REVIEW: Aquinas Piano Trio in Coffee Concert at Brighton Corn Exchange on Sunday, November 18 (11am)

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SEEING a singer making eye contact with their audience while actually singing, whether in recital or opera, is to see an artiste pursuing am obvious route of communication open to them. To see an instrumentalist doing so is rare and quite arresting.

With fingering to co-ordinate while reading chamber music, and fellow ensemble members to watch and play together with, to one to see, for instance, for a string quartet member look up and out at the audience would be risky and possibly even a dereliction of duty.

But in a piano trio things are slightly different. Each player has a larger proportion of the music on their shoulders and can come quickly under the spotlight bearing alone an important theme or statement. And if you are a cellist it is conceivable that you can do what the Aquinas Piano Trio’s Katherine Jenkinson did several times in the Corn Exchange on Sunday.

Conveying a melody while being accompanied by violinist Ruth Rogers and pianist Martin Cousin, she gazed at the ranks of listeners as she made her instrument sing to them. Needless to say, she connected, and with what was another excellent attendance at the latest monthly Coffee Concert given by the Strings Attached Society with Brighton Dome.

A crisp November morning released radiant and warming full sunlight into the Corn Exchange to add feel-good to a special voltage switched on as The Aquinas took the stage and unleashed a programme of three works in a minor key of intensity, excitement and breadth.

They hit us straightway in the heart with Rachmaninov’s posthumous and deeply attractive Trio élégiaque No 1, which establishes a richly portentous mood in G minor.

Then the second of Mendelssohn’s three piano trios, the one on C minor Opus 66, written two years before his death, with four masterly movements. The two composers’ descriptive directions amply forewarned of the power of what the Aquinas was laying before us: elegy, energy, fire, expressiveness, very fast, very quick, passionately.

After the interval Dvorak’s instructions were less specific in his third trio, in F minor Opus 65 — Brahmsian in key, Brahmsian in some of its utterances — but the insistence and beauty of the music on offer did not relent.

The Aquinas were rightly brought back for an encore and at last hit a major key (D) with the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s first Trio. Like the Scherzo already heard in the Mendelssohn C minor work, this was the German at his most irrestistible. Yet another secret window on magical fairy-world mode with creatures flying, flirting and flitting like butterflies and moths with seemingly the speed of fireflies and bees.

The final mercurial and hushed bars sent the Aquinas deftly but brilliantly away and into the dressing room, after which they joined the audience meeting in the Dome lounge to share their exhilaration.

Remember the name, Aquinas Piano Trio. They came to us and sped through our morning like a Golden Arrow Express. The programme was superbly chosen, the execution dazzling and totally assured, the rewards to the listener simply tingling.

The long-haired women look like Wagnerian heroines, Jenkinson’s straight, Rogers’ wavy and crimped. Even Cousin, a Scot from Alloa, has a pony tail. They have solo careers, unsurprisingly, given their individual accomplishment within the Trio. Cousins, for instance, will soon give a solo recital and then on another day perform Mozart’s later concerto in A in the Royal Festival Hall with the Mozart Festival Orchestra—and in full 18th Century Rococo costume, to boot, with breeches, stockings and periwig.

The modern classical musician’s life brings fun engagements like this. But in between their bread and butter individual work, stardom in the chamber music world seems to be inviting this Aquinas Piano Trio forward. The sum of their parts sits comfortably in that category and stands ready.

Richard Amey

Next Coffee Concert: The Dome’s resident Heath String Quartet on Sunday December 16 (11am) with quartets by Mozart (Eb major K428) and Tchaikovsky (No 3 in Eb minor Opus 30). Book on 01273 709709.