City Recital Hall, Sydney: 21 May 2012.
Trio Dali plays in Melbourne on 26 May, Perth on 29 May, Adelaide 31 May, and Sydney 2 June.
Gordon Kerry – Im Winde (Piano Trio no. 2)
Ravel – Piano Trio in A minor
Schubert – Piano Trio no. 2 in E flat Major, opus 100
Vineta Sareika – violin
Christian-Pierre La Marca – cello
Amandine Savary – piano
In the broad diversity of chamber music genres, the piano trio is particularly full of character, though perhaps sometimes implicitly considered less pure than its cousin the string quartet. The trio is a strange, asymmetrical animal, even lopsided, though not the less graceful, very colorful for its simplicity, with an a priori transparency thanks to the extreme contrasts between the instruments. With all the instruments so plainly audible all the time, their relationships are so much more ambiguous than soloist and accompaniment, the musicians’ playing becomes very soloistic by necessity. There never seems to be a leader in a trio, they are individualistic, preferring a kind of mutually controlled anarchy. Each instrument sounds very much at home in its part; a compositional idea is either suited the grouping or it isn’t, and when it is, it is unmistakable. The breadth of range — in pitch, timbre, and others — of this little group can be astonishing, while the texture is far from smooth. Excellent musicians can meet one another halfway and make very tight, solid sounds, but naturally there is a certain jazzy friction from the natural gaps in the texture, the gulfs between the characteristic sounds of the three instruments; it is no wonder the trio is so popular for making Jazz. Where the colors of a string quartet can be rich, deep, muted or vivid, the trio is pastel.
Trio Dali is a very playful group, not put on as a matter of showmanship, but in their style of making their music, and their music is remarkably mature. This is refreshing when so many people seem to mistake rigidity and middle-agedness for maturity in life. Dali refers, playfully (or mischievously) enough not to Salvador the artist, but to the peculiar form of marble found near the city of Da Li in China, and the special art-form using this marble as its medium, known in English as dreamstones or stone-paintings. It seems the art-form was nearly wiped out when all the old works were destroyed in the Cultural Revolution, but recently a few have revived the art. Also refreshing, the musicians do not simply wear all black clothes — Christian-Pierre La Marca wore a white shirt without a tie with a charcoal suit, Vineta Sareika wore a black jacket with white trim and white pants with black shoes, Amandine Savary the negative — white jacket, black pants, white shoes. The group has an easy, natural manner, and are a very close ensemble, exchanging subtle looks and gestures, even the odd smile, while their playfulness gives an appealing fresh flavor to their music, always sitting up and vital, in the best old-fashioned kind of way. Their music is malleable, sounding as much made from the hands as the heart and mind, and their warmth comes across to the audience. They play with extraordinary delicacy and subtlety which make their interpretations unique and moving without heaviness or obviousness. They waste not a single note.
The Hungaria Piano Trio were touring with the Schubert E flat major Piano Trio No. 2 when I had a chance to hear them a few years ago, and as moving as that performance was, Trio Dali made it their own in a very memorable way. The piece as a whole, quite a long one too, had unusually sharp clarity of form and cohesion, partly from the musicians’ concentration, as if discovering it for the first time. They take their time between movements (though no one dared applaud) to collect themselves and move into the next movement as if just taking a long breath. In fact the whole piece was as unified as a single cycle of breath, exhale and inhale.
The character of each musician is perfectly complementary (not just by the tones of their outfits), their sensibilities are so compatible. Christian-Pierre La Marca plays very subtly, barely swaying as he plays and he is able to do so much within even a small range of tone. His playing, his phrasing in particular, is very restrained, seemingly level on the surface, but is really very ripe with ideas and feeling underneath, which seems to be fairly unusual for cello soloists these days. Amandine Savary is an extremely delicate pianist, perhaps the best I’ve heard since Jean-Efflam Bavouzet visited last year. She is not afraid to linger on simple passages and make much out of them, or rather allow them to speak. The control of her fast runs and turns is very fine and can be so smooth as to sound more oboe than piano. Her bite on the louder outcries — and the group allows Schubert his full dynamic range with some very large transitions even inside a measure — is most satisfying and honestly felt, she even stomped her foot on one of these bursts. The group built up to Schubert’s ecstasies in a very gradual way, seeming to intersect each other there, in joining together. Savary’s encounters with Schubert’s minor to major modulations are spot on and she seems to pick out the subtle differences in mood and feeling which Schubert gives each of a string of major chords, while tying them together with fitting phrasing. Something about her playing reminded me of Cortot. Vineta Sareika too has a subtle touch. Her distinct place in the ensemble, not anything as strict as leader, allows her to use a very gentle touch but with a singing phrasing, very much conversational. Altogether, these three personalities join in a fascinating dialogue, as natural and absorbing as any of Eric Rohmer’s. Though thematically quite subtle, the Schubert trio never sounds repetitive with them. They never glossed over any part or repetition, taking quite a slow tempo for the Andante con Moto but with distinct momentum. The Allegros they took relatively fast, though they gave the massive (for a trio) and deceptively familiar piece tender care and attention. Their tempi matched the acoustic of the concert hall perfectly, Savary especially letting critical chords ring for just the right length of time before the next note came down, and La Marca’s quite resonant cello (a 1700 Matteo Goffriller) sounded very happy with the acoustic at that tempo.
The Ravel trio has even simpler themes and more repetition, yet they played it with freshness and, like the Schubert, as if it were written yesterday. They do a great deal with finesse with their group’s range of tones, a mellow cello and low-mid range piano notes played gently giving a rich, blues tone, when Sareika played a more turned-in violin, of which there seemed to be an ever so faint echo in the Schubert trio. Their playing was lithe, plastic, which gave the several-sectioned piece flow and travel. The often more open sounds, in harmony and in timbre, gave the rather balletic piece a sense of space.
Im Winde, a trio written by Australian composer Gordon Kerry in 2000 for the Trio Jean Paul, takes its title from a phrase in the poem Hälfte des Lebens by Friedrich Hölderlin. The piece uses the piano trio characteristically for its rushing, wispy, stark, open, wintry tone painting. Sharp and harmonically dissonant, somewhat unpredictable, even atonal, it sounds similar to many 20th Century pieces. Perhaps a little bit pat, I’m not sure the music has much to say beyond the poem.