Aquinas Piano Trio

Menton Music Festival # 2 - Aquinas Piano Trio plays Rachmaninoff and Smetana in intense exhilaration

 Victoria Okada, 12.08.2021

Joseph Haydn : Piano Trio No. 20 in G major Hob.XV.15
Sergei Rachmaninoff : Elegiac Trio in G minor
Bedřich Smetana : Trio in G minor op. 15

The Aquinas Piano Trio , founded in 2009, is one of Britain's most coveted chamber music groups. And yet, the opportunity is rare, very rare even, to be able to hear it in France. His concert as part of the Menton Music Festival took place in Saint-John's Church, an Anglican church founded 150 years ago, restored and recently reopened after ten years of closure. The central nave with a wooden frame in the shape of an inverted boat gives good, fairly direct acoustics, at least for the first rows. This is also the very first concert played in this building.

Theatricality and virtuosity of the young Tchaikovsky

The program consists of three works, all in the key of G, major or minor. In the Trio n ° 29 Hob. XV.15 in G major by Haydn, the strings vibrate a little too much in a romantic vein. Then we hear the Trio Elégiaque n ° 1 composed by the young Rachmaninoff of 19 years, in 1892, a year before the famous Trio Elégiaque n ° 2 written at the death of Tchaikovsky. Of a modest size in a single movement, the work is crossed by a serious theatricality and a fiery virtuosity that our musicians deliver with vehemence. The main four-note motif, which returns over and over again in various forms, is played each time with a variation of nuance, color, timbre and character, always in a certain gravity.

Smetana in intense exhilaration

This gravity continues in Smetana's Trio, written following the disappearance of her eldest daughter. Here, violinist Ruth Rogers performs a magnificent, heart-wrenching flight from the first notes and also in each slender formula a few bars later. The violin and the cello (held by Katherine Jenkinson ) dialogue closely, feverishly. Pianist Martin Cousin, formidable in its play, light or massive depending on the pages, asserts itself with an astonishing naturalness. His gestures are so appropriate with the music that it was as if his hands have a perfect memory of all the notes. Indeed, he absolutely does not neglect a single note. The three movements are listened to with great happiness, the music is renewed every moment, without a single moment of stagnation. The contrast between the two themes in the luminous finale is quite striking, the tempi flow as if it had always been so… So, we left this Trio with a state of intense exhilaration. In bis, for a "cool down" according to Ruth Rogers who spoke (in English) between two works, Oblivion of Piazzolla, who is celebrating 100 years of his birth this year.

Coffee Concert at Wigmore Hall

Sensational playing by the Aquinas at their Sunday morning Wigmore concert: sparkling, brilliantly witty Haydn followed by voluptuously phrased Brahms. This is a terrific ensemble.

 Barry Millington, Chief Music Critic, Evening Standard

The Aquinas Trio Cross-cut the Classical with the Cinematic at Kings Place

 Haydn – Piano Trio in C Hob.XV:27
Brian Inglis (b.1969) – Piano Trio (2017, world premiere)
Schubert – Notturno in E flat D897
Schumann – Piano Trio No.1 in D minor Op.63

What’s the connection between a piano trio, popular music videos of the 1980s, cinematic cutting and cross-fading techniques, and aleatoric literary devices à la William Burroughs? If you are stumped, then so was I, until I heard the Aquinas Piano Trio give the premiere of Brian Inglis’s Piano Trio (2017) at this London Chamber Music Society concert at Kings Place: then, all became ‘clear’.

The titling and description of Inglis’s Piano Trio suggest that rhythm, movement and metric relationships are its raison d’être and driving principles. Divided into Part One and Part Two, the Trio’s two halves are delineated in terms of temporal divisions and relationships. The form of Part One is thus described: ‘[crotchet] = 60; [crotchet] = 75; Cadenza; [crotchet] = 66 ‘with a sense of stasis’; senza misure.’ I confess, I felt a slight sense of foreboding when reading this seemingly dispassionate, mathematical categorisation, but in fact there proved to be plenty of ‘passion’ in the work, generated by the rapid-fire juxtapositions, alternations and altercations of Inglis’s score, as well as contrasts between syncopated propulsion, rhythmic hyper-tension and disturbing dissipation of movement.

Inglis’s materials are eclectic and at times combative. He draws on gestures from diverse genres – jazz, the neo-baroque, Palm Court light music, to name but a few of the voices which jar against, superimpose upon, and fade into each other – and incorporates direct quotation (though I struggled to discern these on this single hearing), from piano trios by both Robert and Clara Schumann, Charles Alkan and Cécile Chamanade. (Perhaps the gender ‘inclusiveness’ might be thought to match the ‘democracy’ with which the varied styles and languages are treated …).

