A shared passion for literature is the thematic focus of Sutherland Trio’s 2014 Local Heroes concert series, Heather Leviston reports in her review of Symphony in Yellow, presented at Melbourne Recital Centre on April 23.
Life does not always run to plan, however, with practical reading matter taking precedence over literary masterpieces; illness has caused a postponement of Bent Sørensen’s Masque of Red Death until August. Despite this shift in emphasis towards more standard repertoire, Sutherland Trio’s opening program for 2014 made for stimulating and highly enjoyable listening.
Works by Ravel bookended the program with “Ondine” from Gaspard de la Nuit providing a link to fairy tale as well as to the Salon’s undulating waves of Percy Grainger related words and symbols sculpted into the walls. According to Caroline Almonte, who introduced the works in her customary enthusiastic and welcoming manner, Grainger was inspired by Albert Park Lake. Almonte’s assured fluency not only captured the sparkling brilliance of the piece, with its playful cascades and rippling laughter, but ensured that the audience followed the story line as well. Her eloquence was rewarded with sustained applause.
Although Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor furnished a couple of literary connections in terms of inspiration from Malaysian poetry and its central role in Sauret’s film Un Coeur en Hiver (The Heart in Winter), it was Swedish composer Britta Byström’s Symphony in Yellow that was most closely related to literature. Inspired in part by Oscar Wilde’s 1889 poem of the same name, her ten-minute trio in three movements uses impressionist elements to evoke some of the character of the three stanzas comprising Wilde’s poem with its yellow bus, barges of hay and Autumn leaves on the Thames. Bathed in yellow light, beautifully controlled playing revealed a work full of rhythmic interest and dynamic contrast. The piano sometimes sparkled against repeated glissandos, punctuated silences with insistently repeated notes or gradually faded away after moments of lyricism from the strings. This work from 2003 has a coherence that is immediately discernible in the hands of such committed and imaginative players but, as with most new music, needs further exposure to be fully appreciated.
The element of story took the form of a contrapuntal conversation between two voices for two of J. S. Bach’s Two Part Inventions, arranged for violin and cello. An elegant reading of the Invention in E Minor was followed by a dancing Invention in G Major. Making sparing use of vibrato, Elizabeth Sellars’ violin and Molly Kadarauch’s cello were very well matched, producing a dialogue of satisfying equality and balance.
A careful matching of tonal quality was also very much in evidence in the most substantial work for the evening: Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor. A popular cornerstone of piano trio repertoire, it can be magical when players are in complete accord, as they were here. At times, it was necessary to rely on sight rather than just sound to determine when one stringed instrument ended and the other began – an indication of the high degree of sympathy between these skilled musicians. Although Sellars played with the polished lightness and refinement of tone that the piece requires, there is also a generous texture in her sound that is tremendously appealing and blended beautifully with Kadarauch’s cello.
With a first movement that was marked by swinging forward momentum, all three players created the uplifting atmosphere that makes the work so special. After a vigorous dance flavoured movement, Almonte’s slow piano introduction was joined by an equally soulful melody from the cello and then the violin. Beautifully shaped and deeply expressive, this was playing of considerable expertise and sensitivity. Ever the supremely attentive chamber musician, Almonte also excelled herself in realising the joyful shimmering of the final movement. With its abundance of pizzicato passages and trills from the strings and final triumphant piano chords it made for a thrilling conclusion to the program.
Picture: Greg Barrett