Mulled wine with Mozart and Strauss at Paekakariki

Trio in E flat, K 498 (Mozart), Four pieces from Eight Pieces for violin, viola and piano, Op 83 (Bruch), Violin Sonata in E flat, Op 18 – first and second movements (Strauss), Three Russian Songs for violin, viola and piano (Glinka)

Cristina Vaszilcsin (violin), Peter Garrity (viola), Catherine McKay (piano)

Paekakariki Memorial Hall, Sunday 5 July 2009

There’s not a large repertoire for a piano trio that involves viola instead of cello: though there ought to be. For along with the viola’s delicious C string that provides an opulent, legato bass line, the piano can, after all, supply most of the bass quality below that. 

The violin version of Mozart’s Clarinet Trio (Kegelstatt) provides one fine example; unfortunately, the eight pieces that Bruch wrote late in life for the combination, while agreeable, are not in the same class at all; the unpretentious Glinka pieces were at least their equal in simple musical charm.

Though I remember clearly my first hearing of the enchanting Mozart piece, in the record department of a Wellington department store in the 1970s, I have always been disappointed with the premature ending of the first movement whose richness of inspiration seems to me to be worth at least ten minutes. Nothing could have been more ravishing that the warmth of these three instruments in the lively acoustic of the Paekakariki hall, with its very acceptable piano. One of the benefits of the violin transcription is the prominence of the viola, given at least equal status with the clarinet in the original version; Peter Garrity took full advantage of the beautiful writing in the second movement, relishing the extensive passages in its low register.

For the clarinet part, Mozart seeks to demonstrate its tonal beauty as much as the skill of the player – his friend Stadler – and Cristina Vaszilcsin’s violin simply matched the viola’s voice: the two were so at one.

The piano was in equally happy accord, and Catherine McKay’s bell-like contributions in the Finale created such a joyous experience.

Four of Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces for these instruments (Nos 1, 2, 4 and 5), filled out the first half: pleasant, well-made but, apart from the characteristic No 5, Romanian melody, hardly memorable.

The last piece in the concert was another somewhat slight work – Glinka’s transcriptions of three Russian songs – tastefully crafted transcriptions, to which the trio brought the same idiomatic care that they had to the other pieces in the programme. 

The second half had opened with Richard Strauss’s Violin Sonata, a somewhat discursive, richly decorative work, but convincing evidence of Strauss’s ability to create and sustain interest in an extended form.  Violinist and pianist moved readily to Strauss’s late romantic opulence – two thirds of it anyway, as Cristina Vaszilcsin begged the audience’s forgiveness for omitting the sonata’s last movement, suggesting a visit to Greytown where she and Catherine McKay would play it all.

Such a cut would only have been a problem for those who knew it well enough for the sound of the tantalizing start of the Finale to come into their heads at the end of the Andante cantabile. Nevertheless, all would have been grateful for the romantically seductive performance of the two movements, so much at home with the yearning arpeggiated motifs of the Allegro and the seductive Andante with its pretty, Zerbinetta (Ariadne auf Naxos)-like little tune, and ending on a quiet note. The odd blemish in the piano passed almost unnoticed, such was the charm and rapport shown by the two. Nevertheless, it did leave the little question, as we were left rather wanting more Strauss, why its last movement was cut and the little Glinka pieces put in its place.


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