At the start of Part One, a swinging beat came up against violinist Ruth Rogers jazzy, double-stopped riff, before cellist Katherine Jenkinson’s lyrical interruption gained ‘control’, supported by pianist Martin Cousin’s softly pulsing beats, only to be swept aside by the violin’s aggressive pizzicatos which invited the other instruments to join in the growing turmoil. This relentless hyperactivity, change and interchange challenges the ear’s ability to take in diversity and detail, and after a strong surge of sound and energy, it was almost a relief when Cousin’s prepared piano gestures seemed to quieten Rogers’ stratospheric chattering and the frantic energy dissolved into quietude, the tension imperceptibly lessening into stillness and silence.

Part Two seemed to me largely to repeat the argumentative dialogues of the first Part, though this time there was an increase, rather than slowing, of velocity. After a while, I had the impression of a musical tennis match with the players batting the musical material back and forth, courteously at first, then with growing aggression, and getting caught up in scraps which escalated into heated arguments which needed to be adjudicated by the authoritative piano-referee. But, Inglis did add new interest in the second part and introduced extremes of texture and colour, asking Jenkinson to bounce her bow high off the string creating a stabbing effect, and both strings to pitch glissandi shrieks against the piano’s low, intoning pedal, and, at the close, to place pressure on the strings behind the nut, in the peg-box.

The Aquinas Piano Trio gave a committed performance and seemed to enjoy the protean, acrobatic argumentativeness of the music. But, I wasn’t convinced that Inglis had brought together his many parts into a coherent whole: then again, maybe that was the point?

Inglis’s new work was the Aquinas Trio’s lone diversion from more ‘conventional’ classical fare in this recital, which marked the beginning of a three-part series exploring Robert Schumann’s three piano trios. The concert began with Haydn’s C major trio HobXV:27 in which the brightness and fullness of the string sound, and Cousin’s sparkling piano melody, made the opening bars of the Allegro attention-grabbing and vibrant. Cousin breezed through Haydn’s finger-twisting runs and skipped through the octave passages (described by Charles Rosen as ‘wrist-breaking’) with an unfailingly light touch. There was a terrific sense of fecund invention, modulatory exploration and drama in the development section, and the recapitulation seemed to reprise the material with even greater buoyancy.

The theme of the Andante, presented by Cousin and passed gallantly to Rogers, combined an easy flow with a sense of poise or pride. In this movement, the cello largely doubles the piano left-hand, and occasionally I found Jenkinson a little too prominent in the ensemble. The playfulness of the Presto was infectious, Cousin again tripping briskly along with crystalline definition combined with warmth; the pianist crossed his hands nimbly in the minor key episode but brought a gruff stamp in the penultimate section, before the Aquinas Trio whipped up a whirlwind as they flew towards the final cadence.

The first half of the concert closed with Schubert’s Notturno, thought to have originally been intended as the slow movement of the composer’s Eb Piano Trio. It’s a substantial work and I didn’t feel that the Aquinas quite had the measure of its whole architecture, as the sections expanded and enriched, then halted and began again. However, they did balance strength and intensity – the piano’s chords gave stature to the strings’ opening theme, for example – with contemplative elation, and played with beautiful tonal richness.

After the interval, Schumann’s First Piano Trio offered the players the opportunity to get their teeth into a work of quasi-symphonic breadth and it was an opportunity that they relished, playing with a fulsome, glossy tone, technical accuracy, and dramatic and emotional engagement throughout. The three musicians clearly enjoy playing together: they are relaxed and communicate constantly – physically, visually and expressively. Rogers’ personal involvement with the music is apparent in an occasional smile; the rhythms seem to ripple through Cousin who is upright and alert; while Jenkinson’s facial gestures convey her unfolding emotional response.

The first movement, Mit Energie und Ledenschaft, swept forward with a churning contrapuntal force, from the very first bars; the interchanges between the players were driven by urgency and tonal weight. There was a compelling lyric intensity and the ensemble balance was excellent; Cousin’s light interjections imbued the second theme with a refreshing airiness while Jenkinson’s low melody was richly sonorous. In the development there were many striking timbres and textures, including glassy transparency from the strings and glistening tremulousness from the high piano.

