Eggner Piano Trio
City Recital Hall, Angel Place: 18 April 2011
organized by Musica Viva
Piano Trio in C, Hob.XV:27
Tales of Old Russia
Vassilisa and the Baba Yaga
The Snow Maiden
Death and the Soldier
Piano Trio No. 2 in e minor, opus 92
The Eggner Trio:
Christoph Eggner – piano
Georg Eggner – violin
Florian Eggner – cello
For their Australian tour, the brothers Eggner’s trio has chosen a quite diverse group of pieces. Their manner of playing unites them so that it doesn’t seem so important that one piece is Australian, another Austrian and another French, but that each is trying to express something in its own unique way. Likewise the Eggner Trio “contains multitudes,” each brother having quite a different style, manner and approach to the music. I believe the fact that they’re brothers contributes to their success as a chamber group — as a piano trio in particular, in whose peculiarities they seem to rejoice — in the way such different personalities, united only by underlying genetics, can coexist and cooperate in unpredictable ways.
Their playing of the Haydn trio was very beautiful — Christoph Eggner’s fluid and unlabored piano playing reached a high gentle and elegant lyricism but also deep but well restrained passion. The group as a whole sounded bright and sprightly, with a sense of adventure, drawing the listener in in a welcoming and way. Cellist Florian Eggner attacked the low notes very strongly occasionally when coming in, using this gesture sparingly enough when launching into the more energetic passages in the music, energy into which the other brothers would then flow. Violinist Georg Eggner had good control and taste shifting from high to low style (what one would call register in a work of letters), bringing out the folk elements in the music and elegant high classical parts in their turns, but never as shallow swings in style or as caricature, his playing was always serious, expressive and sensible.
Ian Munro’s Tales of Old Russia, composed in 2008, was commissioned by friends of the composer. Also being a concert pianist, he says the influence of Russian piano music led him to write his trio as a program piece on these old Russian tales. It’s nice to know that the good old-fashioned intercultural cross-fertilization between music and mythology continues in the 21st Century — like Rimsky-Korsakov’s interest in Arabian stories, or even Wagner in Germanic and Norse myths which overlap with Anglo-Saxon ones and ultimately belonged to all northern Europe, — though perhaps this influence from myth is inevitable since great music seems always to transcend national styles by virtue of the curiosity and appetite of the composer, for example the way Mozart on his travels eagerly lapped up Italian and French music and regional forms, absorbing without imitating them. Mr Munro’s music is not in a Russian style per se, it is unclichéd but rather is an honest internal expression of the characters and his feeling through them. He uses Russian folk rhythms, harmonies even percussion instruments as means for this expression. Moreover it is very beautiful music.
Ian Munro is a very concise composer and capable of a varied tone. In contrast with the irreverent humor of Death and the Soldier (the story is comic), The Snow Maiden was very moving. The simple, hollow sound of the violin and piano in the opening was not just pining or longing, but despondent and resigned too. It was not depressing, but seemed to end philosophically, the composer giving the story pathos which I was never able to sense from the story itself. In Death and the Soldier the folk music comes across more obviously when the piece at one point gradually descends into pure percussion: Georg and Florian on traditional hand-held wooden mallet instruments, Christoph tapping the piano’s side and keyboard cover. Near the end of the piece ends there is a waltz which the composer originally wrote for his daughter and her rabbit which is so warm and innocent, varied and original-sounding and shows the generosity and personal nature of his music. The piece was well suited to the Eggners’ passionate and heterogeneous playing. Violinist Georg in this piece was particularly delightful, as in the Haydn trio, in evoking the spirit of the folk music with the expressive rhythmic support of pianist Christoph. Cellist Florian’s very warm tone could be either comforting, as in The Snow Maiden when the childless couple with unlooked-for joy bring their new found snow-daughter into their home before she dances by the fire, or expansive or expressive of the harmony’s apprehensions. Thus he contributed much to the vividness and intense color of the music.
They played the Saint-Saëns trio too in an unrushed, exploratory fashion. The handing back and forth of motifs and the fugue the brothers played with depth and a sense mystery. Pianist Christoph was a particular pleasure to hear with his very good control over the fast sections and he built up his crescendos sensitively, never banging them out, but seemed to appreciate and complement the understated parts of the music.
As an encore, the Eggners played a piece written for them by a composer friend, Sascha Peres. It would seem to owe something to boogy-woogy music of the Southern US, though I can’t really say much without hearing more, but the brothers seemed to have great fun playing it, as they did those folk styles in the other pieces. It was a fascinating taste of 21st Century Austrian music.