Metier Ensemble at The Forge

Joseph Haydn: ‘London’ Trio in F Hob XV no 17

Bohuslav Martinů: Trio

Josef Suk: Elegie, Op 23

Jean-Michel Damase: Sonate en concert

Just five minutes’ walk from Camden Town tube station, tucked up a side street off Camden High Street, is the relatively new arts venue of The Forge. Custom-designed as a flexible arts space, bar and restaurant, The Forge squeezes a lot into its small site: the airy recital space can accommodate around 100 people, and has a good reverberating acoustic, thanks to hard and reflective surfaces. The Steinway Model B grand piano is just right in this size of venue. The Forge is run by a husband and wife team who juggle their baby daughter while welcoming guests. The atmosphere within the venue is friendly and relaxed, and if you come to a Sunday morning ‘Keys and Coffee’ concert, as we did, you can take your coffee into the recital space.

Metier Ensemble is a flute, piano and ‘cello trio, comprising Claire Overbury (flute), Elspeth Wyllie (piano) and Sophie Rivlin (‘cello). They met while studying at the Royal Academy of Music and the University of Oxford, and all three have won prizes and awards for their playing. They perform solos, duos and trios, and this mix of instrumentation allows them to explore a wide range of repertoire, as was evident from the programme for their concert at The Forge. The musicians introduced each piece, engaging our interest before they had played a single note.

The concert opened, appropriately, with one of Haydn’s ‘London’ Trios (Hob. XV, 17). This is unusual amongst Haydn’s trios of the time as it has only two movements (in fact, Haydn originally billed it as a sonata for piano with flute or violin). The first movement Allegro is sprightly and, after the opening piano solo, the flute takes prominence, with the ‘cello in a supporting role. Claire Overbury played with a sweet, bright tone, combined with crisp articulation. The development section is dramatic, foreshadowing Beethoven, with some unusual modulations, before the cheerful opening motifs return. There were some lovely ‘conversations’ between piano and flute in this first movement, underpinned by some rich ‘cello support from Sophie Rivlin. The second movement is marked ‘tempo di Minuetto’, though it feels more like a proper finale, and was, like the opening movement, executed with humour, grace and evident enjoyment on the part of the musicians.

Martinů composed his Trio for flute, piano and ‘cello in 1944, a highly productive year for the composer, who was by now resident in America. It is a largely extrovert work, full of Eastern European folk motifs and nostalgic resonances of his homeland (former Czechoslovakia). The outer movements are imbued with boisterous, holiday moods, while the middle Adagio reveals the composer’s homesickness in a yearning hymn-like theme, expressively played by Elspeth Wyllie. As in the Haydn, the interplay between all three instruments was colourful, precise and lyrical.

Suk wrote his Elegie, op 23, in memory of the Czech poet Julius Zeyer, and the subtitle to the work, “Under the Impression of Zeyer’s Vysehrad,” is a reference to the writer’s epic poem based on elements of Czech mythology. The music is nostalgic rather than elegiac, full of rich, warm melodies, striking chromaticism and harmonic shifts, and an aching passion, all sensitively executed by Metier Ensemble.

The concert closed with an effervescent trio by Jean-Michael Damase (b. 1928). Damase chose not to follow his contemporaries Messiaen and Boulez into new, experimental realms of composing, and instead continued to explore the possibilities of the kind of elegant French musical language set out by Debussy and Ravel, and later Poulenc. The Sonate en Concert is organised in the manner of a Baroque suite, with contrasting movements based on different dance rhythms. The music is uplifting in mood, melodic and tonal, though containing some unusual harmonic complexities. The flute and piano carry the main interest in the work, with the ‘cello providing a Baroque ‘basso continuo’. There are several recapitulations based on the stately, expressive opening motifs, including a beautiful ‘Aria’, interspersed with livelier movements. The ‘Sicilienne’ had a delightfully relaxed lilt, while the presto ‘Gigue’ crackled with excitement, the sparkling glissandi in the piano accompanied by the happy gurgling of The Forge owners’ baby daughter. The entire work was pulled off with elan, humour and yet more obvious enjoyment by the musicians.

This was a really charming concert: a programme guaranteed to refresh and delight everyone, combined with the relaxed, convivial atmosphere at The Forge made for a thoroughly enjoyable morning.

Pianist Elspeth Wyllie featured in my Meet the Artist series. Read her interview here

More about The Forge here: