Young Korean piano trio at Waikanae with generally colourful, joyous music

Waikanae Music Society

Beethoven: Piano Trio in C minor, Op.1, no.3
Gareth Farr: Piano Trio: Ahi
Dvořák: Piano Trio no.4 in E minor, Op.90 “Dumky”

Trinity Trio (Stella Kim, violin; Tina Kim, piano; Sally Kim, cello)

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 21 August 2016, 2.30pm

It was disappointing to see a much smaller audience than has been present at the other concerts of the Waikanae Music Society that I have attended this year.  Was it the beautiful calm and sunny weather that kept people away?  This was the tenth of ten concerts the Trinity Trio has given around the country for Chamber Music New Zealand.

In addition to excellent programme notes, brief spoken introductions to the works by the trio’s violinist gave useful information.  Two of the players are sisters, the third no relation, but all are ethnically Koreans.  What is it about Korea that it produces so many fine musicians in the Western genre?  Is it the very high proportion of Christians in the population that makes them somewhat Westward-looking?  Plus the high level of participation in university education?

The opening of the Beethoven trio disappointed me a little.  There was not the depth of sound from the strings that I expected.  These are young musicians, not seasoned performers however, although their brief biographies attest to not a little experience and competition successes.  I found the piano often too loud for the strings in this work, though I was sitting near the front of the audience.  The fiery first movement (allegro con brio) has plenty for the piano to do, but I would have liked to have had a more assertive contribution from the strings.

Warmth of tone and subtlety of violin playing were more apparent in the second movement, marked andante cantabile con variazioni.  The theme and its variations were most attractive.  The strings were to the fore at first, accompanied by the piano, then the roles were reversed for the second variation.  A variation in a minor key had the strings taking the major part.  Great use was made of the lower strings.  The last variation finished with a nostalgic, coda higher in the register.

The menuetto (quasi allegro) was brisk for what was originally a courtly dance.  With its trio, the minuet was short but jubilant.  The final movement (prestissimo) produced some very abrasive notes from the cellist, who appeared to have her bow wound more tightly than is usual.  In addition, she was not always totally in tune; the tempo was certainly pretty demanding.  The movement had a surprising quiet close.  This was said to be Beethoven’s favourite of his trios.

What Gareth Farr has in common (among other things) with the great composers is that he can write in a variety of styles and genres.  The trio played in this concert followed classical trio structure.  The tuneful opening melody for piano alone was then taken up by the strings.  The first movement French lullaby (as described by Stella Kim) was playful as well as soothing, with shifting tonality.  Lovely interlocking of violin and cello, then passionate declarations, before a quiet ending.

The second movement, a scherzo, was militaristic, bombastic and fiery; the violinist described it as being set in a Russian military factory.  It demanded rapid shifts and loud proclamations from all instruments.  Part of the movement sounded like a fast train speeding across the steppes; this factory must have produced arms at high speed!

The brief Interlude third movement was a gentle relief from the scherzo, while the Finale portrayed elements of gamelan music.  The repeated phrases of Balinese music were certainly there on all three instruments.  It was played with panache and fervour.  There were some brilliant passages amongst the stormy alternating phrases with their quieter repetitions, and a flourishing ending.

The ‘Dumky’ trio is probably the most popular of the composer’s writings in this genre; it is a pity we don’t more often hear his other trios.  However, its undoubted appeal makes it good programme fodder.  Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians says of this trio “[It] consists of a series of six dumky [Slavic folk songs] … the majority being in binary form.  Most start with a slow meditative section and continue at much faster pace.  It was bold of Dvořák to adopt this unique, daringly simple plan, and he executed it with keen imagination… giving each dumka a distinct individuality and colouring.”

Its dramatic opening builds anticipation for what is to come.  The dance-like qualities soon manifest themselves (despite the movement being denoted lento maestoso) followed by delicacy on the piano.  The poco adagio second movement starts with a solemn cello melody, beautifully and sonorously played.  I find Dvořák a most lovable composer, with his characteristics of cheerfulness and sublime melody.  The piano, then the violin reiterated the melody, in most touching manner.

Mutes were produced for the andante.  Again the cello was to the fore, with a delicious melody.  There was a delightful strummed passage for cello, imitated on the piano, before a pensive ending.  The fourth movement (andante moderato) again had a cello solo, with staccato accompaniment on the other two instruments.  Sprightly passages were interspersed.  A slow dance intervened before the return of the theme.

The allegro fifth movement features a joyful opening that always makes me smile.  This quick movement provides a welcome change – not that there is no fast music elsewhere; there certainly is, despite the tempo markings.

Lento maestoso is the marking for the final movement, as it was for the opening one.  Exclamations are a feature, as are alternating fast and slower passages (‘from doleful to exuberant’ as the programme note had it) characteristic of dumky.  The folk music element is prominent here.

The Trio played an encore: Café Music by Paul Schoenfield.  It was bright, jazzy dance music – but personally, I’d rather have been left with Dvořák.


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