Chamber classics from the Te Kōkī Trio

Wellington Chamber Music Trust

Beethoven: Piano Trio in B flat, Op.97 ‘Archduke’ (allegro moderato; scherzo: allegro; andante cantabile ma pero con moto; allegro moderato – presto)

Tchaikovsky: Trio in A minor, Op.50 (pezzo elegiaco; tema con variazione; variazione finale e coda)

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

Ilott Theatre

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Music hath charms, but this was a bit more powerful than mere charm.  The last Wellington Chamber Music concert to be held in the Ilott Theatre for at least two-and-a-half years while the Wellington Town Hall undergoes earthquake strengthening ended – with an earthquake, just as patrons were leaving the building.  There was a sizeable audience to hear this programme.  I’m sure that they felt a little sad to have to leave this lovely auditorium with its comfortable, raked seating and good acoustics.

It was a strenuous programme.  In my view the Archduke is the most wonderful music in the entire piano trio repertoire.  Beethoven’s endless invention, changes of mood and of key, leave one breathless.  Mozart, with all his genius, could not have dreamt of music like this in his wildest dreams.

I always enjoy hearing Jian Liu play; he is a consummate pianist, and knows the difference between mp, mf, and f – as indeed do his esteemed colleagues; there were great dynamic contrasts.  I loved his phrasing, too, in the solo piano opening.  The nostalgic feelings in the first movement were well conveyed.

The second movement started with a duet between the strings.  It was a very spirited scherzo, and featured gorgeous sonority from the cello.  The strange solo cello notes, followed by those on the violin, that come in several times in the latter part of the movement were not made sufficiently mysterious for me.

Jian Liu’s opening of the slow movement was perfect.  His subtlety in the variation that followed the opening was exquisite.  The next variation, for strings, is more of a light-hearted affair, and does not call for the same degree of emotional delicacy; thus appropriate vigour was the prescription.  However, this led to a soulful variation, beautifully played, with much tenderness of tone from all three instruments.

A melancholy, simple variation had all three instruments in a perfect pianissimo, the cello tone particularly being heart-rendingly direct and gentle.  Just as everything seems to die away, we are into a glorious last variation, then the rambunctious finale with its explosive good humour ends the work in triumph.   A few slips and a little patch where the players were not quite together, could not mar a fine performance.

The Tchaikovsky work had me wondering if chronological order was the best for this concert, and whether it would have been better to end with the stronger work.  However, by the end I was persuaded that Tchaikovsky’s Trio made a worthy finish.

The elegiac first movement of the next work was emotion-laden, as Tchaikovsky mourned the untimely death of his friend and mentor Nikolay Rubinstein.  Following the elegy, the music was full-on.  After the energy calmed down, a slow lyricism and a return to the opening themes had both strings playing very eloquently, with splendid tone.

After this, I noticed that a hum had started up in the theatre, whether from the air-conditioning system, I do not know.  While it was not very loud, it was more than just audible, and thus was annoying.

The piano statement at the beginning of the second movement reminded one of the similar pattern to the slow movement of the Beethoven work.  There was plenty in the variations to delight, for example, a piano solo with pizzicato accompaniment.  This was followed by a fugal section that soon went off the rails – very seductively.  Both Martin Riseley and Inbal Meggido exhibited strong playing.

A charming frisky variation opened by cello and piano was dance-like.  It could be a symphonic movement, or even a movement in a ballet.  The next variation was very emphatic, especially from the piano, before becoming more technically difficult, with fugal passages that this time were more strict, and very vigorous.

The third movement opened quietly, with a contemplative theme.  Each player had interesting individual parts to contribute.  A jolly passage from the piano was again dance-like.  A modicum of rubato from Jian Liu added to the interest and the musicality of the performance; the strings joined in the jollity.

A lovely violin restatement of the theme from the first movement preceded a piano variation that ended the finale proper.  The coda then took off, the theme being familiar to those who listen to St. Paul Sunday on Radio New Zealand Concert.  This extended coda was full of bravura passages for all instruments.

It was a difficult programme, with not much let-up for any of the players, and was greatly appreciated by the audience – there was even a well-deserved bravo or two.

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