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The Mondrian Ensemble Basel


CPE Bach
Sonatas in C & E minor
Veress String Trio
Jaggi Piano Quartet Plod on (wp)
Brahms Piano Quartet C minor Opus 60

Wigmore Hall, London 9 October 2007

In repertoire terms the piano quartet is an awkward combination (our wonderful UK Domus metamorphosed eventually into the Florestan Trio, to my regret) and the Mondrians avoid describing themselves as such.

Their London programme was an odd one, for the most part a showcase for their new pianist, Anton Kernjak. He made as much as could be with the elegant figurations of CPE Bach's commercial compliance for easy keyboard sonatas with undemanding optional accompaniments for violin & cello. An anachronistic instrument apart, these really didn't stretch the Mondrian players in so important a Wigmore Hall debut, but clearly they satisfied an unexpectedly sold-out audience under the auspices of the Swiss Cultural Fund.

The strings were heard complete and alone in the post-Bartokian trio by their Hungarian born/adopted Swiss compatriot Veress, featured also at the 2005 Lucenrne Festival.

For a short venture into an uncompromising modern sound spectrum the four players came together for a short new quartet by their cellist, Martin Jaggi, a piece of frank programme music (those are rarer than they used to be) based upon Samuel Beckett's Worstward Ho " - - Slowly with never a pause plod on and never recede - - ", music which "builds towards climaxes, but never reaches them,never truly reaches them - - ". Challengingly original, played with great conviction and - to my delight - to warm audience response. [Jaggi's Scbebka had been noted by MP in its review of the Mondrian's fine Portrait CD Grammont MGB CTS-M 88, and his is a name to note and remember.]

To finish, as in Lucerne, a major chamber work of Brahms, the least often played of his quartets, the performance taking its cue from the super-subtle phrasing and voicing of the pianist Walter Zoller, far from the full-blooded quasi-orchestral effect often aspired to in the earlier piano quartets and the piano quintet. It seemed in the finale to be heading for a quiet ending, brusquely dismissed with two final tutti chords. No encore, as speech and champagne for all (courtesy the Swiss Ambassador) had taken us to nearly 10 o'clock. Regrettably, no CDs on sale; there would have been a good take-up from this welll-heeled audience (membership of the Swiss Cultural Fund in Britain £1000 p/a).

The unflatteringly blued image of the group is reproduced from the programme front for this their London debut. The trendy design, fine for young eyes, has small print over black paper and pointless over-printing (q.v. our recent articles about CD booklets and programme notes).

Musical Pointers had previously commended The Mondrian Ensemble (with their then pianist Walter Zoller) in Lucerne andon CD*, expressing a hope that they would tour UK as ideal ambassadors for new Swiss chamber music, a rich quarry yet to be explored; that sentiment can be repeated after hearing them again in their new line-up.

Peter Grahame Woolf

*Lucerne Festival 2005
THE MONDRIAN ENSEMBLE: DANIELA MÜLLER Violin CHRISTIAN ZGRAGGEN Viola MARTIN JAGGI Cello WALTER ZOLLER Piano Sandor Veress Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello (1954) Joseph Haydn Piano Trio in A major, Hob. XV/18 Michel Roth «erschöpfung» (exhaustion) for String Trio (2002) Johannes Brahms Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8 (1853/54; rev. Version 1889)

- - different in aim and achievement was The Mondrian Ensemble, a widely acclaimed piano quartet whose members have played and trained in UK (Daniela Müller, Lucerne born, was recently in London with a scholarship to the Guildhall School). Their unusually structured lunchtime programme consisted of four trios, two for strings, two for piano trio. They presented impressive classical credentials in an HIP account of Haydn (his trios still needing advocacy, having been eclipsed by Mozart's for centuries), and a deeply thought and perfectly balanced Brahms Op.8 (revised version) which sent us out to lunch by the river Reuss richly satisfied. The audience appreciated those fully, but were undaunted at all by the rather tough 1954 string trio of Veress (Hungarian born, from 1950 Switzerland his second home, and latterly championed by his pupil Heinz Holliger) - a strong two-movement work with obvious nods to Bartok in the fast second movement. For radical 'now' music on a flourishing Swiss scene, we had Erschöpfung from their 'house composer' Michel Roth's Mondrian Cycle (eponymous for the ensemble) - its abrasive energy took its toll of Martin Jaggi's cello bow, with a broken string right at the end!

The Mondrian Ensemble's CD (Grammont Portrait MGB CTS-M 88) was on sale; an unusual debut disc, very strongly recommended. Two modern classics for string trio - Scelsi's forward-looking trio of 1958 which explores in each movement the potential locked in a single note) and Ikhoor by Xenakis (1978) - are neither of them as well known as each deserves. The rest are Swiss originals; Michel Roth (b.1976) with an earlier piano trio in his Mondrian Cycle which takes Piet Mondrian's Composition with Red, Yellow & Blue as a cue for 'transformational processes' involving 'subtle intonational dissonances', and an eclectic string trio by another, Dieter Ammann (b.1962), who plays entertainingly with clichés, full of surprises. And Michel Jaggi, the ensemble's cellist, who is worthily represented as composer by Scbebka for the core ensemble plus double bass, a powerful work deriving from numerous journeys in Africa which 'expanded his knowledge far beyond the scientific and cultural' (bassists should carry the score of Scbebka around with them to rehearsals for their Trout gigs!). We must hope that the Mondrian Ensemble will soon be invited to Wigmore Hall in London (or to The Warehouse or Blackheath Halls) as ideal ambassadors for new Swiss chamber music, a rich quarry yet to be explored in UK.

[PGW 2005]