The Amatis Piano Trio formed in 2014, and are already now graduates of the BBC New Generation Artists scheme. They are committed to contemporary repertoire, and have established their own Dutch Piano Trio Composition Prize to encourage new young composers to write for the genre. However, for today’s lunchtime Prom at Cadogan Hall, they were firmly in the 19th century, celebrating the two-hundredth year of Clara Schumann’s birth, and including in their programme a short work by her husband Robert.

Amatis Piano Trio © Allard Photo
Amatis Piano Trio
© Allard Photo

So it was with Robert that the programme began, with his brief Adagio and Allegro, Op.70, originally written for horn and piano, but here performed in the version for cello and piano, by Samuel Shepherd (cello) and Mengjie Han (piano). They began the Adagio with a brave pianissimo, the cello slowly warming into a sweet tone, matched by soft warmth from the piano. This contrasted highly with the immediate attack given to the following Allegro – if anything, a tad on the aggressive side here, although they captured the turbulent, nervous energy well. The two players passed the slower more lyrical central section melody back and forth beautifully, but again, when the Allegro material returned, there was a slight sense of things being on the edge of control, particularly in the faster closing coda.

Clara Schumann’s Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op.22, her final chamber work, are full of rich melodic invention, with rippling piano accompaniments, particularly in the lightly playful third Romance. Lea Hausmann (violin) played here with a soft tone, exploiting the lyrically romantic lines of the first Romance, with well-judged dynamic phrasing throughout. The second is a fascinating combination of darker G minor harmonies, with a swaying rhythm and light Scherzo-like moments. Han and Hausmann captured the darker tones here, but Hausmann could have been a little more playful with the birdlike contrasting moments. Han’s ripplingly smooth accompaniment in the third propelled things along with a firm momentum, and he brought out the contrast well when the accompaniment returns staccato towards the end of the movement. Hausmann was lighter on her feet here too, with brightly rapid trills, although when accompanying the piano in the central section, her pizzicato was not really audible at the back of the balcony.

Clara’s Piano Trio in G minor, her most significant chamber work, was written at a difficult time for both her and Robert. Clara was pregnant, with three young children already, and Robert’s mental health was in a bad way. The couple was studying counterpoint together, perhaps as a distraction, and the fruits of those studies are evident here, particularly in the fugal passages of the Trio’s finale. The first movement launches straight in with a turbulent duet between the violin and piano, with the cello joining on the bass line soon after. Immediately here, the close communication between the three players was evident, the sudden weighty tutti interjections perfectly together. Aside from a couple of slightly untidy moments in the wilder passages of the development section, they presented a united and emphatic front here. 

Hausmann led the Scherzo with great delicacy and a bounce in its step, enjoying the rhythmic lift in the melody. Han and Shepherd took over in the Trio section, with its smoother, more lyrical lines, although still exploiting that halt in the rhythm. The third movement opens with a glorious extended rhapsody for solo piano, richly performed by Han, before the others join with melodic and pizzicato accompaniments; again here, the pizzicato, particularly from the violin, was largely inaudible in the balance. However, the trio had great fun with the finale, with its folk-like playfulness and forays into brief fugal material. As the movement builds to its conclusion, the piano part in particular gets more virtuosic, and Han delivered this with panache.

Occasional slight balance issues aside, these were commanding performances of Clara Schumann’s chamber works, alongside one of husband Robert's, delivered with insight and moments of great warmth and intimate delicacy.