Formed in Melbourne in 2005, Benaud Trio is one of Australia’s best-loved trios – a national treasure, a legendary icon and a popular favourite ensemble at Australian music festivals and with ABC radio audiences. Lachlan Bramble, violin, Ewen Bramble, cello, and Amir Farid, piano, are outstanding soloists, orchestral and chamber musicians, who have added new colours and tonal dimensions to a broad and popular trio repertoire, as well as regularly commissioning new music from internationally acclaimed and prominent Australian composers.
Benaud Trio received a very hearty welcome as they entered the Primrose Potter Salon, the affectionate greeting adding to the intimacy and warm ambience of this colourful performance venue.
Lachlan introduced the program by sharing his delight that composer Mark Isaacs was present to hear his work, Closer, commissioned by Benaud Trio and opening this program. Lachlan made the interesting point that once it was fashionable to swing classical music across into the jazz world, but today Isaacs had uniquely taken the opposite path and re-styled his original jazz quintet to a classical instrumentation. It is frequently said by many and varied listeners, that Isaacs’ music “touches the heart”.
It does. Unique in style, Isaacs’ classical lyricism is unusually framed in extended chromatic harmonic shifts and cross-rhythms. Very rich, slightly syncopated piano chords first led the way with glorious dense “jazz” harmonies, orchestrally luxurious, with cello first announcing a compelling falling two-note motif then building architectural strength, with violin echoes and sweet melodic responses. Dreams, colour, nostalgia and beauty added to the firmness of hope in this strong, gentle and intelligently designed music, highly appreciated by the audience.
Ewen Bramble’s gorgeous long, low, sustained cello tones began Luke Altmann’s Holy Fools before small two-note piano intervals, dropping like pearls, lulled us into a different dream world. Loosely described as minimalism (affectionately as “Chamber Chill”), the repeated two-note pattern kept simple time like a pendulum, rocking slowly through time, shifting in pitch, with hypnotic outlines of varied instrumental colours producing a lightly textured translucent movement, simple and calming. We had a glimpse of the influence of Arvo Part’s writing for piano and cello, or a nostalgic taste of Webern’s Five Pieces for Orchestra with abstract design, dispersed single tones, colour and heavenly spaciousness. As we excitedly see images from a new and distant outer space beamed back to earth from the recently launched James Webb telescope, so were we taken musically to a place light years away. Lachlan’s exquisite playing of extremely high-pitched notes on the violin were sustained with admirable accuracy, pitch and balance.
How special to celebrate these engaging and captivating two Australian works with their composers present, performed by this Trio with great sensitivity, balance and tonal language.
The title for this program – “Seasons” – was made clear with the arrival of Astor Piazzolla and Las Cuatro Estaciones Portenas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires). Seasonal tangos. This time the composer was not present, but his spirit certainly was. Shades of orange and red sensual backlighting infused the aura created by the lusty tangos of Summer. Strong romantic leadership came from Lachlan’s hugely expressive high melodies. Amir Farid’s vibrant orchestral accompaniment produced exuberance and pianistic flair in strong descending glissandos following the dancers’ movements. Autumn continued to be an up-tempo tango, featuring Ewen’s cello in most expressive double stopping with splendid celestial glissandos. The opening of Winter suggested brooding shadows and dimmed lights as the dance progressed and warmed up through seemingly disparate sections. Contrasting sections on solo piano, with extravagant chromatic cadenzas and fine violin solos featured. An intriguing wintry ending revealed timbres akin to Christmas bells, before a joyful arrival of Spring gave us lively impulsion, energy and magnificent string playing from the Bramble Brothers. Percussive piano chords and driving rhythms allowed all players to increase the passionate voice of the tango in these virtuosic R-rated orchestrations so well-loved by Piazzolla’s followers. This new arrangement (re-arranged without electric guitar and bandonion by Piazzolla’s cellist Jose Bragato) drew excited and boisterous applause for Benaud Trio’s very fresh and exciting repertoire.
Being “well-known for their outrageous pop-inspired encores”, (chiefly arranged by Nicholas Buc, Australian conductor and composer with much pizazz and achievement) Benaud Trio returned to centre stage for our expected surprise. We were briefly calmed with the beauty of the popular Adagio theme from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, but just briefly, as the music developed into an innovative and animated colourful close to this exceptionally enjoyable program.
Julie McErlain reviewed “Seasons”, performed by Benaud Trio at the Melbourne Recital Centre, Primrose Potter Salon on July 23, 2022.