Young musicians of Poneke Trio deliver singularly revelatory concert

Lunchtime Concert at St Paul’s Cathedral

Trio Pōneke
Claudia Tarrant-Matthews (violin); Sofia Tarrant-Matthews (piano); Bethany Angus (cello)

Haydn: Piano Trio No 26 in C minor, Hob.XV:13
Shostakovich: Trio no.2 in E minor, Op 67

Wellington Cathedral of St Paul

Friday 28 August, 12:45 pm

This was a promising recital by three young women who have lived around Worser Bay in Wellington: two are sisters, the cellist a long-time friend. Both Tarrant-Matthews are violinists who have played in Orchestra Wellington and the NZSO, but are also proficient pianists; both graduated in music from Victoria University. Claudia who is violinist in the trio, has been studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London while pianist Sofia plans to study in Germany.

The Haydn trio* is a two-movement work which I didn’t know; from the first charming phrases I was disconcerted to realise that I had not heard it before. However, I wondered how well the players would cope with the famously challenging acoustics of the cathedral. But I was immediately surprised and reassured, and wondered just how much of their handling of the sound was careful calculation of the acoustic or was simply their instinctive response to what they could hear; it was hard to know.

The main melody in the Andante, first movement, is a delight. It asks to be played calmly, rejoicing in its beauty which was revealed in playing of considerable subtlety, with a calm, piano sound volume. In achieving that, all three responded, in the Andante, with what I could only describe as extraordinary delicacy and sensitivity. The sound that seemed to emerge secretively as if from distant parts of the nave, was magical, with balanced dynamics from each instrument. Though violin and piano tended to be the most audible, the cello could be heard in the role of a sort of basso continuo, or in careful harmony with the violin.

The second movement, Allegro spiritoso, might have invited more forthright playing but the players again resisted any attempt to exaggerate the ’spiritoso’ marking. Instead, there was a fairy-like lightness here, through most of the movement, though the score certainly offered chances to sound mezzo forte; but they were resisted.

Guessing that this trio is typical of Haydn’s trios generally, I am inspired to explore more of them, which seem (to me anyway) to be seriously neglected, overshadowed by and in comparison with the string quartets.

The Shostakovich piano trio is well known, a singularly memorable work that I got to know well many years ago, not least as it was played by the sadly short-lived Turnovsky Trio which flourished in the 1990s.

Here again, the cello’s opening by playing scarcely audible harmonics, certainly demonstrated Bethany Angus’s talents, even if they’d not been so conspicuous in the Haydn. The violin soon joins and both complied fully with what their mutes were designed to do. The hard part is for the piano to match its partners in a comparably secretive spirit: Sophia Tarrant-Matthews did. The dynamism of the central part of the first movement slowly emerged, and revealed for the first time, the impressive technical abilities of the three players.

While the ‘con brio’ second movement invites a display of energy, their restraint paid dividends, and its frenzy seemed to be moderated by a slightly sinister character. The third movement, Largo, can be heard as some kind of return to the mystery of the first movement. Claudia Tarrant-Matthews ’s violin seemed to emerge from a darkened cavern, while Bethany Angus’ cello complemented that disturbing atmosphere. The sombre, uneasy atmosphere seemed to find its perfect partner in the acoustic, though I doubt that reading a sinister message in a cathedral would meet with widespread approval.

The Largo merges seamlessly into the last movement, whose marking ‘Allegretto’ cannot be read as suggesting anything light-spirited, with its incessant pulse, driven by emphatically strong down-bows from the stringed instruments as well as the striking piano part that underpinned the rhythm; at moments the piano’s tone suggested the sounds of the small bells of a carillon.

In the end it seemed to me that, far from being any kind of handicap, the cathedral acoustic had proved a perfect vehicle and environment for this extraordinary music.

This was a singularly successful recital; I hope that Trio Poneke can find time, or that concert promoters will find ways for them, to perform again in Wellington before the two Tarrant-Matthews head again for Europe.


* Appendix

As an aside, from one who has an unhealthy fascination with lists, schedules and catalogues, the identification of Haydn’s works offers particular interest.

That the programme note takes care to employ the accepted scholarly classification, referring to both the authoritative Haydn catalogues (Anthony van Hoboken and H C Robbins Landon), is evidence of the players’ proper attention to such matters.

Hoboken’s catalogue was the earlier, dividing the works into genre groups, employing Roman numerals: thus symphonies are I, string quartets III, piano sonatas XVI and piano trios, XV. Hoboken lists 41 piano trios, paying less attention than Robbins Landon to dates of actual composition. His numbering for this trio is misleadingly early, at XV:13.

Robbins Landon’s massive catalogue was published later, between 1976 and 1980. It lists the works in strictly chronological order of composition rather than publication date, and in this case his number for the C minor trio is 26 of the list of 45 trios. Many of Robbins Landon’s ‘early’ trios have late Hoboken numbers because they were actually composed long before they were published.  

So this piano trio is one of Haydn’s later works, 1789 (not conspicuously influenced by the French Revolution), the year before Haydn went to London and composed the 12 great Salomon symphonies. One notes that Haydn composed twenty more piano trios after this one, most after the age of 60; there are plenty of riches to explore!   



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