Early and late Debussy celebrated by School of Music trio of principal lecturers

Claude Debussy
Violin Sonata (allegro vivo; Intermède: fantasque et léger; Finale: très animé)
Cello Sonata (Prologue: lent, sostenuto e molto risoluto; Sérénade: modérément animé;
Final: animé, léger et nerveux)
Piano Trio in G major (andantino con moto allegro; scherzo-intermezzo: moderato con allegro; andante espressivo; Finale: appassionato)

Te Kōkī Trio (Martin Riseley, violin; Inbal Megiddo, cello; Jian Liu, piano)

Ilott Theatre

Friday, 14 September 2012 at 5.15pm

A delectation of Debussy from dedicated academic musicians pleased an almost-full Ilott on Friday.  The two sonatas were from late in Debussy’s life; the trio from his student days.  The last was unpublished in his lifetime.

The wonderful watery sounds at the opening of the violin sonata were rendered with great delicacy and sympathy by the performers.  Debussy’s unusual use of sonata form makes the work interesting and memorable.  The end of the movement was lively and varied, yet quiet and thoughtful.

The second movement employed harmonics, the sound making me think of sprightly dancers all over the place, in both violin and cello parts.  A more lyrical theme intervened, then it was back to staccato leaps and harmonics.  The Finale was driving, yet piquant.  The sure-fingered playing of Martin Riseley had the music speaking clearly with its many different voices.  A surprise ending completed a fine performance.

It is intriguing that Debussy reverted from Italian musical terms to French for the descriptions of these two movements, and indeed for the second and third movements of the cello sonata, apparently not finding Italian words to meet his needs.

The cello sonata was written only two years before the violin one, the latter being written and performed just a year before Debussy’s death in 1918.

A strong opening from the piano was soon followed by the cello, both full-toned.

Both players were attentive to every detail, bringing out a multiplicity of gorgeous nuances, and exploiting the varied timbres of their instruments to the fullest extent.

In the Serenade second movement this included ‘the cello… takes the role of a guitar, and of Pierrot, a manic harlequin, with harsh pizzicato, flautando [bowing at the base of the fingerboard of the cello, to sound flute-like], tremolo and ponticello bowings among the effects’, to quote the excellent programme notes.  The cello began the movement with pizzicato, followed by the piano making the nearest possible thing to pizzicato.  A rapid passage takes over, but the manic harlequin returns, before he is shut away, and a serene melody emerges.  Then it is straight on to the final movement, where rhythm is once more to the fore.  A great range of dynamics was engaged.  The increasing pace built up to a repeat of an earlier theme and then the conclusion.

The trio concluded the hour-long programme in great style.  Some introductory remarks from Martin Riseley could not be heard from where I was sitting.  The work had a delicious opening on piano, followed by violin.  The piece had a cheery mood, befitting a 17 or 18-year-old, as compared with the later works played in the first part of the programme.  The movement became impassioned in a late Romantic manner, not in the unpredictable way of his later works.  This was certainly very accomplished writing for a youthful composer.

The second movement featured pizzicato at the start, and incisive piano writing.  This was followed by a lilting, light-hearted dance.  As the programme note said, this was salon music.  The music alternated between scherzo and moderato passages.

The Finale commenced with a flowing cello melody accompanied by piano, before the violin joined in, in like vein.  The music became robust and calm by turns.

The movement got well away from the delicacy with which we associate Debussy.  It was strong, yet romantic at times – it could have been Brahms – and became passionate in the build-up to the end.

The playing throughout the concert was always expressive with beautiful tone, and utterly accurate and in perfect ensemble.  Jian Liu summons magic with his fingers.

While one can recognise that the New Zealand School of Music may want photographs of performances by its staff and students, I have now almost lost count of the number of times that a clicking camera near to me has disturbed my enjoyment of the concerts.  Cannot the photos be taken during pre-concert rehearsal?  These 5.15 concerts are free, thanks to provision of the venue free-of-charge by the Wellington City Council, but does the audience need to put up with this?


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