In a pre-performance interview with Cheltenham Festival director Meurig Bowen, Alexander Goehr described the difficulties of balance in composing a Trio for horn, violin and piano.
Significantly he was only able to refer to three successful examples, those by Brahms, Ligeti and Don Banks; now, after this premiere of Goehr’s own, we can add a fourth to that list.
This proved to be one of the most engaging works I can remember from this soon-to-be-octogenarian composer, and it solves the balance problems brilliantly. Goehr has frequent recourse to antiphonal exchanges between the protagonists, as well as phrase-constructions which have them contributing individually to the overall arch, all subtly woven together by the quasi-continuo of the compelling piano writing.
Twenty minutes in length, the Trio is clearly structured, each instrument allowed its own substantial spotlight of prominence. Though we are told it consists of a sequence of variations, it seems more to unfold seamlessly, from opening crepuscular melancholy to an ending which just seems to vanish into oblivion.
Its title, ‘Largo Siciliano’, implies baroque models, and, in fact, there is often neo-baroque tweaking of the melodic lines which otherwise breathe the late-Romanticism of early Schoenberg.
Hornist Richard Watkins, violinist Marianne Thorsen and the perennially admirable pianist Ian Brown performed with commitment and understanding. You can catch the BBC i-player broadcast until Sunday, and it will be worth it.