and proved a powerful instrument in this acoustic, especially in the middle register. In the live recital she was accompanied by Olga Dudnik for the first group, which included the lovely Ave Maria, an operatic aria in all but name, based on the much-loved Méditation. In the second group, with Bonynge at the piano, Silver relished the words of Ivre d'Amour [which gives the disc its title], and, with the cello, gave a superb rendition of the familiar Élégie.

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