Laura Barton, violin; Daniel Smith, cello; Liam Wooding, piano
John Psathas: Island Songs
Brahms: Piano Trio No 2 in C, Op 87
St. Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday, 21 February 2018, 12.15 pm
An ambitious chamber music programme by an enterprising and highly skilled trio was attended by a larger-than-usual audience, confounding the fears of organiser Marjan van Waardenberg, who thought the weather would put people off. But no; by 12.15 it was just a normal Wellington windy day, with sunshine.
There were no programme notes, but two members of the trio briefly introduced the items, in turn. However, it would have been an advantage to have been told the tempo markings for the movements. And the opus number was incorrect; the Brahms’s trio, No 2, is Op.87, not 78 as shown in the printed programme.
These omissions aside, the performance was outstanding, with confident, fluent, relaxed players who were thoroughly in command, and at the end were given an enthusiastic and prolonged response by the audience.
The Psathas work’s opening was slow and somewhat menacing in character, with short, detached notes from the strings, and continuous ripples on the piano, gradually rising to a crescendo, then dying back again. There were pizzicato passages for the strings. An increase in excitement followed, that fell away at the end.
The second movement started tentatively, with the cello playing entirely pizzicato. Difficult cross-rhythms abounded, but were dealt with calmly by these accomplished musicians.
The final movement was forthright and insistent, but with considerable variation in dynamics, which made it interesting. The work was written in 1999, originally for strings and clarinet. The composer later arranged it for piano and strings, for the Ogen Trio.
Brahms’s Trio in C major is almost symphonic at times; a grand, confident work. Its melodious opening (allegro moderato) was given beautiful, lyrical playing. There was lovely control of tone and dynamics. The music built to an affirmative, full-bodied close.
The andante con moto slow movement had a wistful yet gutsy character. After various perambulations, the theme returned, this time sotto voce. It was followed by an explosion into the theme, fortissimo. A new, contemplative, quiet theme followed, shared by the instruments. Finally there is a return to the opening theme. All was played with sensitivity and panache as appropriate.
The third movement (scherzo: presto) had scampering figures on all instruments, and the most sumptuous lyricism. The finale (allegro giocoso) was robust, syncopated, joyous, lilting. These characteristics alternated with bold statements. We heard gorgeous cello tone. To end, there was a return to the opening theme of the trio.
The pianist used an i-pad (or similar) for the Brahms score, but relied on the page-turner to press the button rather than using a foot pedal.
A most creditable and accomplished performance was given by these players; two New Zealanders and an Australian, fellow-students at the Australian Academy of Music.