The dotted rhythms of the scherzo, Lebhaft, doch nicht zu rasch, were strong but sprung with a nervous energy. Rogers’s song-theme was focused and beautifully phrased at the start of the slow movement, Langsam, mit inniger Empfindung, and underpinned by the piano’s quiet elegiac depths. The tragic intensity of this movement was impressively controlled, Jenkinson’s entry heightening the rhapsodic power; and impassioned climaxes were effectively counter-balanced by more intimate episodes. As the music flowed segue into the finale, there was a tremendous sense of surging freedom and fire. I eagerly await the second instalment of this series.

Claire Seymour (29/01/2018, UK)

The Aquinas Trio at Fellowship House

The Aquinas Piano Trio gave a superb recital at Fellowship House featuring pieces by Haydn and Thomas Hyde that were new to most people but much enjoyed, and culminating in an inspirational and highly accomplished performance of Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor.

Barry Millington, journalist (October 2016)

Aquinas Trio at Wigmore Hall

The Aquinas Trio, formed in 2009, has quickly become one of England’s leading ensembles, and this concert justified why throughout. Their overall fluidity and confidence for the subtleties made their programme at Wigmore Hall on December 6th a truly engaging performance.

Instantaneously, the richness of this trio was made apparent from the opening bar of Saint-Saëns’ Piano Trio No.1 op.18. Martin Cousin’s sweeping piano figures that danced around the keyboard seemed effortless, emulating the delicate harp… Each of the three players has excellent communication, allowing for complete unison all the way through the four movements of this work.

From the French velour to the Germanic intensity, the tone quality completely changed, befitting Mendelssohn’s emotionally intense Piano Trio No.2, op.66. In comparison, this trio embodied an almost symphonic texture coupled with sombre minor tonalities. Each gesture, particularly in the second movement, embodied this notion of espressivo with minute attention to detail. The seemingly unforgiving third movement, Molto allegro quasi presto, was played with consistent excitement, not once relenting until the opening of the finale movement.

This concert accompanies the ensemble’s latest CD release of Mendelssohn and Saint-Saëns’ trios, which was further plugged when they performed an encore, a movement from Mendelssohn’s first piano trio. This Scherzo was the final statement of everything the audience had witnessed that morning, exquisite virtuosity from all the players, with beautiful tone and flawless unity and movement. This sold out concert hall was in awe, ecstatic with joy at the final cadence.

Lewis Wolstanholme, Musical Opinion, January 2016

Concerts at Cratfield

Aquinas Piano Trio with Sarah-Jane Bradley

This fourth concert in the Concerts at Cratfield 2015 season featured three works, all piano quartets and all new to Cratfield.

The first was Mozart’s Piano quartet in E flat (K493), the second of the composer’s piano quartets. Mozart had invented the form, in which a viola is added to a piano trio (or a piano to a string trio, depending how you look at it), but abandoned the genre when his first piano quartet (in G minor K478) received a lukewarm reception in 1785 for being too difficult for domestic performance in the salon. In contrast, at Cratfield in 2015, performed by the accomplished Aquinas Piano Trio with the first rate viola player, Sarah-Jane Bradley, the work was warmly received, and deservedly so. The first movement, brimming with a variety of lyrical themes and tempi more typical of a Mozart piano concerto, was delivered with assured balance and playfulness, the quick witted, close-coupled dialogue between the strings set against a cascade of arpeggios and rapid scale notes on the piano. The larghetto delivered simpler, achingly beautiful and intense lyrical interludes, in A flat. Rounded off by a pacey finale, the overall performance was nimble, engaging and satisfying.

The second work of the afternoon was a relatively short piano quartet, again in three movements, by the prominent American composer and academic, Walter Piston (1894-1976). The first movement barely paused for breath, and built to an exciting, sometimes nightmarish, climax, albeit sensitively rendered by the performers, and with excellent balance. In parts of the first movement, but most particularly in the closing bars of the finale, the performers perfectly caught the composer’s sense of humour, so ultimately meeting with a warm reception from what might otherwise have been a wary audience.

The triumph of the afternoon, however, was Brahms’ Piano quartet no 3 in C minor. Composed over 20 years (but firmly parked in a drawer, unfinished, for much of that time), the piano quartet was the first of three to be begun, in 1854, but the last to be completed. This meant that Brahms himself had reservations about the coherence of the work (‘half old, half new – the whole thing isn’t worth much!’, he said), parts of which he substantially rewrote, even altering the tonality by a semitone from C sharp minor. The first movement remains unabashedly romantic, the work of a tortured 20 year old; whilst the Finale is the assured work of a mature composer. Notwithstanding the chronology of its composition, and the composer’s own reservations, the outcome was, in the hands of the Aquinas and Sarah-Jane Bradley, a cohesive rendering. The musicians’ collective heart was firmly in this work, and their fluent, spirited and engaging performance won over the Cratfield audience.

