Returning to Melbourne every few years, the Eggner Trio are welcome visitors to antipodean concert stages and remain one of those memorable ensembles that audiences renew their vows to time and again. Last Tuesday night at Melbourne Recital Centre was no exception. Musica Viva Australia often sources their international touring ensembles from past winners of the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, smartly tapping into Melbourne’s eager chamber music audience. The Eggners deservedly won the Piano Trio section in 2003, along with the Musica Viva Special Prize which afforded them their first MVA tour and launched their career.
Known in the very early days by the slightly clunky name, Trio Rachmaninov Vienna, the Eggners had publicly embraced their brotherly status by the time they competed in Melbourne. Separated in age by 7 years, pianist Christoph Eggner is the elder of the three and this time in the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall he provided a dependable and authoritative presence with impressive ensemble skills no doubt borne from a life-long association with younger brothers Georg and Florian.
Opening with Clara Schumann’s solitary chamber work, the Piano Trio in G minor of 1846 is hardly an evergreen, but enjoyed a fairly engaging reading by the Eggners. The simple folk elements were done especially well, paired with an authentic understanding of the prevailing nineteenth-century Austro-German tradition and its commensurate structural forms. The first movement presents as a circular argument, with the strings chasing-their-tails and not much of melodic substance from the keyboard writing. Some reticent playing from the violinist Georg was offset by a sparkling cello line from youngest Eggner. A natural soloist, this cellist generated many memorable moments over the course of the evening with abundant warmth infusing his playing. This listener’s interest waned during the second and third movements, the Menuetto in particular missing a few too many opportunities for charming dialogue, but returned in the final movement where the ensemble found a filial knack of staying together.
Uncanny moments continued during Dulcie Holland’s 1944 Piano Trio. A serious and angular theme in the opening movement became meditative in the hands of pianist Christoph Eggner, then passed with aplomb around the ensemble. The pianist finally enjoyed the spotlight, and his performance shone with good humour during the sunny simplicity of the second movement Scherzo. Here the strings were beautifully matched, an unerring telepathy meaning they could dispense with the typical visual show of so many modern ensembles. (This group keeps the listener on the lookout for risk, because despite the comfort with each other, performance adrenaline is still high and one gleans that they still harbour a youthful disregard for convention).
After interval we heard Brahms Op.8 B major trio, a magnificently complete work which owes much of its development to Brahms relationship with Robert and Clara Schumann. Reworked over the course of 35-odd years, the Eggner’s interpretation benefitted from brisk tempi and refreshing voicing, where so often groups can wallow in the appeal of its “bigness” and lose the thread. It was a real joy to hear these Europeans performing European music, and in this case, I wondered if all of those summers Brahms spent wandering in the Austrian countryside laid a rich backdrop for the Eggner’s deep and layered grasp of this music.
There were many highlights in their performance, and for this listener the pianist Christoph Eggner proved himself a master of volume restraint, allowing the strings dynamic freedom. His melodic playing alone was masterful and ripe with colour and authority. The central Adagio was more meaty than most renditions, sounding less like a wordless hymn and tending to be more robust espressivo character. Many moments came across as undisciplined in a good way, in particular a moment of honky-tonk in the Finale as the pianist really brought a refreshing gear change in syncopated passages.
This review is of the Eggner Trio’s Melbourne performance for Musica Viva on November 10, 2015. The Trio will repeat the Dulcie Holland Trio alongside Robert Schumann’s Piano Trio in G minor Op.100 and Dvorak’s Dumky Trio on Saturday November 21.
The picture is by Keith Saunders.