Music by CARULLI, PIAZZOLLA, BRUNI, ALBENIZ, TARRAGO, GRANADOS, and BEETHOVEN
Trio Con Brio
Cheryl Grice-Watterson (guitar)
Martin Jaenecke (violin)
Victoria Jaenecke (viola)
St.Mark’s Church, Lower Hutt
Tuesday 4th May, 2010
It didn’t take long for the Trio Con Brio’s mellifluous combination of guitar, violin and viola to make a lasting impression on this listener. What I heard in the grateful acoustic of St.Mark’s Church in Lower Hutt, all but persuaded me to give myself entirely over to the music of Ferdinando Carulli as if it were among the greatest ever written. I strongly suspect that, attractive though the music undoubtedly was, it was largely the animated elegance of interplay between three fine musicians that captured my attention so wholly, the kind of music-making that’s worth taking a lot of trouble to seek out and enjoy.
The work in question was a Trio Concertante by the aforementioned Carulli, whose name, though not unknown to me, was unconnected with any music I could remember hearing. The programme notes suggested that Carulli’s output was somewhat uneven, though adding that he was at his most inventive when composing chamber music. Though I suspect my listening at this stage of the concert was taken up largely with registering how well the guitar’s limpid tones held up against the brighter, more sustained timbres of both violin and viola, the trio’s adroit balancing of voices allowed the composer’s across-the-board inventiveness to make a positive impression. By contrast with the opening movement the Largo explored softer episodes, the guitar demonstrating its dynamic range as tellingly in its way as could its companions. A final movement, marked “Presto” wasn’t quite that – more “allegro”, but also quixotic and volatile, with a lovely “false” ending that satisfied both one’s capacity for amusement and sense of completion.
Martin Jaenecke’s violin next joined with Cheryl Grice-Watterson’s guitar to realise one of Astor Piazzolla’s redoubtable tangos, one entitled “Continental Cafe 1930”. A slow, languorous beginning, more dreamed by the guitar than played at the start, until awakened by the violin with dance-like impulses, put the work into the category of one “more to be listened to than danced” (although experts might disagree!). A major-key section emphasised the dance rhythms, though sequences from the solo guitar inclined towards the freely rhapsodic, the fascinating interplay between the two instruments suggesting an intertwining of different sensibilities attracted by something ineffable.
The following work was by a composer whose name I didn’t at all know, Antonio Bartolomeo Bruni (1757-1821), a composer of opera in his day as well as of many instrumental works. Italian-born, he spent much of his career in Paris as a violinist, conductor, composer and teacher, having the good fortune to be seen as a supporter of the Revolution, which helped his job prospects – apparently at one stage he was given the task of compiling an inventory of valuable musical instruments confiscated during the Terror! Martin and Victoria Jaenecke, playing violin and viola respectively, gave us one of Bruni’s many duos, and added plenty of physical excitement to their playing by standing, thus able to almost “choreograph” the music – a flowing, lyrical opening was enlivened with dance-like episodes, switching from major to minor and with lead and accompaniment constantly changing. As one might expect, the teamwork between the players was impeccable, with the finale’s “allegro con moto” adding extra excitement to the interchanges – I particularly enjoyed both the swapping of melodic lines in the same register between instruments, allowing the different timbres of each to tell, and also, towards the conclusion, the “question-and-answer” phrasings in the melodic line.
Concluding the first half was another piece by Piazzolla, “Oblivion Milonga” which was arranged by the Trio themselves to play. A characteristic opening, sultry and laden, with the viola taking the melody initially, before handing over to the violin, subsequently became a duet in octaves, the guitar supplying the rhythmic impetus, the music as potent when delicate and withdrawn as when full-blooded.
Cheryl Grice-Watterson began the second half with a work for solo guitar, the wonderful “Asturias” by Isaac Albeniz, telling us a little about the composer and the work and the “guitaristic’ qualities of the music. Listening to her playing this work, it was difficult to imagine that it was originally written for piano, so “guitaristic” did the player make it sound. She captured the storytelling aspect of the recitative passages with remarkable focus and concentration, her subtle “voicings” of tone compelling our attention throughout. The guitarist was then joined by Victoria Jaenecke, whose viola stood in for the human voice in three song transcriptions, one by Graciano Tarrago (1892-1973),and two by Enrique Granados. In the Tarrago transcription, I felt the viola sounded a shade too “smooth” compared with the forthright guitar-playing – a slightly coarser, more “pesante” approach might have worked better, perhaps? Again, Cheryl Grice-Watterson’s guitar timbres and rhythmic impetuses really made the Granados songs come alive, the viola nicely encompassing in particular the mood of the first of the two Granados songs, “La Maja Dolorosa” (The Sad Woman).
The concert ended with a Serenade by Beethoven, arranged for the ensemble by a contemporary of the composer’s, one Wenceslaus Matiegka, whom the programme note describes as “a fashionable teacher of piano and guitar in Vienna” (nothing is said about Beethoven’s opinion of the transcription, though there were many such made of the work for different combinations). The players realised the opening’s vein of melancholy, with lovely long lines, the strings in octaves and the guitar a middle voice, before what seemed like a schizophrenic vein of mischief gripped hold of the proceedings, with the composer alternating between a major-key allegro and a quasi-tragic adagio – all very divertingly and entertainingly brought off by the Trio. The second movement, an Andante quasi Allegretto, was charmingly done, by turns poised and deeply-felt throughout a set of variations; while a polonaise-finale with genteel rather than rustic intentions featured golden-toned strings and rousing guitar chords, and a surprise scampering ending, brought off with characteristic style and elan by the three musicians, who thoroughly deserved the acclaim which marked the concert’s end.