Superb English Trio performs in context of Pettman/ROSL Arts

The Leonore Piano Trio (Benjamin Nabarro – violin, Gemma Rosefield – cello, Tim Horton – piano)
Piano trios: Haydn’s in C, Hob XV:27; Ravel’s in A minor; Dvořák’s in F minor, Op 65
(Royal Over-Seas League, in support of Sistema Aotearoa)

Legislative Council Chamber, Parliament

Friday 23 November, 7pm

The members of this fine English trio were here as part of the panel judging entires for the Pettman/Royal Over-seas League scholarship.

They have made time to perform in several centres around New Zealand and this was the first of three concerts in the Wellington Region – the others are at Waikanae and Greytown. Several of them have been devoted to musical charities. This one at Parliament, hosted by the Minister for the Arts, Christopher Finlayson, was dedicated to Sistema Aotearoa, the Venezuela-originated scheme that gets children from disadvantaged areas into performing classical orchestral music. It has made a remarkable beginning in South Auckland and is being taken up elsewhere.

The trio gave a full and substantial programme, in performances that set them at once among the finest chamber music ensembles to have visited New Zealand for some time. The Haydn trio in C, Hob. XV:27, is among his last chamber pieces, written in 1797. It is a very fine work and these players treated it as, and made us believe that it was, a masterpiece. Its opening chords were electrifying, and it continued in a way that could well have suggested that its composer was Beethoven, such was its emotional range and intellectual stature. Perhaps there were some present who felt the playing was out of character with Haydn’s real creative nature, though I heard no such remarks; it did indeed invest the music with qualities that are to be found more in the music of decades later.

The impact of the playing was enhanced by the brilliant yet warm acoustic of the Legislative Council Chamber. It was the second concert there in the space of a week: on the previous Friday, the National Youth Choir had sung in the chamber (sadly, nowhere else in the region) to widespread admiration.

Ravel’s piano trio followed. In the Haydn, it was the piano and violin that made the greatest impact; my position probably diminished the sound of the cello. But here, after all instruments had become equal during the Romantic period, the cello was prominent for the beginning. But the cello’s individuality was only one of many characteristics that made the performance remarkable, Though the players never took inauthentic liberties, there was an engaging hint of hesitancy as they began, soon overtaken, dramatically, by a total assurance, vivid in the delineation of the quick changing moods: one moment intense, the next rhapsodic.

Ravel calls for sounds that are unfamiliar in music before his time; the scherzo-like second movement, inspired by the Pantoum poetic form of the Malay people (which we’d heard a day or so before in Debussy’s Five Baudelaire song settings) was both exotic and complementary to the character of the first movement, and those qualities were produced vividly by the players.

In the third movement, with its ancient title Passacaille (Passacaglia), the players took us far away in time, but strangely near in classical sobriety to the previous movement. To have heard this great work, so powerfully and masterly performed, by a trio of such distinction was revelatory.

The violinist of the trio remarked that Dvořák’s Trio, Op 65 was perhaps his best (though acknowledging the the Dumky was probably the favourite). But it just misses greatness, in the Brahmsian sense. Given that it comes close to Brahms in character, the fact that one of the most gifted melodists of all time failed to clothe it in music like his own piano quintet or the last three string quartets (Opp. 96, 105 and 106), points to the error of trying to win approval through turning aside from his own genius. Technically, formally, it complies with all the criteria that Brahms would have endorsed.

Nevertheless, it was played magnificently, even making me review the above feeling that I’ve always had about the trio.

So it was a superb concert in a superb environment, given in support of an admirable cause, which I am heartened to learn is being supported by the Minister and his Ministry. But I still await a major turn-around by the Ministry of Education to reinstate arts, including the teaching of classical music as compulsory subjects through to at least Year 11 in schools.


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