north east scotland's festival of new music

press reviews

Rautio Piano Trio

Written by Alan Cooper


The Seafarer by Sally Beamish, like Vesalii Icones by Peter Maxwell Davies, has multiple sources of inspiration spanning the centuries. The earliest is a poem by an unknown Anglo-Saxon author dating back to the early tenth century when it first appeared in manuscript in the Exeter Book, although apparently the original may have existed as part of an oral tradition a long time before that. The half English half Iranian artist Jila Peacock was inspired to create a series of monoprints which are themselves the inspiration for three pieces on the subject by Sally Beamish. I was interested to note that Jila Peacock has also illuminated the poems of Hafez, the Persian poet whose works were the inspiration for another work by Sally Beamish, Rhapsody on themes of Hafez, heard exactly a week previously at the Sound Festival as the culmination of "A Day with Sally Beamish".

There were three elements in Sunday's performance of The Seafarer. The first was a translation by Charles Harrison Wallace of the Anglo-Saxon poem itself. It was performed (read is too mundane a word for what he did) by the actor brother of Sally Beamish, Oliver Beamish. Actors with a musical background are superb at this sort of thing. I was reminded of Werner Klemperer, son of the conductor Otto who gives, in my opinion, the finest recorded performance as the speaker in the final part of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder.

The second element was a projection of the monoprints by Jila Peacock controlled by Sally Beamish herself. The third, and I have left the best till last, the music played by the fabulous Rautio Piano Trio, and I will have more to say about them later. All three performance elements conjured up an amazing experience of what The Seafarer is about. I found myself transported from the comfort and warmth of Woodend Barn and far out, onto the stormy ice-laden ocean where the seabirds wheeled and cried, the waves swelled and the winds blew. All of these were present in the wonderful alliterative verse; I loved the comparison of hailstones to cold corn for instance. The pictures of waves, icebergs and birds wheeling around the vulnerable longship were startlingly evocative and the sounds of the birds came graphically through in the music played by the Rautio Trio.

They were the heroes of this piece and even more so of the other two works in the programme. Beethoven's Trio in Bb Op.11 Gassenhauer had thrilling new life and spirit breathed into it by the Trio's playing. The pianist led the others with the glorious ease and liquid freedom of his playing. Beethoven's themes were tossed playfully round the trio in the outer movements while the Adagio had real seductive warmth to it.

Once again though, I have left the best, the very best, till last. This was the Rautio Trio's sizzling white-hot performance of the Trio No.2 in e minor Op.67 by Shostakovich. The music began with eerie harmonics on the cello before the violin joined in and then the entry of the piano added a darkly sinister charge to the music. Was this the presence of "Uncle Joe" as always peering threateningly over the composer's shoulder? Anyway the work was written in 1944 and in the opening movement I fancied I heard the insistent rhythm of troops on the march. In the Scherzo it seemed at first that ferocious battle had been joined but then the music suddenly metamorphosed into a jolly Russian dance. The Largo was a passionate Russian lament possibly in memory of the composer's late friend. Then, in the finale, the idea of dance and celebration was pursued with even more vigour and enthusiasm until it passed into a quite ending. With Shostakovich however, one can never be sure if all that jollity is to be taken seriously or if he was being ironic. Look at any photo of him. He was giving nothing away. "I may have an opinion about that, comrade, but I myself do not necessarily agree with it", as the old Soviet joke goes. That's how Shostakovich survived so long when many of his compatriots did not.

  • published on 7 November 2010
  • written by Alan Cooper

Reproduced with permission of the author.

relevant events
  Date Day Time Location Event Details
7Sun 2.00 pmBanchoryPre-concert talk: Rautio Piano Trio, with Sally Beamish
7Sun 3.00 pmBanchoryRautio Piano Trio, with Oliver Beamish, narrator