An engaging performance by a young Auckland piano trio

Auckland Piano Trio (James Jin, violin; Xing Wang, piano; James sang-oh Yoo, cello)
(Waikanae Music Society)

Mozart: Piano Trio no.6 in G, K.564
Kodály: Duo for violin and cello, Op.7
Arensky: Piano Trio no.1 in D minor, Op.32

Waikanae Memorial Hall

Sunday 3 September 2017, 2.30pm

This is a trio of young players.  The two string players are currently playing in the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.  The pianist in 2015 won the NZ School of Music concerto competition.  All three have studied overseas; James Jin won the same competition in 2014 that his female colleague won the following year.  The cellist has spent most of his career in Australia so far.

Their engaging manner of performing was initiated by the violinist introducing the first work with interesting remarks and, along with his colleagues, playing themes from the music.  He explained, and demonstrated, that the string players are merely accompanying the piano most of the time.  This being the case, I was surprised not to have more sound from the piano.  The lid was on the short stick, and the piano simply did not speak through the sound of the strings; it was too reticent.

The second movement, andante: thema mit variationen (as shown in the programme, but more usually con variazioni) featured a theme beautifully played on the piano with lovely sustained notes – without use of the sustaining pedal.  The great clarity of Mozart’s writing was thus revealed.  Phrasing, too was impeccable.

This was not the most scintillating of Mozart’s chamber music, but it received light and airy playing.  The allegretto final movement included delightful rippling effects.  Perhaps I sat too close to the platform; I found the strings not the most mellow I’ve heard; this may also have been the result of playing Mozart on modern instruments but using minimal vibrato to emulate a classical style.

Originally the programme was to have included Shostakovich’s Sonata for cello and piano Op. 40.  However, substituted for it was the Kodály Duo.  Again, the violinist gave a commentary.  While this is helpful communication, I couldn’t help feeling it was partly a filler for a rather short concert programme.

The first movement, allegro serioso non troppo, featured both pizzicato and spiccato techniques for the string players.  There were extravert, rapid Hungarian dances full of vitality, interspersed with soulful passages.   The movement quietly tailed off.

The second movement, adagio, carried  quiet melodies for each instrument.  There was great variation of dynamics, and some brilliant passages for violin, followed by some for cello; the cellist was required to play pizzicato with the left hand, while it was also making the notes, and the right hand bowing at the same time.  Harmonics were employed also, and high notes almost at the extremity of the fingerboard.

The third movement, maestoso e largamente, ma non troppo lento, opened strongly, with the violin playing an angular theme.  Then both strings played pizzicato, interspersed with declamatory chords.  Were these gongs of war we were hearing?  The work was written in 1914.  There was certainly quite a lot of discordant writing.  I found it ominous.  Featured was a pentatonic melody for violin.  After the slow introduction, a presto brought the work energetically to an end.  The work was a  vigorous contrast to the Mozart, but the aesthetic was not one with which I was comfortable.

Utterly contrasted was the final work.  Arensky’s Romantic trio was written only 20 years before the Kodály Duo, but seems worlds apart.  After another spoken introduction with played examples, we were straight into an opening theme on the violin which recurs, with some alteration, in later movements.  A conversation of flowing figures was between all three instruments.

I noticed that now the lid of the piano was on the long stick; it presumably was thought more appropriate for the late nineteenth century work – but after all, the piano was the principal instrument in the Mozart work, and deserved a little more prominence than it received.  Compared with the Mozart, the Arensky work was much more of an equal partnership between the performers.

There were a few moments here and there in the Arensky where intonation was not quite matching between the strings.

The key of D minor was appropriate, encapsulating the spirit of mourning; the trio was written in mourning for the passing a few years earlier of cello virtuoso and Conservatory director Karl Davidoff.

The scherzo movement was carefree, enchanting and scintillating, featuring much pizzicato.  The second section was more sombre, even lumbering, but quixotic  A return to the opening feather-light music came through a teasing, hesitant bridge passage.  The music ws always moving and driving forward, until the cheeky little ending.

The elegia: adagio slow movement, began with variations on the opening theme from the first movement on cello alone, then the violin joined in; both instruments were muted.  This was followed by meditative music, in which the piano took the melodic lead.  The violin had its turn before we were back to the solemn, romantic melody of the opening.

The finale, allegro non troppo, began in declamatory style, with plenty for each player to do.  Echoes of the main theme from the first movement returned as a second subject.  But here it was a much more robust statement.  Here again, the strings were not always absolutely together with either intonation or rhythm.

A return to the opening theme for firstly, violin and then cello was followed by a rapid conclusion.

This was an interesting programme performed by very competent young players.  The hall was not as well filled as usual; the price perhaps of unknown performers.



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