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Fellowship of the strings as The Cairdeas Trio with Highland connections make their Music Inverness debut at the Town House


By Margaret Chrystall

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‘Cairdeas’, Gaelic for ‘fellowship’, seems the perfect name for an exciting new Piano Trio incorporating the skills of three outstanding musicians with Highland connections, Emma Donald, Katy Bell and James Willshire.

The Cairdeas Trio at Inverness Town House.
The Cairdeas Trio at Inverness Town House.

Their inaugural performance for Music Inverness opened with a beautifully focussed account of Haydn’s Piano Trio no 18. Composed in 1784, this is regarded as the first of Haydn’s ‘later’ Trios, but in many ways it looks backwards, with its cello writing designed to reinforce the bass line. If a momentary tablet fail, the nightmare of all of us who have gone digital in our music-making, deprived us of a few bars of the piano part, the musicians were not fazed and recovered flawlessly. A light classical touch allowed the music to speak for itself, and led to a very pleasing account.

Before this concert, I had heard precisely one piece by Rebecca Clarke, a rather inconsequential chamber piece, as I recall. Her Piano Trio of 1921 is a very different matter, a major work, proper ‘ceol mor’ [the big music or pibroch/piping music] with an eclectic blend of musical styles and a considerable mastery of structure. Unappreciated in London, where she had studied with Stanford, Clarke left both these influences far behind with a move to the USA.

Her Piano Trio looks not to England, but to the continent. The opening movement flirts with cutting-edge Debussy, the Andante draws heavily on the Hebraic melodic style of Ernst Bloch (Clarke’s music had understandably previously been thought to be by Bloch using an alias!), and the Finale is evocative of Bartòk. This makes Clarke sound derivative, but she successfully embodies these current trends and makes something all of her own, while a recurrent fanfare motif recalls the post-war context of this remarkable piece. A great find by the Cairdeas Trio and given a spirited account by them.

Continuing the bold programming, the Trio next presented Natalie Draper’s Fragile Music, a beguilingly fugitive work composed towards the end of last year and capturing perfectly the fragmentation and fragility of the Covid lockdown.

Wonderfully elusive, this piece went on its brittle way, and came to a suitably enigmatic conclusion. This ambitious concert culminated in Dvorák’s delightful ‘Dumky’ Trio, a work which allowed all three players to demonstrate their more lyrical side, as the composer alternates plangent melodies and lively dances in the eastern-European folk idiom. This proved a delightful treat, and once again allowed the young players to showcase one of the considerable virtues of their new group, its admirable level of ‘cairdeas’ within the ensemble and with the audience.

D James Ross

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