NZTrio at the City Gallery with a programme slightly changed from Upper Hutt three weeks before

NZTrio (Sarah Watkin – piano, Justine Cormack – violin, Ashley Brown – cello)

Beethoven: Symphony No 2 in D (arranged for piano trio)
Kenneth Young: Piano Trio (a new commission)
Fauré: Piano Trio in D Minor, Op 120

City Gallery Wellington

Tuesday 10 November, 7 pm

I had reviewed the pieces by Beethoven and Kenneth Young at the Trio’s concert at the Arts and Entertainment Centre in Upper Hutt on 19 October. Here at the City Gallery, the Saint-Saëns was replaced by Fauré’s Piano Trio.

I was pleased at the chance to hear both the Beethoven and Young again. It confirmed my enjoyment of Ken Young’s commission by the Trio, his facility with the instrumental characteristics of the trio, both in ensemble and more particularly in his attractive and arresting writing for the individual instruments, alone or in duet.

I had written somewhat half-heartedly about Beethoven’s arrangement of his second symphony for piano trio. This second hearing changed my opinion quite significantly. Whether on account of the more immediate acoustic of the hard surfaces of the gallery (surrounded by the enhanced photography of Fiona Pardington) or of being closer to the players, or even the result of studied or incidental changes in the balance between the instruments, I can’t say.

Now I felt that the way Beethoven had distributed the orchestral parts among the trio members sounded much more idiomatic and natural than they had before. So I found myself rather more in sympathy with the comments by Ashley Brown, admiring of the success of Beethoven’s commercially-driven adaptation of his symphony.

The new item in the programme was Fauré’s Piano Trio. It is better known than the Saint-Saëns in the other programme, but not as popular as, say, the first piano quartet; it deserves to be. The historical context of music is generally relevant, at least for music of the 20th century and later. It occurred to me that here was Fauré, like Saint-Saëns, writing music that was apparently deaf to the effects of the First World War that ended four years before, to the activities of young French composers such as Les Six, to Ravel, Stravinsky, or the Second Viennese School. Yet it is a sophisticated work that reflects the genius of the period in which the composer flourished.

The opening, by piano and cello, is warm and lyrical, and I recalled his birthplace, Pamiers, south of Toulouse, towards the sunny foothills of the Pyrenées; and I didn’t really expect the build-up of energy, even passion later in the first movement. The players’ feeling for balance was specially marked in the second movement, an Andantino, which didn’t stop a particularly assertive statement from the violin towards its end, enough to make me pleased I was a few rows back from the action.

The last movement was the only place where I felt the possible impact of more contemporary musical influence, perhaps of Ravel, and through rhythms that hinted at Latin America I wondered whether Fauré had heard Milhaud’s Brazil-influenced music or even Villa-Lobos himself. The Trio captured the work’s spirit with impressive energy and a determination to prove that even at 77, Fauré still retained his creative vigour and a lively musical imagination, far from settling for an old age without originality or challenge.



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