Atos Trio & Paul Stanhope reviewed in the Sydney Morning Herald

Peter MacCallum, 16 November 2010

PAUL STANHOPE’S trio Dolcissimo Uscignolo is a fractured remaking of a madrigal by Monteverdi, though it never sounds much like Monteverdi.

Stanhope writes works modelled on the great tradition of Western classical music in much the same way as Brahms or Vaughan Williams did before him. One takes a model from the past in order to build a piece, and the underlying act is of homage and a feeling of being part of the broad flow of tradition that sweeps through our culture like a mighty river that we can’t influence much but only contribute to.

There is none of the modernist coolness of the neoclassical style of Stravinsky, trying to detach themselves from that tradition, or the postured irony and irreverence of postmodernism. Stanhope avoids that, but without prelapsarian nostalgia for premodern times. This is music that is not particularly anxious about what the literary critic Harold Bloom called the anxiety of influence.

The Atos Trio gave it a performance replete with full-blooded Romanticism. The opening is a crystalline texture around a cluster of notes that suddenly opens out evocatively on the piano, and this trajectory could also describe the whole piece as it moves to climactic gestures across the full range of the instruments.

In this work, and in Brahms’s Trio No. 3 in C minor that followed, there were moments where Atos’s pianist, Thomas Hoppe, seemed a little dominant against the string players, Annette von Hehn (violin) and Stefan Heinemeyer (cello). This in part is an inherent element of the asymmetry that makes this group of fine players – indeed the piano trio itself – of interest.

Playing quietly is also one of their signature traits, shown nowhere better than in the enigmatic hushed mood with which the Coda of the Brahms third movement creeps away.

Schubert’s great late trio in B flat escaped any hint of balance problems where the performance had intimate and sometimes intense concentration, particularly from the strings, though the tendency for capricious individuality in tempo sometimes inhibited a stable tempo emerging.

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