The spirit of Johannes Brahms has taken up residence in London’s Kings Cross, an improving red light district of brothels and seedy bars. He is the subject of a number of concerts at King’s Place, the three-year-old subterranean venue beside the Regent’s Canal and beneath the offices of the Guardian newspaper. I am reminded of the composer’s youth playing piano in the sailors’ pubs of Hamburg, which his father the bass-player introduced him to. Three members of the Schubert Ensemble take the stage and perform Brahms’ Trio Op40 with piano, violin and viola instead of the original valveless horn. They blend warmly in the hall whose oak panels were taken from a single tree in the composer’s homeland. The viola is a soft substitute and the speeds are those of a gentle stroll in a harmless wood rather than the breezy muster of the hunt. The players inject more energy into the scherzo’s syncopated phrases though the panic of bereavement which Brahms experienced at his mother’s passing during composition is absent. The adagio is dark and mournful, the rich tone of the strings lending solemn weight to the bleak rendition of the nursery song towards the end which then becomes the galloping theme of the finale. Hunter and hunted pound through the last movement but the fear was no more than mild apprehension under their light, pattering hoofs. It wanted more growling awe.
Violin switched with mezzo Sally Bruce-Payne who arrived to blend anew with the moody viola and embracing piano. She sang a Rueckert setting Gestillte Sehnsucht with natural depth which made the viola glow in kindred-soul agreement. Just occasionally she lost focus on the sense of the song nd one became of the mechanics of her singing but her sound was pleasure. In Geistliches Wiegenlied she sang the rocking theme a little too loud for a cradle song and encouraged the piano to do the same. There was a tendency throughout the concert to underplay the dynamic extremes.