Streeton Trio return triumphantly to Waikanae

Waikanae Music Society

Haydn: Piano Trio in E, Hob. XV/28
Schubert: Piano Trio no.1 in B flat. D/898
Elena Kats-Chernin: Wild Swans Suite (2002, arr. 2013 for piano trio)
Mendelssohn: Piano Trio no.2 in C minor, Op.66

The Streeton Trio: Emma Jardine (violin), Julian Smiles (cello), Benjamin Kopp (piano)

Waikanae Memorial Hall

10 March 2013, 2.30pm

The Australian Streeton Trio made a hit in Waikanae last year, and they certainly maintained or even enhanced their reputation this time, albeit with a different cellist; their regular cellist, Martin Smith, injured his wrist in an accident, and so was replaced for this tour by Julian Smiles.

The Haydn trio was unfamiliar to me, and proved to be an enchanting work containing quite a lot of fun.  The opening allegro revealed great clarity from the players, as they alternated rather folksy pizzicato phrases (the pizzicato echoed on the piano also) with lyrical ones.  The trio was titled by Haydn “Sonata for the piano-forte, with accompaniment for the violin and violoncello”; this title the performers observed, not only when the piano had solo passages.  The rhythmic variety of this movement was just one of its many delights.

The solo nature of the piano writing was even more to the fore in the allegretto slow movement.  It characterised by baroque elements, and the playing style of the strings, using little vibrato, was appropriate.  It was certainly the most sober of the three movements.

A cheerful allegro finale rounded off the work with playing that was both delicate and lively; vintage Haydn, given a very polished performance.  The forte chords that concluded the movement would have been a wake-up call to any lulled to slumber by the gentle elegance that preceded them – and by the warm hall.

The Schubert trio is one that I am perhaps too familiar with.  I have a recording of the Odeon Trio performing it, and had a cassette tape for many years of the Beaux Arts Trio playing the same work, which accompanied me frequently in my car.  However, it is a very different experience to hear the work played live in concert, to see the players negotiating their instruments with apparent ease and expertise, and to hear the nuances of the music in space.

The sparkling first movement is wonderful for the cellist.  In this long movement there is much delicious interweaving of the parts.  The beautiful opening cello solo with piano accompaniment sets the pensive tone of the andante slow movement.  This wonderfully gentle movement was played with finesse and subtlety.  The many imaginative figures were given their due, and performed sympathetically and with beauty of tone.  Nevertheless, there were a few slightly untidy passages here and in the finale.

The scherzo (allegro) was taken at a fairly fast pace; its trio was quite lovely.

The rondo finale tripped along delightfully, with its dance-like idioms.  There was an impressive fluttering technique employed by the cellist as part of the many luscious elements in this movement.

The Streetons played with excellent balance, no one instruments dominating, and gave the audience a marvellous taste of Schubert at the height of his powers.

After the interval, we were treated to an Australian composition.  I had come across the name Elena Kats-Chernin before – last year, in the concert by the Vienna Boys’ Choir.  They sang Land of Sweeping Plainswritten especially for them by this Tashkent-born, Moscow and Sydney-trained composer.  The lavish printed programme for that concert contained three coloured photographs of the composer, two of them with members of the choir.

The piece we heard on Sunday was an arrangement by the composer of music she wrote in 2002 for a ballet based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story.  The first movement, ‘Green Leaf Prelude’ began with attractive watery sounds from the piano, followed by pizzicato cello, and on violin.  These passages led to long bowed notes on violin with a melody on cello, later joined by the violin, while the piano continued its watery accompaniment.

The second movement (‘Eliza’s Aria’) consisted of a jerky dance, the piano again sounding aquatic.  Pizzicato cello with bowed violin featured here, and then the roles were reversed.  The sustained melody was similar to the previous pizzicato tunes.

The third movement (‘Brothers’) was notable for dotted rhythms on all three instruments.  This is not a profound work, but evocative, jolly, and well crafted.

Mendelssohn’s genius is nowhere better demonstrated than in his chamber music.  The first thing I noticed was his brilliant piano writing – though at the beginning of the Piano Trio no.2, I found the piano a little over-pedalled for my taste.  The allegro was vigorous, but there were many subtle passages intervening.

The andante second movement had a profound opening on piano; this was lyrical beauty at its best.  As the excellent programme note stated “It is graceful, reminiscent of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words… evokes images of A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

A complete change of mood for the scherzo had the strings trotting along together, accompanied from glorious cascades from the piano.

The allegro appassionato finale lived up to its name; in places, it could almost have been written by Brahms.  The entire performance was very satisfying, and richly deserved the audience’s enthusiasm, which gave rise to a wonderful encore: the romantic andante second movement from Mendelsssohn’s first piano trio, in D minor.  It began with an extended piano solo – another song-without-words-like sequence of exquisite beauty, to close a memorable concert full of nuances that expressed so many emotions.

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