Australian Piano Trio delights Waikanae

The Streeton Piano Trio (Benjamin Kopp, piano; Emma Jardine, violin; Martin Smith, cello)
(Waikanae Music Society)

Schubert: Piano trio no.2 in E flat, D.929
Haydn: Piano trio in D, Hob XV/27
Ravel: Trio for piano, violin and cello

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday, 5 August 2012, 2.30pm

Sunday’s programme was a good one; though all the works were familiar, they were contrasting in period of composition and in character.  The Streeton Trio (made up of Australians based in Berlin) gave the audience a broad spectrum of great works for piano trio.

Schubert’s glorious trio is always a delight to hear.  The Streeton Trio made a wonderful build-up of tension and played beautifully, apart from some low cello notes being off-pitch near the beginning.  However, things improved, to render the lyrical quality of the first movement in tender fashion. Worrisome bottom-string notes returned briefly – was the C string slightly out-of-tune?  I noticed that the cellist tuned it slightly after the second movement.  As the programme note states, the first movement is ‘in turn energetic and uplifting, restless and troubled’.  It was always interesting.

Between the first and second movements there was a surprise: the pianist spoke to the audience introducing the Swedish folk song on which the initial melody in the andante con moto second movement was based.  He and the violinist then played the song.  In the movement itself, the melody was played beautifully on the cello, and then decorated by the piano.

Piano and violin were lovely to hear, the pianist playing in a manner appropriate for the period.  The third movement, a sprightly scherzando, was many miles removed from the soulful music that preceded it.  There was delicacy, but muscular energy also; the mood was light and lovely.

I noted that the acoustic was not the best for Schubert’s music: the jolly opening of the fourth movement (allegro molto) brought forth a lively tone, but there were times when I wanted rather more mellowness.  The gorgeous melody from the second movement returned on the cello against pizzicato violin, and sublime passages followed.

Speaking of mellowness – the tweaking of programmes in the audience could be an irritant in quiet passages; a change to a better quality of paper might help to lessen this small problem.

An elegant, quick opening to the Haydn trio revealed the pianist’s ability to make the grand piano almost sound like a fortepiano.  His playing was always delightful and utterly sympathetic.

Sitting nearer to the front of the hall in the second half made, I found, a considerable difference to what I heard.  In the graceful introduction to the slow movement, played with rubato at the ends of the phrases, I could imagine myself in a late eighteenth- century drawing room, such was the intimacy conveyed.  The sparing use of the sustaining pedal, and of vibrato on the strings were part of this effect – but these features did not mean that there was any lack of warmth in the playing.

The fast dance that was the presto final movement had its jauntiness exploited to the full, yet it still had grace as well as jollity.

The Ravel Trio is often performed; when all the subtleties are brought out as in this performance, it is a pleasure to hear.  The sonorous opening was beautifully varied.  The tempi were well-managed, and we heard some superb playing here.  Again, the piano was outstanding.  The Streeton Trio has recorded both the Haydn and the Ravel works, so they know obviously them well.

The delightful grasshopper of the second movement, marked Pantoum (a form of Malay verse) assez vif, jumped, was at rest, and then flew.  The music was very well delineated, whether soft or loud.

The passacaglia third movement was, by contrast, solemn, almost liturgical and elegiac.  There was a steady conversation between the parts.  In the latter part of the movement, the use of mutes on the strings gave an ethereal effect, especially where the strings played without piano.  A sombre song on the cello followed; the piano ended the movement.

In the Finale (animé) the strings trilled harmonics while the piano played a quick passage, followed by solo violin with pizzicato on the cello.  Glissandi and grand chords for the piano were examples of the Spanish influences in Ravel’s music.  Plenty of contrast in dynamics featured, but overall there was a lightness of touch before the thrilling ending.

A musical treat was had by all who attended.




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