The rule of Lawson

Lawson Trio'Annabelle Lawson right, with piano trio colleagues Fenella Humphreys and Rebecca Knight
Lawson Trio'Annabelle Lawson right, with piano trio colleagues Fenella Humphreys and Rebecca Knight

WORKS by Mozart, Debussy, David Knotts and Brahms, being performed by the emergent Lawson Trio at the Crucible Studio this Friday, represent a cross-section of the threesome’s diverse repertoire.

It is an impressively large one containing over 60 works at present ranging from Beethoven’s piano trios, Schubert’s two masterpieces, through lesser-known pieces by the likes of Ives, Liszt and Panufnik, to the present day.

The number of works in the latter case is particularly startling, 23 written in the last 20 years – 12 of them in the last 10.

“Contemporary music plays a big role in our life as a trio,” states pianist Annabelle Lawson, who started it with two other string players at Cambridge University in 2000 – the present line-up has been together for just over four years.

She continues: “We find it extremely energising to be able to collaborate with composers, to be able to ask them questions, to feel that they have written works with our particular sound and strengths in mind.

“It is important that classical music is a living and continually developing art-form, and that in order for this to be the case, new composers and new audiences need to be ‘nourished’ in equal measure.

“Also, listening to and performing contemporary music is rather like sampling cuisine from multiple cultures; it stimulates and refreshes the ears in the same way that new tastes stimulate the taste-buds.

“It provides an element of surprise and a feeling of discovery.” 

The piece The Long Way Home this Friday by David Knotts, an in-flavour, younger-generation English composer, was the all-female trio’s first commission for its South Bank debut in 2010.

Lasting ten minutes, it is in two movements, allegretto and largo (with the stipulation ‘tenderly’), the latter being a meditation on Sylvia Townsend Warner’s poem, Go the long way, the long way home.

In it she urges her reader to heed a rural scene on a midsummer day, her observations being tinged with the poignancy of the passing of time, while the first movement, the composer tells us, was inspired by observing his garden in a downpour on a summer’s day.

Other works have been written for the Lawson Trio – Gordon Crosse’s revision in 2010 of his 1993 piano trio, for instance.

Another better-known, slightly older generation English composer, Judith Weir, has had this to say about them: “Extreme clarity of interpretation and depth of preparation characterise their performances, whether the music is old or new, and their individual technical skills allow them to inhabit the piano trio repertoire from Haydn onwards, with an ease of enjoyment which is instantly communicated to the audience.”

Such is the general reaction to Lawson Trio performances, whether it’s of Beethoven, Schubert, the underrated Alan Rawsthorne, or Weir herself.

Martin Lovett of the Amadeus Quartet, has commented: “An extremely musical ensemble... truly excellent players... showing a commitment to chamber music at the highest level.”

He is one of a who’s who of highly distinguished musicians with whom the Lawson Trio have participated in masterclasses or received coaching from. Indeed, they continue to do, although with less frequency as they are passionate about education and now coaching young musicians themselves.

As part of Music in the Round’s Around the Country tour this season, they have preceded their concerts at four venues with visits to local schools and in Sheffield this Friday will be performing at two junior schools, Nether Green and Nook Lane.

Later, in the evening, as well as the piece by Knotts, they play the last of Mozart’s six piano trios, K564, and Debussy’s Piano Trio in G, effectively his Op 1 – “only discovered relatively recently and is little played,” says Annabelle.

“It was written when Debussy was only 18 and is not a mature work. It is, however, very charming.”

Brahms ends the concert with his Op 8 trio performed in its usually-heard, much later revised version, which shortened the original by a third.

For those wondering, who may recall adventuresome pianist Peter Lawson, Annabelle is his daughter.

She says: “My father taught me from the age of four to 18 and I still ask for his advice and support on a regular basis; whether it’s advice on my piano-playing, my teaching or my work-life balance.

“Both my parents have been at the core of my development as a musician, in their different ways.”