Ghost Trio haunts sensibilities long after final notes in concert sounded

A remarkable lunchtime concert by the Ghost Trio at the Adam Concert Room….

Ghost Trio – Monique Lapins (violin), Ken Ichinose (‘cello), Gabriela Glapska (piano)

BEETHOVEN – Piano Trio In C Minor Op. 1 No.3
MARTIN LODGE – Summer Music (2001)
SHOSTAKOVICH – Piano Trio in C Minor No.1  Op.8

Adam Concert Room, Te Kōkī NZ School of Music, Victoria University of Wellington

Friday, 17th July 2020

I had heard the Ghost Trio perform the same Beethoven work more than a fortnight previously (a concert reviewed below by my colleague, Steven Sedley), though this time round it was coupled to a different programme. Instead of the remarkable Piano Trio Op.1 by Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik (which I would have liked to hear again), the musicians chose to branch out in a different direction,  with each of the accompanying works expressing what I thought was a certain affinity with Beethoven’s music. We heard Kiwi composer Martin Lodge’s engaging “Summer Music”, whose effect was a kind of miniature out-of-doors, “Pastoral Symphony-like” sound-adventure, interlacing both natural and human noises. This was followed with a Piano Trio written by the then sixteen year-old Dmitri Shostakovich, a work whose Beethovenian “charge” of emotion alarmed the young composer’s professors at the Petrograd Conservatory as profoundly as was Josef Haydn disturbed by the boldness of his most famous pupil’s Op.1 C Minor Piano Trio.

As with the St.Andrew’s performance, the players drew their listeners into the composer’s world of dark and serious purpose from the very opening phrases, the sequences generating a disturbing quality throughout the instrumental interactions which never relinquished its grip. Sitting closer to the players in the Adam Concert Room this time round I felt involved all the more in the constant flow and ebb of  intensities, the explosive nature of the music’s dramatic contrasts, and the disconcerting upward\downward semitone shifts of the opening theme in places. Though the gloom was occasionally leavened by a contrasting, if briefly-wrought lyrical theme, any sunnier prospect was quickly clouded over again in no uncertain terms, the first-movement repeat emphasising the thrall in which we were held – and the development was similarly charged with tensions, light and darkness unceasingly pushing and shoving one another to one side – it was quite a ride!

The theme-and variations second movement promised some relief from Beethovenian brow-beating, and the players responded at the opening with some nobly-wrought sounds – perhaps it was partly due to the music’s playfulness but I found myself listening as much to the playing’s solo lines as to the concerted effect of the music-making throughout, the dialogues and “trialogues” as involving as the ensembled sounds – I relished the playful pizzicati of the third variation, the soulful cello solo of the fourth, and the sparkling chromatic keyboard runs of the fifth (all beautifully executed and characterfully dovetailed), to mention but a few ear-catching features.

As much scherzo as minuet, the third movement fused a certain wistful quality with playfulness, the piano’s frequent decorative figurations making a marked contrast with the occasional emphasised accent – again, the musicians gave the music’s angularities full scope to proclaim the work’s character, while allowing a fantastic element (those strangely-echoed resonances which suggested in places hidden voices directing the ebb and flow of things) some treasurable moments of sleight-of-hand, even magic.  As for the prestissimo finale, the players found more character than mere “virtuoso roar” with which to give voice to the music’s agitations, their nimble articulations (the pianist especially fleet-fingered!) creating wonderment and delicious anticipation as well as excitement, with the composer reserving the biggest surprise for the hushed, somewhat “spooked” coda, the musicians voicing the mystery and unease of it all to perfection at the end.

I hadn’t heard Martin Lodge’s “Summer Music” for some time but thought its appeal as instantly-involving as ever, with “hit the ground running” energies at the outset leading the listener into a world of vividly-wrought happenings. Both music and performance came across as remarkably organic, with swirling piano figurations and swinging thematic lines eventually giving way to sequences of stillness, the world stopping to listen to itself and inviting us to eavesdrop. Out of these breath-catching pointillistic etchings returned those same songs, a yearning for the natural world amid “humanity’s mad inhuman noise”, perhaps? – all very “Scene by the Brook”-like in its rediscovered innocence –  and leading into and through various undercurrents of pulse  to a beautiful and wistful blending of action, nature and memory at the end. The performance here caught me up in its vivid response to the music’s “story” and its accompanying array of alternating bustle and beauty.

So to the Shostakovich Trio, an equally remarkable evocation of the sixteen year-old composer’s thrall to a young woman, Tatyana Glivenko, whom he had met on holiday in 1923 in the Crimea (he was actually convalescing from tuberculosis at the time) – the music grew partly out of material he’d written for other works he had since abandoned, a Piano Sonata and a Quintet. Though nothing serious developed from the encounter with Tatyana, Shostakovich kept in touch with her by correspondence for many years. Two years after completing the Trio, the youthful composer performed the work as part of his application to continue his musical studies at the Moscow Conservatory, and was actually accepted, though his continuing ill health in the end forced him to remain at the Conservatory in Petrograd.

This single-movement work owed much of its bold, almost cinematic character to the composer’s part-time job as a cinema pianist playing the accompaniment for silent films. Shostakovich’s sister Zoya remembered that her brother and two of his friends actually used the cinema accompaniment as a rehearsal for the Piano Trio on one occasion, remarking that “the people whistled and booed!” But Shostakovich’s music from an early age seemed to revel in these characteristics, a family friend, the novelist Konstantin Fedin recalling hearing the boy playing his own compositions to guests at the family home – “….unexpected works which forced one to listen as if one were in the theatre, where everything is so clear that one must either laugh or weep.” Despite, or perhaps because of this ready accessibility, the Trio wasn’t published during Shostakovich’s lifetime, and had to be reconstructed from various sources, the missing last twenty or so bars of the piano part in fact “recomposed” by his pupil Boris Tishchenko.

Again, this was a remarkably involving performance, the players at full stretch in the more virtuoso, densely-woven ensemble passages, but “owning” their full-blooded expressionist character as great-heartedly as they did the more lyrical and unashamedly romantic passages, the whole almost Mahlerian in its all-embracing fervour. To comment on this or that individually-wrought passage seems of less importance than marvelling at the concerted “sweep’ of the music’s realisation by the ensemble – long may the Ghost Trio’s efforts continue to thrillingly haunt their audience’s sensibilities thus!

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