Te Koki Trio at Waikanae balances Schubert’s E flat trio with trios by Psathas and Fanny Mendelssohn

Waikanae Music Society

Fanny Mendelssohn: Piano trio in D minor, Op.11
John Psathas: Three Island Songs
Schubert: Piano trio no.2 in E flat, D.929

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

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 28 June 2015, 2.30pm

It was excellent to find a work of Fanny Mendelssohn’s on the programme – so often neglected in comparison with her famous brother, and someone who could well have gone on to greater things had she not died at only 42.  The Chamber Music New Zealand 2015 brochure informs me that the Te Koki Trio will play works by Clara Schumann and Gillian Whitehead this year also, playing in 9 regional centres, and Wellington.

The gentle, lyrical opening of the trio from the violin with the other instruments accompanying, was followed by the piano taking over the lead.  Then a wistful cello melody is interspersed with other figures, taking turns.  Rapid arpeggio and scale passages from the piano were tastefully and beautifully played by Jian Liu.  The first movement had a fiery ending.

The second movement was most expressive, with a rather sad theme.  A duet between the two strings followed, accompanied by piano.  There were rich phrases from the cello, and light and airy ones from the piano, then rising passion for both, before a quiet conclusion.  The short song of the third movement began on piano; ‘a charming Song Without Words’, said the programme note.

The finale started with an extended piano solo and after interesting themes, ended in spirited fashion.  The work proved Fanny Mendelssohn to be a worthy composer.

John Psathas is one of New Zealand’s most noted composers, currently.  The title of his work, though referring to the Greek islands of his ancestry, recalls A Song of Islands, a work of Douglas Lilburn’s, from 1946.

It started with the strings in unison, over a repeated rhythmic pattern on the piano, the dynamics ebbing and swelling.  The strings were played alternately with bow and pizzicato, then the music changed to quite a jazzy yet soulful mode.  The second song featured pizzicato cello, perhaps remembering the Greek bouzouki.  Quiet violin and piano accompanied, before all joined in a little later in a robust, angular passage that slowly faded on cello and piano, before a return to the pizzicato cello against slow violin and piano, as at the opening.

The third song had a loud, insistent rhythm at the start.  There was much repetition, and another very rhythmic pattern at the end. These were fine, lively pieces – with a character completely different from our opening work.

After the interval a very substantial chamber trio by Schubert.  This was a familiar work, but the Te Koki Trio gave it a freshness.  After the opening salvo, the lovely first theme rippled deliciously from the instruments; its development likewise.  The shimmering piano accompaniment was delightfully and thoughtfully played by Jian Liu, accompanying this and the following theme.

The second movement opened with a fabulous melody from the cello, against a slow walking accompaniment from the other two instruments.  Then it was the piano’s turn to take the tune with the strings accompanying.  Schubert’s treatment of his themes demonstrates his amazing genius in the field of chamber music.  Marvellous final cadences simply but poignantly echoed the opening notes of the main theme.

The scherzo and trio movement revealed that the playing was not flawless, but the few flaws did little to detract from the effect of the fine music.  The rumbustious trio was followed by the return of the scherzo theme.  The writing is taut yet very melodic, and puts the instruments in equal partnership.

There was yet more melody in the finale.  A joyful, even triumphant mood featured modulation, touches of humour and even pathos.  The return of the andante’s theme was accompanied by cascades on the piano and pizzicato from the violin, unexpected twists and turns, stops and restarts.  Schubert does take quite a long while to end many of his works!  Nevertheless, this was a masterful performance of a magnificent work.

As an encore, the trio played the lively second movement (Pantoum) from Ravel’s Piano Trio, composed in 1914.

As usual, there was a healthy-sized audience, although not as many people as I have seen there in the recent past.



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