Young Leonari Trio produces elegiac joie de vivre at Lower hutt

The Leonari Trio (Hilary Hayes – violin, Edward King – cello, Maria Mo – piano)

Beethoven: Piano Trio in D, Op 70 no 1 (‘Ghost’); Rachmaninov: Trio élégiaque No 1 in G minor; Arensky: Piano Trio No 1  in D minor, Op 32

Lower Hutt Little Theatre

Tuesday 28 August, 7.30pm

This young trio which came together at the University of Waikato in 2009 has had a charmed life, after winning the Pettman Royal Overseas League scholarship and touring Britain with singular success, visiting some fairly notable concert venues. Individually, they have gained some prestigious awards: both string players were in the NZSO National Youth Orchestra while pianist Maria Mo has played concertos with the Opus Chamber Orchestra and the Waikato Symphony Orchestra.

This concert fell in the middle of a nationwide tour for Chamber Music New Zealand; a second, very attractive programme called Viennese Tales, has been played in other centres, sadly not in the Greater Wellington region (you could catch it in Cromwell on 2 September).

Though it was unfortunate that I arrived a little late, the boisterous sounds of their playing met me as I opened the outside doors of the theatre and I could well have stayed there with no loss of clarity or excitement from their playing.

I could at once understand how their gusto and an almost reckless abandon that exposed an occasional fluff, would have won audiences over in their UK tour, and since.  Perfect accuracy becomes irrelevant when music is attacked with such open enthusiasm and delight in a rapport that was so attractive and immediately obvious.

Fortunately my colleague Rosemary Collier was there too and she left me with a few remarks about the first two movements of the Beethoven, generally admiring their individual accomplishment, that combined so strikingly in ensemble. Their slow movement was most expressive, and technically interesting, another friend remarked about the impression that certain of Hilary Hayes’ violin sounds had, resonating with those in the piano, evidencing excellent intonation.

The choice of pieces brought to mind the music that was played by the wonderful Turnovsky Trio more than a decade ago. Both Rachmaninov’s first Trio élégiaque and the Arensky Trio were in their repertoire, as I recall.  It’s worth noting the fact that Rachmaninov also wrote a second Trio élégiaque, this one in D minor, and given Opus No 9: a full-scale, three movement work modelled on Tchaikovsky’s and written in his memory; he had died shortly before, in 1893.

These players tackled the music with an approach that was similar in spirit, virtuosity and youthful joie de vivre to the Turnovsky Trio.  The Leonari Trio began the Rachmaninov with a hushed, magical, cross-string motif that becomes the accompaniment to the piano’s first romantic theme; the playing was full of drama and refinement, even though it rose to quite an extrovert and energetic character before long.

The provenance of the violin and cello which I heard about at the interval, helped explain the special beauty of tone they produced, with timbres that were so closely related that they almost sounded as if emanating from one instrument. The violin was formerly that of the late NZSO violinist Stephen Managh, and the cello was a loan from Allan Chisholm who is retiring as assistant principal cello of the NZSO later this year.

Never needing to play loudly to compete with the piano, their sound projected vividly in the theatre, which is often claimed to present a dry, difficult acoustic. Perhaps, but it just demands players capable of listening to the effect they are having, and adapting to the situation. Cellist Edward King created warm and opulent passages in its later phases.

For its part, the piano, also criticised by some (and now sought to be replaced by a shiny new Steinway), usually surprises me by its range of colour and sonority. Maria Mo seemed to have its measure, as well as the measure of the theatre, also found difficult by some. Though her playing was full-blooded, she had the lid on the short stick and her sound was vigorously lyrical rather than simply loud.

Certainly, together they made a good deal of noise but it was musical noise, and it didn’t prevent their playing of the subsiding, élégique coda with a serene peacefulness.

The Arensky trio also found the players in full sympathy with the music, starting in a lovely lyrical mood, phrased beautifully, assertive in later staccato piano episodes over tremolo violin, though becoming a little blurred in fast piano passages. They particularly relished the blousy piano tune in the Scherzo, and the piano produced delightful bell-like treble notes at the top of little flourishes in the Trio.

Flawless tone in the slow Elegia movement, all three players in remarkable accord, which was still more striking in the finale, particularly in the soft passages nearing the end.

Audiences, including several young people, have been looking better this year than in the past few years, and their warm applause won them an encore, of the third of John Psathas’s Three Island Songs, also played brilliantly.


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