Rachel Booth, August 2015

The Musician (journal of the MU)

Saint Saéns Piano Trio no.s 1 and 2

Sublime chamber music with a lightness of touch that allows a satisfying quality to come to the fore. This trio trip wonderfully through the nine passages developing their open air, springtime appeal to its maximum potential.

Derby Chamber Music, Multi-Faith Centre, Derby University, 7.11.14

The Aquinas Trio is a regular visitor to Derby Chamber Music, attracting a sizeable audience every time. On this occasion they opened with Haydn's Piano Trio in C (Hoboken XV:27/Landon 43) written on his second London visit for Therese Jansen. The first movement sparkled with Haydnesque impudence, the players negotiating one of the composer's cheekiest false recapitulations with relish. Exploring the profundity of the second movement with considerable poise, they followed Haydn into the darker place of the central passage, throwing the mercurial finale into vivid relief.

 It is easy to take Mendelssohn for granted, but the Aquinas Trio weren't having any of that. This was as gutsy and passionate a reading of his D minor Trio as any I've heard. They handled the song-without-words manner of the second movement elegantly but also, as in the Haydn, responded readily to the darker turn the music took later. The scherzo was infectiously bubbly, the final cadence placed with spot-on precision. We don't usually think of Mendelssohn as barnstorming but the Trio's way with the finale came pretty close.

Brahms's Trio in B, played in the later revision generally preferred to the original, got off to a firm, unhurried, start, signalling a performance that probed the work's depths while avoiding undue ponderousness. The second movement was notable particularly for the players' song-like way with the trio section, and (again) their response to the sudden darkening at the lead-back to the scherzo. They brought a feeling of intense concentration to the third movement, and caught the understated but very real note of anxiety in the finale, and the bluntness of its minor-key ending. Mike Wheeler 2014

By Mikey1111 | Posted: November 13, 2014

Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, 13th February 2014

It is difficult to avoid superlatives when reviewing the exhilarating recital on Sunday last by the Aquinas Piano Trio.

This was the penultimate concert at Mason Croft of the Stratford Chamber Music Society’s 2013-14 Music on Sundays series, bringing further distinction to what has been throughout a highly successful season.

All three performers – Ruth Rogers (violin), Katherine Jenkinson (cello) and Martin Cousin (piano) – proved to be outstanding musicians, bringing remarkable sources of physical energy as well as interpretive understanding to works by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Saint-Saëns.

The opening item of the evening’s beautifully crafted programme, Haydn’s Trio in C major, displays all the composer’s habitual inventiveness and musical wit, culminating in the ‘mercurial romp’ of the finale. The Aquinas played with verve throughout, with Martin Cousin in particular revelling in the virtuosic opportunities the piano part afforded.

From the clean-cut brilliance of Haydn the programme moved to the romantic emotionalism of Mendelssohn’s Trio in C minor Opus 66, with its markings energico e con fuoco, espressivoand appassionato plainly conveying the composer’s intentions – intentions the Aquinas fully realised with a performance that took by storm an almost capacity audience.

In various ways the best was yet to come, for the rarely heard Saint-Saëns Trio in E minor Opus 92 proved to be a fascinating piece of musical conjuring, by turns humorous, inventive and emotionally powerful. Described by the composer in advance as a trio “which I hope will drive to despair those unlucky enough to hear it”, the mischievous spirit of its conception persisted throughout, without in any way compromising its musical brilliance.

All three pieces invited and received high-octane treatment by the Aquinas. It was a nice touch to conclude with an unfamiliar encore that soothed an excited audience without dissipating the exalted mood in which they now found themselves.

Ronnie Mulryne, Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, February 2014

Superb trio performed a great pairing

By This is Bristol
Posted: October 01, 2010

 Aquinas Piano Trio: St George's THIS trio only started in 2009 after the members won major prizes in a number of prestigious contests. This was their first visit to Bristol and the two works they chose were in contrast to each other. They opened with one of Haydn's 32 piano trios, number 18. This was a superlative performance of the little-known work with vital, refined playing throughout that was responsive to the music's richness and variety. There was a wonderful quality of softness in the andante, while the march-like finale had immense wit and virtuosity. Beethoven's Archduke trio was dedicated Archduke Rudolph of Austria, who was a pupil of the composer. Completed in 1814, the first public outing was in 1817, with the composer as piano soloist.

