Supported by generous help from the Turnovsky Endowment Trust

Trio launches Hutt Valley’s Chamber Music season with élan

By , 26/05/2014

Chamber Music Hutt Valley presents:
LEPPÄNEN / JOYCE / IRONS TRIO

BEETHOVEN – Piano Trio in E-flat major Op. 70 No.2
DEBUSSY – Sonata for violin and piano in G minor (1917)
Sonata for ‘cello and piano in D minor (1915)
BRAHMS – Piano Trio in C Major Op.87

Vesa-Matti Leppänen (violin) / Andrew Joyce (‘cello
Diedre Irons (piano)

Lower Hutt Little Theatre

Monday 26th May, 2014

That singular personality, Sir Thomas Beecham, renowned for his witticisms and droll observations, once remarked that music’s greatest gift to the world was “to free the human mind from the tyranny of conscious thought”. I couldn’t help thinking how profoundly this process was demonstrated by the first few bars of Beethoven’s beautiful E-flat Piano Trio, with which Vesa-Matti Leppänen, Andrew Joyce and Diedre Irons began their Lower Hutt concert on Monday evening.

Here were sounds devised and played with a spontaneity and wonderment which seemed to disarm everyday preoccupations and conjure up realms of beauty and fancy, simply for our delight and pleasure. As it began, so the music continued – apart from a brief minor-key episode in the Trio’s slow movement there was almost nothing of the darkness and drama conjured up by this work’s opus-partner, the renowned “Ghost” Trio.

From those opening, air-borne sounds, and the gently-insinuating rhythms propelling the first movement’s allegro, the players were able to explore a good deal of mood-variation, enjoying episodes of poised, classically-wrought beauty well as the more forthright rhythmic exchanges. In the second movement allegretto, the players preserved the charm of the major-key sequences (Diedre Irons’ piano by turns graceful and skitterish as required!) but wonderfully presided over the theme’s minor-key darkenings and sudden enlarging of the music’s expressive force, before delivering the soft/loud, somewhat Janus-faced ending.

After the somewhat Schubert-like, soulfully-played third movement (those major/minor piano-chord sequences surely must have resonated for the younger composer when devising HIS piano trios), the finale’s rushing energies properly re-invigorated things, the pianist having a wonderful time whirling through the figurations, and showing the way for her colleagues with great élan and vigour. I enjoyed the musicians’ vivid characterizations of the music’s different moods, the heroic merging with the poetic, the angular vying with the graceful, and the whole delivered with infectious enjoyment.

What a treat to have both of Debussy’s solo string-instrument sonatas (for violin and for ‘cello) presented within the same programme! These were among the last pieces (the Violin Sonata was actually the very last!) written by the composer, while in the throes of a final illness – they were planned as part of a series of six instrumental works, of which only three were completed (the third was a trio for flute, harp and viola).

In places in both sonatas one could hear the Debussy of old, with deft brush-strokes leaving behind the evocatively-hued harmonies and textures of a music style loosely called “impressionism”.  Right at the beginning of the Violin Sonata the pianist conjured magic from the air as it were with some simple chords to which the violin added an expressive, melancholy line, though later both instruments occasionally took up the dance, with coloristic sounds derived perhaps from gamelan, perhaps from Moorish influences – the vioiin’s exotic “bending” of its line at a couple of points, for example.

In the succeeding movements the hues became more pointillistic, as the violin tossed a couple of acerbic flourishes skyward, before taking up a droll “cakewalk-like” posture, the music’s gait by turns spiky and delicate in between moments of melancholy. Violinist Vesa-Matti Leppänen revelled in the music’s volatility, adroitly throwing off flourishes and as quickly gathering his tones in, nicely maintaining the music’s “light-and-shadow’ character. And Diedre Irons’ piano rippled like air “stirred and shaken”, matching the violinistic scamperings with irruptions and momentums leading to an exuberant close.

More forthright at the outset than its companion, the shorter ‘Cello Sonata mused in almost bardic response to the opening piano chords, with more than a hint of cool jazz coming out in Diedre Irons’ playing, both players firing off one another as the music’s agitations gathered weight and energy. What drolleries then, animated the pizzicato exchanges between the players in the second-movement Serenade! – the lines seemingly on the point of singing, occasionally,  but then breaking into dance-steps instead (a lovely, choreographed vibrato from Andrew Joyce and his instrument  at one point!).

And the spontaneous burst of energy from both players really made those opening dance figures of the finale hop! But what incredible changes of mood these two players were then required to realize, which they did, triumphantly – the Sargasso-Sea-like driftings of the textures, weighty- opaque oscillations somehow shed their bulk and built towards the dance figures once again…and then, fantastically adroit staccato exchanges positively scintillated amid verve-filled, dangerously-timed cadence-points, whose rhythmic precision at the music’s end made for exhilarating results.

How will Brahms sound next to all of this? I wondered, just before the concert’s final item, the C Major Piano Trio Op.87. Well, his music came through, thanks to some mightily “orchestral” playing from the Trio, which, throughout the first movement, helped to “grow” the music towards a wonderfully diversive and complex transformation.

In the second, theme-and-variations movement I was reminded here and there of Dvorak in his “gypsy” mode, a vein of melancholy threading its way through the various textures, the playing in places boldly and dramatically bringing out the feeling, while elsewhere quietly following its contourings.

I liked the scherzo’s deft touch of dark malevolence, the players also relishing the contrasting Trio’s ironic sense of well-being, before plunging back into the reprise of the mischief! Diedre Irons’ playing I thought superb, here, bringing both delicacy and glint to bear within the textures and rhythms, controlling the music’s volatilities with terrific gusto.

And the finale’s Allegro giocoso  marking could have been thought of at first as a Brahmsian joke, here, with spookily “gothic” effects in places (almost Lisztian, I thought – what was this “champion of the conservatives” thinking of?) – all very exciting! The players brilliantly caught the music’s sense of headlong flight, beautifully placing the near-obsessive three-note descending motif sequence and the more reflective nostalgic episode in the scheme of things, then completing the joke by almost brusquely rounding things off with a spectacular flourish. What a work and what a performance!

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