You can say “Wigmore Hall,” “the Wigmore Hall,” or “the Wigmore.” Locals say all three, I’m given to understand. This is the famous recital hall, or chamber hall, in London. It seats 552 people. I think of it most for song recitals, somehow—but the Wigmore hosts various types of concerts and recitals.
The hall was built between 1899 and 1901, and was originally called “Bechstein Hall” (after the piano manufacturer). There are old-time posters in a lounge. One says, “Scriabine: Pianoforte Recital of His Own Compositions.” The date was March 20, 1914. Wouldn’t you love to have been there?
Last Friday night, a trio played in the hall: a clarinetist, a violist, and a pianist. They were, respectively, Martin Fröst, from Sweden; Antoine Tamestit, from France; and Shai Wosner, from Israel. They opened with a piece written for their combination of instruments. After that, it was all arrangements.
But don’t feel sorry for these three, because the piece for their instruments was by no less than Mozart: his Kegelstatt Trio, K. 498.
In 2014, Fröst-Tamestit-Wosner gave a concert at the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York. They opened with the Kegelstatt (because why not?). My review was not terribly positive. Of the Mozart, I wrote, “It was okay -- routine, competent, nothing to write home about. The music was at its most alive when Tamestit had a say.”
Well, last Friday night, the Mozart was alive from one and all. The piano playing was full of character: puckish, suave, or whatever. Wosner played as if talking to you. He was natural, fluid. Staccatos were not clipped. And there was not a wrong accent in sight.
The three men played with unity. Fröst and Tamestit blended with the aid of knee bends and other physical movements. The clarinetist was exemplary in his breathing. I wondered, “Can he sing?” He was singerly throughout the Mozart, and indeed throughout the concert. Also, his soft playing was amazingly soft. Super-soft, yes—but never disembodied.
Mozart, great as he is, does not play himself. The notes can be dead on the page. You have to lift them off the page—which our threesome did.
Next on the program was Fauré: his Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 120. It had been arranged by Shai Wosner—who seems to make a habit of this. Last season, another threesome—Emanuel Ax (piano), Leonidas Kavakos (violin), and Yo-Yo Ma (cello)—played a Beethoven symphony in Carnegie Hall. It was No. 6, the “Pastoral,” and it had been arranged by Wosner (a student of Ax).
In the first movement of the Fauré, the instruments sounded “wrong,” at least to me—what were a clarinet and a viola doing playing this music? At some point in the second movement, they sounded right, as if Monsieur Fauré had written his piece for these instruments. Every player, including the pianist, was a singer. With his viola, Tamestit sounded like a baritone or mezzo (Janet Baker, a great singer of Fauré?). The playing, from everyone, was understated without being cold or indifferent. Nicely French, actually.
The second half of the program was all-Brahms. It began with the Two Songs, Op. 91, which Brahms wrote for voice, viola, and piano. Sometimes, a clarinet is substituted for the viola. Well, in this rendering, both a viola and a clarinet were onstage. The arrangement had been done by Martin Fröst. We were listening to songs, all right, but Lieder ohne Worte, i.e., songs without words.
Our players played them—“sang” them—with nuance, and this nuance was helped, or made apparent, by the fine acoustics of Wigmore Hall. The second of Brahms’s songs is a lullaby. I thought the ensemble should have ended the evening with this song, sending the audience off to bed.
In fact, that had been the plan. Our printed program said that the second half would begin with Brahms’s Clarinet Trio in A minor, Op. 114, and end with the songs. But the guys apparently had a change of heart and changed the order.
They played the trio in an arrangement by the late Michael Tree, best known as the violist of the Guarneri Quartet. He substituted a viola for Brahms’s cello. Fröst-Tamestit-Wosner played the trio admirably. I thought the playing suffered from a little sameness. It was a pleasant and beautiful sameness nonetheless.
In New York, those years ago, the players’ encore was one of Schumann’s Fairy Tales, Op. 132. I believe they played the same one last week. They played it ethereally, but not daintily. It was an ethereality with substance, if you can imagine such a thing.
And it had been an excellent evening at Wigmore Hall, the Wigmore Hall, the Wigmore—even “the Wiggy,” if you’re feeling especially familiar.