 Opening with the pianist Martin Cousin producing some powerful and expansive playing, the violin of Ruth Rogers and cello of Katherine Jenkinson soon joined in and there was a delightful passage from the piano with pizzicato in the strings. There was a certain lightness in the mischievous Scherzo and the trio expressively presented delicate and louder moments, building up to the exciting finish. The lengthy Andante opened with a hymn-like piano melody, considered to be one of Beethoven's noblest, followed by some rich harmonies as all three instruments wove their way through four variations. One particularly impressive episode had the pianist using widespread arpeggios with gentle asides from the strings.

In the last variation, all three expounded the melodic patterns, leading straight into the sprightly finale, where they showed their true versatility. This excellent performance provoked an enthusiastic response.


The Marion and Haley Hogwood Concert, Saturday 12 April 2014, Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden

The final concert of the Club’s 2013/14 season was given by the Aquinas Piano Trio in Saffron Hall before an audience of 165, of whom 82 were our members.

The concert began with Mozart’s Piano Trio No 2 in B flat K 502, the second of two written in 1786. These are the first piano trios to integrate all the instruments into a recognisable modern classical form, even though the cello still partly retains its baroque role in supporting the piano bass line complete freedom first occurs in late Haydn trios. Manuscripts show how great the effort was for Mozart to balance the increasing power of fortepianos with violin and cello. The first movement Allegro, a monothematic sonata reminiscent of Haydn, but entirely Mozartian in its delicacy, was played with a bel canto clarity that made the spine tingle. The second movement Larghetto, a Rondo of exquisite beauty, allowed some wonderful duetting between piano and violin, while the closing Allegretto, an extended rondo, produced spirited ensemble from all three instruments, and a brilliant close to one of Mozart’s loveliest scores. The final work before the interval wasMendelssohn’s Piano Trio No 2 in C minor Op 66, written in 1845. This was the last chamber work to be published in his lifetime, Mendelssohn only recently having experienced the death of his beloved sister and muse, Fanny, and become passionately involved with the singer Jenny Lind. Passion and grief pervade this tempestuous piece which is driven by intimations of mortality Mendelssohn recognising the effects of his own predisposition to apoplexy and overwork. The Aquinas Piano Trio gave a truly moving account of this masterpiece, with exquisite phrasing by the piano, superb balance of ensemble, and heart-felt emotion. The desperation of the fiery opening C minor Allegro was brilliantly contrasted with the resigned acceptance of fate in the love duet between strings in the Andante second movement. The delicate strength of the ephemeral third movement Scherzo was beautifully captured, as fleeting as life itself, while the closing C minor Allegro was not allowed to lose its driving edge, or overindulge the intrinsic sentimentality of its Et in Arcadia ego theme.

After the interval the Aquinas Piano Trio playedBrahms’s Piano Trio No 1 in B Op 8. Originally completed in 1854, just days before Schumann’s admission to an asylum, it was substantially revised in 1890. The final version is amongst Brahms’s most popular chamber works, and although nominally in B major, is primarily in an agitated series of related minor keys. This was a high point of the evening, with superb ensemble playing, and the incredible intensity of emotion effortlessly conveyed to a spellbound audience. From the glorious opening Allegro con brio, with its virtuosic cross-rhythms, through the driving second movement Scherzo, to the transcendental Intermezzo of the third movement Adagio, and the tragically beautiful Allegro finale, these fine musicians played the music of Johannes Brahms with such self-effacing personal commitment.

After much applause, the players generously offered an encore of Piazzolla’s Oblivion, an apt choice for this fin de siècle moment in the Club’s history.

Aquinas Piano Trio, Brighton Dome Coffee Concerts, 18th November 2012

The Corn Exchange was different today. Sun shone through the great south windows all morning, the heating was perfect, the seats were arranged with intelligence, that is on three and a quarter sides instead of four, so that no-one was unsighted by the piano lid, and the spotlights on the players seemed to be warmer in colour than usual; at least so it seemed when the female players sat down in sleeveless black dresses to reveal golden arms and shoulders. And while I’m praising the Dome I want to mention the page-turner, a man whose name I don’t know but who has turned pages in Brighton for longer than I can remember, and always with the same reliable assurance. It’s not easy to do, and an uncertain page-turner can unsettle a whole audience, which he never has. Thank you, Sir. They started with Rachmaninov’s Trio élégiaque, a short piece in one movement that he wrote as a student. It’s simple, very romantic, ends with a funereal dirge, and it’s usually played in the expressive romantic over-the-top way that it seems to call for. The Aquinas did the opposite. Much of it they played quietly. They relied on the beauty of their sound and their exquisite phrasing to bring out the passion of the music. As a result, the emotion of the piece got in under our radar; they seemed to do so little and I’ve never heard it played so beautifully. The second piece was Mendelssohn’s second piano trio, a big, complex work of fun and fury, with engaging tunes and extraordinary grace. Is there anyone who still thinks Mendelssohn is a light-weight? By the end of the first movement it was clear what this trio are about. Firstly, they play with extraordinary sweetness and delicacy. In this they are helped, for the moment, by the fact that the violinist and cellist were playing on borrowed Guarneri instruments from 1691 and 1693 respectively, but I can’t believe they wouldn’t sound the same whatever the instrument; they might just have to work harder to achieve it. Secondly, they play as one, not just with impeccable intonation and perfect ensemble, but in the way they interpret the music: understated but not unfeeling, emotional but not showy. The pianist, Martin Cousin, has one of the softest pair of hands in the business. He was able to merge with the strings and not dominate them, making the Yamaha piano as expressive as the strings. Perhaps it helped that it was a fairly ordinary grand piano and not the larger Steinway concert grand that most concert halls think they need to provide, even for chamber music.

