Jean-Guihen Queyras is a cellist I hugely admire, not only as a soloist (there was a memorable unaccompanied cello recital earlier this year at the Wigmore Hall) but just as equally as a chamber musician. In fact, I have heard him more in chamber ensembles: as a member of the superb Arcanto Quartet, in trio formations with Andreas Staier and Daniel Sepec or more recently with Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov. So it was not a surprise that Queyras chose to open his Wigmore Hall residency with an evening of flute trios together with two of his illustrious chamber-music friends, flautist Emmanuel Pahud and pianist Eric Le Sage.

Emmanuel Pahud © Sheila Rock
Emmanuel Pahud
© Sheila Rock
To be honest, I don’t think I have ever attended a whole evening of flute trios (I must have heard a trio or two at chamber music festivals), but Queyras and his friends devised an entertaining programme for this formation – two trios by Haydn and one each by Weber and Martinů. Apart from the Martinů, the works were intended for amateur players to enjoy at home, although that doesn’t take anything away from the craftsmanship in these works. Actually, when played with such finesse as well as with joy, they elevate the works to a new level.

Each half of the programme opened with a Haydn trio from his set published in London in 1790, a year before his first visit to London. It was obviously written for the London music-lovers, and one could easily imagine these pieces being played by families and friends in the drawing rooms of capital’s upper class homes. What immediately caught my ears was that the sonority of these three quite different instruments melded so well and was perfectly balanced, and when Pahud played the same melody as Le Sage’s right hand, or in a duet in thirds, they were absolutely in sync. The cello part is quite conventionally written and did not put too many demands on Queyras beyond supporting the bass line, but he is so lyrical even in accompaniment.

In the G major trio, the variation-form middle movement was particularly attractive. The theme is led by the piano, followed by a variation on the flute in the minor. Pahud’s tone is clear yet has a strong core, and the melody comes across beautifully without ever overpowering the other players. Haydn’s music is never far from humour, and there was much humour in the D major trio (which reminded me of Haydn’s “Gypsy” piano trio); he certainly succeeded in catching the listener out with his sudden pauses and unexpected modulations. Le Sage’s playing was crisp and elegant throughout, achieving perfect balance between soloistic and ensemble roles and leading the rondo finale to a brilliant conclusion.

Jean-Guihen Queyras © Yoshinori Mido
Jean-Guihen Queyras
© Yoshinori Mido

One tends to associate Carl Maria von Weber with the clarinet or the horn rather than the flute, but this flute trio is a delightful piece composed in 1818-19. In D minor, the first movement is quite dark and turbulent, characteristic of early Romanticism. Some of the melodies and passages brought to my mind his clarinet concerto and especially the opera Der Freischütz, which he was working on around the same time. The lively Scherzo opened with a rhythm that seemed like a parody of the scherzo of Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata, but soon turning into an elegant waltz (they reprised this movement later as an encore). In the variation-form third movement, Queyras finally got to enjoy the limelight with a sonorous cello melody. The movement led seamlessly into the finale, which combined both playful ideas and a fugal section, and the three seasoned chamber players brought wonderful spontaneity to this early-Romantic rarity.

Martinů’s concise flute trio was composed in 1944 at the request of the French flautist René Le Roy, and thus is much more virtuosic than any of the other works in this programme. The first movement, with all the hallmarks of Martinů’s distinct harmonic dissonance, has a mercurial and flamboyant part for the flute, which Pahud obviously relished. This was followed by a contrasting hymn-like second movement led by a extended piano solo and followed by a flute solo accompanied lovingly by pizzicato cello. The work concluded with a sparkly neo-classical rondo finale, but with a darker and fragmented middle section. It was chamber music making at the highest level by three equally brilliant musicians.

*****