NZ Trio with accessible and illuminating music for Wellington Chamber Music

Wellington Chamber Music Trust

NZ Trio: Amalia Hall (violin), Ashley Brown (cello), Somi Kim (piano)

Beethoven: Piano Trio in C minor, Op 1 No 3
Christos Hatzis: ‘Old Photographs’ from Constantinople (2000)
Salina Fisher: Kintsugi (NZ Trio commission, 2020)
Dinuk Wijeratne: Love Triangle
Ravel: Piano Trio

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Sunday 27 September, 3 pm

Perhaps because of Auckland’s continued restrictions, and limits on audience size, Wellington, and no doubt other cities, seem to benefit from more concerts. This was the first of three concerts by the NZ Trio, the others at Lower Hutt and Waikanae, with the same programme.

It began with Beethoven’s third piano trio in C minor: sombre, restrained with the violin sounding cautious, but a crescendo slowly prevailed, subtly enough: the cello played with a light bow; the piano gave itself to sensitive rhythmic patterns in the second movement, Andante cantabile; in fact throughout the performance. The third movement might not have been a Scherzo, which was the kind of spirited third movement that Beethoven wrote increasingly; but it’s a brisk Menuetto quasi allegro, which had scherzo-like aspects in which the piano has a leading role; in fact the piano was rather prominent throughout the whole work.

It was a highly rewarding, early example of one of Beethoven’s compositions that showed marked individuality; that Haydn famously had misgivings about, as the programme notes remark. The performance exploited that originality and energy most successfully.

Three recent compositions occupied the central part of the programme.

Christos Hatzis is a Greek/Canadian composer : ‘Old Photographs’ is the seventh movement of Constantinople, an eight movement work, most of which involves a mezzo soprano part; ‘Old Photographs’ is one of only three purely instrumental movements. It is described as the most exuberant piece, “mixing solemn parlour music with the raunchiest of tangos”.

It opened slowly and meditatively, its style and era difficult to identify. It presented no alienating avant-garde characteristics, nor does it claim stylistic originality. Its only recognisable image was pronounced tango rhythms, Piazzolla style rather than the popular Argentinian character, with piano in the lead.

Salina Fisher 
Then a rather delightful piece by young New Zealand composer Salina Fisher who seems to have become one of the most accessible young composers as well as winning important composition awards in New Zealand and a major post-graduate award in New York. She is composer-in-residence at the New Zealand School of Music, Victoria University.

Salina describes the sense of the title Kintsugi: “musical fragmentation, fragility, mending and finding beauty in cracks…  the embracing of ‘brokenness’ and imperfection as a source of strength.” Its musical substance rests in flighty trills, meditative crescendos, fluttering violin and piano phrases, a lazy string of notes that are gently melodic. I wasn’t sure that I captured the specific evocation of brokenness and imperfection… finding beauty in cracks; but the experience was engaging and surprisingly comfortable in musical terms.

Dinuk Wijeratne’s Love Triangle began as if the instruments were hesitantly tuning up, which added to the curiosity that was inspired by conspicuous changes of clothes by the three musicians in the interval. The music slowly took shape, emerging as a comfortable example of non-European music: eastern Mediterranean, Arabic, Indian, it was not easy to identify; it became increasingly vigorous, with just occasional dissonance. Curiously, that offered some kind of recognisable musical source. It was longer than the two previous works, which I persuaded myself was justified by its lively sense of originality.

Ravel’s Piano Trio 
The last piece was a return to familiarity; one of the finest piano trios of the 20th century: Ravel’s.  Though I could catch little of Amalia Hall’s comments about it, little persuasion was needed to hold the attention; and the varied tempi and dynamics highlighted the first movement’s mood changes, from the disturbing to the excitable.   It’s easy to mention the Malay origin of the rhythm of the second movement, but more difficult actually to understand how Ravel deals with it: the key changes, and the energy and exuberance.

The third movement, Passacaille: Très large, invites attention to the ancient passacaglia rhythm which steadies the movement, with long passages for violin and cello, and the cello and piano in succession, alone. as bass passages are prominent.  The Finale, animé, acknowledges the traditional classical form of a four-movement work, but its unorthodox rhythms and musical invention offered distinction even though they didn’t arouse any sense of the avant-garde. The players fulfilled the unusual characteristics and the taxing demands of its interpretation admirably.

The worthwhile combination of two major trios, two centuries apart, together with three varied but perfectly accessible pieces of the past 20 years, all splendidly performed, created a highly enjoyable recital.


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