Eggner Trio wins all hearts

The Eggner Trio

Chamber Music New Zealand Kaleidoscopes Concert Season 2011

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN – Piano Trio in B-flat Op.11 “Gassenhauer”

IAN MUNRO – Tales of Old Russia

ANTONIN DVORAK – Piano Trio No.3 in F Minor Op.65

Georg Eggner (violin) / Florian Eggner (‘cello) / Christoph Eggner (piano)

Wellington Town Hall

Thursday, 24th March 2011

CMNZ’s 2011 Season couldn’t have gotten off to a better start with the return of the inspirational Eggner Trio from Vienna, being no less than the third visit by the Trio to New Zealand. Good also to read in the program a message of support from Carolyn and Peter Diessl, the latter in his role as Honorary Consul-General for Austria in this country, and as a major supporter of the arts in New Zealand – a kind of connection-making process that other organizations such as the NZSO could pursue more readily on certain occasions (I’m thinking of the orchestra’s Sibelius Festival last year, when there was not one iota of outside Scandinavian “presence” in this country acknowledged or referred to – by contrast, CMNZ was able to place this concert in a wider cultural context with a simple act of acknowledgement). Even closer to home in a sense was Chief Executive of Chamber Music New Zealand Euan Murdoch’s mid-concert spoken message of support from all associated with the organization to the citizens and chamber music-lovers of Christchurch, in the wake of the recent devastation experienced by that city.

As everybody knows, the trio consists of a group of brothers whose upbringing obviously laid the foundations for developing an enviable musical rapport – right from the first few phrases of the opening work on the program one got a sense of total engagement from the participants with both music and their interaction. On the face of things, communication seemed all to flow towards the violinist, Georg Eggner, with both brothers, ‘cellist Florian (his John Belushi-style spectacles bringing a touch of visual free-wheeling glamour to the music-making) and pianist Christoph, readily making eye-contact with their seemingly more circumspect violinist brother. However, proof of the pudding, as my grandmother used to say, was in the eating – and the trio’s demonstration of individual impulse brought together in a unified flow brilliantly exemplified that particular joy of interactive music-making which can make chamber music so rewarding an experience. Any performing group worth its salt can, of course, do this – but the Eggners were equally adept at drawing its audience into the world of the music. We seemed not merely bystanders, but participants in the ebb and flow of things.

All of this has been said before far more eloquently by others at other times and in other places – but I truly felt that this was music-making that didn’t get much better, anywhere. The Beethoven work which began the program was new to me, but it hummed and crackled with it’s composer’s characteristic fingerprints from the outset – an assertive unison statement at the beginning, a remote-key second-subject, at once hushed and full-bodied, a development section whose ideas shouldered and pushed one another about, and a wonderful “false ending” whose forthright final-chord cadence suddenly and unexpectedly turned upon itself and continued for a few more bars – a sequence delightfully brought off by the players. A beautifully-expressed Adagio (magical sounds from each of the instruments both in turn and together) was balanced by a theme-and-variations finale during which the composer’s “popular song” idea came to the fore in varying combinations, ranging in mood from the lyricism of duetting violin and viola, to the rumbustious stamping dance of all three instruments.

I had heard of Ian Munro as a concert pianist, but not as a composer; and was intrigued to discover the extent of his creative activities in this respect. His Piano Trio Tales of Old Russia suggests a fascination with narrative and drama, besides the exotic element which makes Russian art in general so attractive world-wide. Two of the three tales which particularly inspired Munro’s work are well-known – Vassilisa and the Baba Yaga, and the Snow Maiden, both partly by dint of association with other composers and their music. The third, Death and the Soldier, is an oft-repeated theme in European folk-literature, of the “wise fool” whose native cunning outwits the forces of darkness. Having witnessed the Eggner Trio’s capacities for characterization and narrative throughout the Beethoven work, I wasn’t surprised to find the musicians relishing the opportunities for evoking that sense of “a long time ago far away from here” in each of the tales. In particular, the macabre death-dance of the last story was launched with splendidly-controlled menace and ever-growing unease, reminiscent in places of Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony. The sentimental waltz towards the piece’s conclusion marked the defeat of the devils and a triumph of well-being, the musical laughter of the story’s audience at the end as much from relief as pleasure in entertainment.

The work was a perfect foil for the Dvorak Trio which took up the concert’s second part – if the Eggners had thus far shown they could convey energetic high spirits and humor, the trio proved equally capable of addressing the Czech composer’s passionate outpourings, generating full-blooded responses to the music’s every mood. I thought the group’s fusion of energy and expression utterly compelling throughout, with phrase-ends by turns adroitly tailored to succeeding episodes, or pointing the contrasts for proper musical effect. Just occasionally the violinist reached the highest note of a striving phrase less than cleanly (noticeable against the otherwise technically impeccable playing throughout), though somehow it all added to the expressiveness of the music’s wanting to bring about something worthwhile. After digging into the trenchant moods of the first two movements the Eggners relished the Adagio’s tender moments, though remaining responsive to the osmotic thrustings of swirling energy released by the music in places. The finale returned to the earlier movements’ excitement, a wistful second subject along the way providing some necessary respite before the players brought all the strands together for a noble and rousing finish.

I didn’t catch the name of the film composer who wrote the wildly unbuttoned romp of a piece the Eggners gave us as an encore – it was straight out of a Keystone Cops-type thriller, beginning with a delicious horror-chord, and erupting with high-energy velocities, a brief swooning ‘cello theme allowing us but¬† a breath or two’s respite before whirling everything back into a vortex of abandonment and sudden oblivion. But it was, though, of a piece with the rest of the concert regarding the group’s all-embracing way with everything that was played, and as such sent us all out into the night simmering with pleasure.

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