By this time the audience was totally won over, the applause at the end of the Mendelssohn being enough for the end of a concert for most ensembles. And at the end of the concert we got an encore, which is not routine after such big works.

The Dvorak Trio No. 3 is another big work, full of tunes, and changes of mood, and the Aquinas worked the same magic on it and on us. What happens when an audience feels transported in the way we did this morning? It helps that they were a joy to look at, with youth and beauty on their side. It helps that they seemed very comfortable in front of us, that they move about expressively (on their chairs – they don’t walk about) as they play, that the two women, superficially alike with their blond hair and black gowns, reveal very different playing personalities. The violinist, Ruth Rogers, remains poised and elegant, with only the odd frown or raising of her eyebrows, while Katherine Jenkinson, the cellist, reveals every emotion on her face, alive with joy then almost tearful as the music changes to anguish. Something happens at a concert like this that is more than the sum of the parts. It’s why recording will never take the place of live performance. It’s that we had an experience that we contributed to, and which we come out of changed, if only for a short while. Those who stayed behind in the Dome foyer afterwards for a few minutes found there was yet another dimension to the Trio; they are also really nice young people who have children and who drink coca cola. Oh well, no-one’s perfect (and I don’t mean the children – they were).

Dorset County Museum Music Society, Aquinas Piano Trio, Wednesday 19th January

There was a large audience at the County Museum last Wednesday to welcome the Aquinas Piano Trio; Ruth Rogers, violin, Katherine Jenkinson, cello, and Martin Cousin, piano. Although only recently formed, this very talented trio has quickly become one of the most sought-after ensembles in the country, and Dorset audiences in particular also know Ruth as the highly esteemed co-leader of the BSO.

They started with a beautifully shaped performance of Haydn's Trio No. 25 in G major, subtitled 'Gypsy Rondo' because of its exhilarating finale. John Ireland is not a composer often heard in concert halls, so it was very refreshing to hear his Phantasie in A minor, written in 1906 when he was twenty-seven. In this we heard some finely-judged exchanges between violin and cello, and violin and piano; this sweeping performance certainly lived up to the Phantasie of its title.

To end the first half, they performed Debussy's Trio in G. This is an early composition, written before Debussy established his own very distinctive musical language heard in pieces like La Mer. The performers gave a very polished and convincing account of this rarely heard work.

Camille Saint-Saens wrote his second piano trio in 1892, by which time he was internationally renowned as a concert pianist; so Martin Cousin was certainly kept fully occupied in this five movement piece. By now the performers were revelling in the hall's excellent acoustic, and we were treated to a virtuoso display of cascading piano arpeggios, lush string sounds, and, in the finale, precision accuracy in the fugal section.

In response to the very appreciative audience, they gave as an encore Piazzolla's dreamy, relaxing Oblivion. This was Ruth's last concert with the trio before taking time off to have her baby, due in about three weeks. We wish her well with that, and hope to see and hear her back with the trio in the near future!

(Russell Dawson, Dorset Echo, January 2011)

Emotion and talent combine for a seamless evening of classical music
Grimsby Concert Society presents Aquinas Piano Trio

The combination of three talented musicians and four popular composers ensured there were smiles on the faces of classical music-lovers at a recital by Grimsby Concert Society.

