Interesting and admirable piano trios from NZSO players at St Mark’s Lower Hutt

Schubert: Piano Trio in B flat, Op.99, D.898, first movement, (allegro moderato)
Shostakovich: Piano Trio no.2 in E minor, 3rd and 4th movements (largo-allegretto)

Anne Loeser, violin, Sally Pollard, cello, Rachel Thomson, piano

St. Mark’s Church, Lower Hutt

Wednesday, 20 June, 12.15pm

A superb concert by professional musicians, with an interesting programme greeted the large number of people in St. Mark’s Church.  This was the group’s first performance together; let’s hope that there will be many more.  The string players both perform with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, while Rachel Thomson plays chamber music with other ensembles, accompanies singers, and provides orchestral piano when required by the NZSO.

One of the features was the perfect balance between the instruments; the church’s excellent acoustics enhanced the sound from the instruments, which all produced beautiful timbre.

The attractive Schubert movement was given a dynamic performance, with lovely singing tone on piano as well as on the other instruments, and exquisite shading.  The alternating benign and stormy moods in the development section of the movement were nuanced superbly.

There was fine contrast between the legato passages and those of separated notes.  There were occasional slight intonation lapses, but that is all they were.  This was Schubert at his most serene – but that serenity was frequently interrupted by other moods.

After the warm applause, Rachel Thomson spoke some words describing this movement, and also the two Shostakovich movements that followed.

Although the composer wrote 15 string quartets, he wrote only two piano trios; this one dates from 1944.  The largo is in the form of a passacaglia, and is the centre-piece of the entire work.  In places it is like an impassioned lament (written as it was after, and possibly also during the siege of Leningrad, where the composer lived and worked, although he was evacuated out of the city some time after the siege by Nazi forces began).

The third movement begins with slow, deep chords on the piano, then the violin joins in with a solemn, not to say sad, rejoinder.  The dark quality is even more enhanced when the cello enters. There is almost unbearable sadness at times, and sometimes an eerie quality.

The work goes straight into the last movement’s intriguing pizzicato dances, with a repetitive theme that I’ll try to render: daaah-de-dah-dah-dah-dah, first stated on the piano, in unison octaves.  The whole movement is strongly emotional, yet brittle and anxious, full of frenetic energy and agitation, above incessant beats on the piano, like a drum.  Melodies are sometimes the same between the players; sometimes the instruments seem to go their separate ways for a time.

There is ponticello on the strings, before they break into a strong reiteration of the theme, and of the secondary melody, incorporating harmonics on the strings.  The close brings back the solemn piano chords from the third movement, with harmonics again on the strings, as well as strumming.  Then the work simply ends, almost in mid-air.

These were fine, skilled musicians who made the most of the music and brought out the heart of the composers’ intentions.  Their performances were much appreciated by the audience.