Supported by generous help from the Turnovsky Endowment Trust

An unusual trio throws fresh, sometimes questionable light on a variety of chamber pieces

By , 03/05/2015

Trio Amistad (Rebecca Steel – flute, Simon Brew – saxophones, Jane Curry – guitar)
(Wellington Chamber Music)

François de Fossa: Trio No 1 in A, Op 18
Piazzolla: Histoire du Tango – Café and Bordello
Sergio Assad: Winter impressions for Trio
Bach: Trio Sonata VI, BWV 530 (arranged Eric Dussault)
Debussy: Petite Suite (arr. Timothy Kain)
Falla: La vida breveDanse espagnole (arr. Owen Moriarty)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday 3 May, 2:30 pm

This, just incidentally, was the third recital involving a flute within a month – see Middle C of 1 and 29 April.

The Trio by the amateur and rather obscure 19th century French composer, François de Fossa, was written originally for violin, guitar and cello (reflecting the widespread interest in the guitar in the first half of the 19th century).

I had not heard of De Fossa and have been interested to find him, of course, through Google, significant in the guitar world, responsible for bringing Boccherini’s guitar quartets to notice, arranging Haydn quartets for guitar duo, translating a guitar method from Spanish.

Since Fossa himself had arranged for the guitar, music written for other instruments, I guess there can be little objection to musicians today arranging his. The thing that struck one at once however was the dramatically different sound produced by the tenor sax, and by the end of the concert the question remained; it was the most problematic of the six pieces they played.

The original would certainly have held together sonically and the flute substitutes easily enough for the violin, but the timbre of the saxophone seemed to contribute a quality that was rather too prominent. One can understand the hesitancy of classical composers, since the invention of the saxophones, to embrace them as fully legitimate members of the family. Even without knowing its history, one can sense that the saxophone is of another time; though I wonder whether, if it had not been taken up so completely by the world of big band jazz, it would sound more comfortable in classical music.
In its style the trio shows echoes of Haydn (the occasional amusing, deliberate miss-step) or Boccherini, or perhaps George Onslow; it was very agreeable, and it was played with charm.

In the two pieces they played from Piazzolla’s Histoire du tango, Simon Brew picked up his alto sax, again, not an instrument Piazzolla had envisaged, but here it fitted the sound world with a perfect authenticity (and it made me wonder whether the alto might have made all the difference to the Fossa piece). They began with the second piece, Café 1930, which is charming and gay; there was more evidence of the true roots of the tango in the first part of the suite, Bordello 1900, as you’d expect, and the players rejoiced in the syncopated rhythms and captivating melodic shapes.

Brazilian composer Sergio Assad (using the tenor sax again, in place of the as-scored, viola) wrote his Winter Impressions in 1996. I would have doubted the existence of much of a winter in the area around São Paulo, and Jane Curry’s guitar was the only one of the trio whose music hinted at The Frozen Garden – the first movement. The flute in the second movement contributed a dreamy tune, and the distinct lines for all three instruments created a most delightful musical pattern. The last movement, Fire Place, created an air of charming sociability, with animated talk punctuated by meditative pauses. Assad struck me as a natural, gifted composer with his own voice in music that had arisen because it had to be composed and not to fulfill academic assignments or important commissions.

The 6th of Bach’s Trio Sonatas, written for his oldest son Wilhelm Friedmann, was reportedly pieced together from parts of his other works, which is the reason for their sounding familiar, though I could not name or place them. Music long familiar has a habit of sounding more substantial and, of course, memorable, and so did this. The first movement was a successful wedding of flute and alto sax, each echoing the other. As I had with the Piazzolla, I found the alto a more comfortable companion with its colleagues here, and its soft, rather beautiful tones in the Lento, middle movement, held the music together in an organic manner. It was a most successful adaptation, colourfully played.

Debussy’s Petite Suite for piano duet has been much arranged, for orchestra and a variety of chamber ensembles, which would seem to give permission for virtually anything. Here Rebecca Steel’s flute seemed utterly natural, taking, as was explained, the piano primo part while the saxophone took the secondo (bass) part, much duetting in 6ths. The effect here was for the guitar to be placed rather inconspicuously, simply accompaniment; though there was a charming duet between flute and guitar in the Menuet. Nevertheless, though I am unhappy about most amplification, it’s often necessary for the guitar and might have been useful here.

The Spanish Dance from Manuel de Falla’s La vida breve ended the programme, and here again I felt the alto sax might have been a better choice than the tenor in the mix with two lighter instruments; in its top register however, it was fine; the guitar had more prominence which was most welcome; and the piece brought this charming concert a delightful finish.

 

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