Aquinas Piano trio may be a relatively new chamber group, but cellist Katherine Jenkinson, violinist Ruth Rogers and pianist Martin Cousin have established a reputation for concerts overflowing with excitement. Katherine delivered an exhilarating performance during Haydn's Piano Trio No. 25 and, though this commenced at a stately pace, the Hungarian influences of the third movement allowed her to reach a climax imbued with pizzazz.  Meanwhile, Ireland's Phantasie in A minor offered an opportunity for Ruth to shine as she beautifully developed the melody, capturing both the melodic gift and the essence of romance. Debussy's lesser-known Trio in G revealed the sensitivity of Martin's playing, there are some delightful jaunty and hummable aspects in this composition and his interpretation did not fail to trigger those smiles.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Saint-Saens' Piano Trio No.2, which he described as an atrocity and envisaged would drive listeners to despair.  However, there was little prospect of that from Aquinas. The trio played as though possessing a single heartbeat, each seamlessly and effortlessly developing the full range of emotions woven within the composition. Indeed, during the second movement, such was the look of intensity on the faces of our string players it would not have surprised me to see tears trickling down their cheeks.  This was an evening of sublime music and it's impossible to ask for more than that.

(Trevor Ekins, Grimsby Telegraph, January 2011)

Concert for Churchill Music at St John the Baptist Church
Aquinas Piano Trio

Buy a season ticket! If the opening concert of Churchill Music!'s 2010-11 season is anything to go by, then for goodness sake buy a season ticket and do so now before the rest of the world realises just what a gem North Somerset is hiding in the shape of this tenacious little music charity, that pulls international standard concerts out of its magical musical hat as easily as you or I would make a cup of tea.

Opening its 2010-11 season last Saturday in their regular venue of St John the Baptist Church, were the Aquinas Piano Trio. Formed only in 2009 this dazzling young trio is rising fast and it was easy to see why.

So perfectly matched in their abilities and interpretation, the trio performed absolutely as one, creating ever shifting textures and colours in a perfectly balanced programme of Haydn and Dvorak, culminating with Beethoven's magnificent 'Archduke' trio.

 Setting an exuberantly cheerful tone, the Haydn A major trio, which obviously indulged the composer's playful side, was performed with the heart warming vivacity that is the signature of the Aquinas piano trio. In particular, the cheekiness of the last movement came shining through and I was joined by a number of the audience in failing to contain a quiet chuckle - something about which I think Haydn himself would have been delighted.

 Dvorak's 'Dumky' trio - a musical set of fleeting thoughts (each called a 'dumka', hence the plural, 'dumky' - had me hooked from the very first bars when cellist Katherine Jenkinson set to with the passion and intensity usually reserved for the arresting opening solo of the composer's cello concerto.

Joined in similar fashion by pianist Martin Cousin and violinist Ruth Rogers, this was gripping stuff. Yet, there was also a lightness of touch in the group's playing that allowed them to not only evoke each 'dumka' with exquisite subtlety of texture and colour, but also its fleetingness. It seemed almost magical.

 Filling the second half with its grandeur was Beethoven's 'Archduke' trio. This is a magnificent beast of a piece, not to be undertaken by the feint hearted and the Aquinas Trio were more than up to the challenge. With rarely a note out of place, their technical brilliance seems so natural allowing them to give themselves heart and soul to the music. It is this particular ability of the group that gives life-affirming freshness to almost every note they touch, and makes it seem that the music is fresh from the composers pen.

If the Aquinas Piano Trio don't go on to become one of the most admired of their generation I really will eat my hat.

(Alice Harper, The Weston Mercury, October 2010)

Coffee Concert at the Holywell Music Room
Aquinas Piano Trio

When considering what to give your friends and relatives for Christmas this year, why not consider the Aquinas Piano Trio's recording of Ravel's Piano trio in A minor and Saint-Saens' Piano Trio no.2 in E minor? The latter of these two works was on show by that very trio last Sunday at the Holywell Music Room.

The Aquinas Piano Trio started with the 'Gypsy Rondo' trio by Haydn, no. 25 in G major, so called because of the dashing Hungarian-style finale which induced visible smiles on many of the faces in the audience. In this trio the violin part was more elaborate than in many of Haydn's earlier trios (in particular in the arpeggiaic passages in the first movement), which were often referred to as sonatas for piano with violin and 'cello accompaniments. The Aquinas trio made the piece appear simple, with subtle changes in dynamics, and the singing melody in the violin part in the second movement was a highlight.

The aforementioned Saint-Saens sonata was highly emotionally charged, and the exceptionally technically difficult piano part was carried off with style by pianist Martin Cousin, whose huge hands flew elegantly over the keys. At the beginning of the third movement, the cello played a beautiful melody with piano accompaniment- the balance here was perfect, although in other parts of the performance more volume from the cello part would perhaps have been desirable, especially alongside the power of the violin and piano in some of the passages in the fifth (final) movement. Overall, the piece was full of emotion and intensity (this could be seen in the mystical fugue-like opening of the final movement), inducing a sharp intake of breath by the audience after the hectic ending.

However, the concert was not yet finished- the trio gave the audience a calm encore after the frantic endings of the previous two pieces, with the slow movement from Debussy's piano trio. 'I live in music like a fish in water', declared Saint-Saens, and the same could perhaps be said of the Aquinas Piano Trio- their fiery performance, full of feeling, was inspirational, and I will certainly be going out to buy their CD.

(Robin Thompson, November 2009)

Aquinas Piano Trio at the Sherwell Centre in Plymouth

Accomplished, artistic, assured - these three words alone would warrant the Aquinas Piano Trio its triple-A rating. In terms of formation, it's just a mere toddler, but its rapid success is easy to understand.  Ruth Rogers (violin), Katherine Jenkinson (cello) and Martin Cousin (piano), all first-rate artists in their own right, have not only played together before in a number of different chamber formats, but they come over as such good friends, which makes their performance as a single musical entity so utterly convincing.

Great dexterity and a perfect ensemble were the order of the day in Haydn's Gypsy Rondo Trio and Mendelssohn's C minor Trio, with Martin dismissing the piano's bristling technical difficulties with real panache.  But there were also moments of expressive tenderness, especially in Debussy's fledgling Trio, where Ruth and Katherine's gloriously rich sound made such a telling impact.

 It might have seemed odd to include a work written in 1997 in such an otherwise traditional programme, but Dorset-based Shaun Bracey's Desert Song fitted the bill admirably.  This highly evocative Dubai-inspired snapshot showed the hand of a skilled and practised composer in every respect, crafting such an eminently enjoyable and effective piece.

And had Martin Cousin not been suffering from a debilitating back problem (though not due to any bad-tempered camel ride), the trio would most definitely have given the large audience their well-deserved encore!

(Philip Buttall, October 2009)

Aquinas Piano Trio in Churchill

Churchill Music!'s latest 'find' is the Aquinas Piano Trio who performed a programme of Haydn, Debussy & Saint-Saens to a near-packed audience at St John the Baptist Church, Churchill on Saturday 9 May. Though recently formed, each member of the trio brings a wealth of experience, and it is evidently a match made in heaven. Ruth Rogers (violin) and Katherine Jenkinson (cello) played with relaxed and effortless musicality, supported by virtuosically meticulous piano playing from Martin Cousin. Listening to this trio performing as one, I couldn't help thinking of the great violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin whose technique was so relaxed that every last drop of his musical soul was shared with his audience via the music. It was almost as if the Aquinas Trio was performing with us, not for us.

The programme was carefully chosen and suited the group (and the audience) beautifully. Haydn's "Gypsy Rondo" trio was as gleefully spirited as its title suggests, with the final movement being such a delightful romp that one couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. Next came an early work by Debussy in which the myriad of experimental musical devices, which occupied the young composer, were sensitively dealt with by the Aquinas. After the interval we were treated to Saint-Saens' second piano trio - an exemplary canvas for the musician's art, showcasing everything from broad-brush romantic schmaltz to meticulous counterpoint, and from delicate graceful lines, to complex interplay between the instruments. Totally in command of the considerable technical demands of the piece, the Aquinas launched themselves into it with maximum musical commitment and the result was breathtaking.

Rarely does one come across a group so relaxed and (rightly) confident in their technical abilities that they are able to focus so completely on the soul of the music. The Aquinas Piano Trio is one such group who not only satify the musical longings of the scores they play, but bring themselves closer to their audience; an audience which is surely set to grow as these young prize-winning stars take the stage with vitality and exuberance, as a Trio.

Bravo Churchill Music! on a fabulous find.

(Alice Harper, May 2009)

Aquinas Piano Trio in Derby

 'The opening movement of Haydn's 'Gypsy Rondo' Trio was both lively and graceful. The players found a nice flowing tempo for the second movement, and attacked the rondo finale itself with tremendous gusto.

There was both vigour and delicacy in the first movement of the Ravel Trio, and needle-sharp precision in the scherzo, while the overall arc of the Passacaille third movement was nicely shaped.

 Saint-Saëns' Trio No 2 was a refreshingly enterprising choice for the final work. With its five-movement structure, including one in quintuple time, it's a fascinating blend of the traditional and the exploratory. The Aquinas Trio brought clarity to the first movement, found the elegance in the fourth movement's waltz rhythms, and dispatched the fugue at the heart of the finale with great agility.'

(Mike Wheeler, December 2008)