Celebrating generosity

The Canberra Times
May 09, 2012
by Jennifer Gall

James O Fairfax Theatre, NGA, Monday, May 7

In a program designed to celebrate the generosity of musicians to each other across generations and national boundaries, Kathryn Selby selected music by Neils Gade, Frederic Chopin, Igor Stravinsky and Felix Mendelssohn to give voice to her talented ensemble. Opening and concluding works for piano trio nicely bookended pieces chosen to showcase solo performances on the violin and cello. Selby's new line up is the most satisfying to date for this listener. Sophie Rowell's sophisticated interpretation and her carefully balanced energetic response to the violin parts blended immaculately with Julian Smiles extraordinary gifts as a cellist. I marvel at the tone of his cello which is so very clean and yet remains generously warm. Selby retains her anchoring role at the heart of the ensemble, knowing just when to signal for more movement or draw the musicians closer into the essence of the music.

Choosing a composer a little out of the main stream for the opening work, the Trio Movement in B flat by Danish composer Niels Gade provided a good introduction, the instrumental lines conversing in lyrical interplay. The score commemorates the mentoring role Mendelssohn played in helping to establish Gade as a recognised composer of substance outside Denmark.

Selby's ravishing interpretation of the piano accompaniment for Chopin's Sonata for cello and piano in G minor, Op.65, CT 204 created cascades of sound supporting Smiles's sublime cello. This was the only piece in which I thought the piano could have been a little softer in the faster movements to allow space for the cello line to soar. The Largo created moments of tender equanimity, the instruments balanced perfectly.

Stravinsky's Suite Italienne arranged by Dushkin spoke eloquently of human culture in transition and the composer's attempts to recast familiar thematic material in a new form to frame a fresh vision of the world. Suite Italienne was the right vehicle to showcase Rowell's responsive technique in the opening saucy promenade, the dangerously spiky Tarantella, beautifully poised notes at the tip of the bow in the Gavotte, the flying Scherzino and the impeccable double stopping in the Minuet.

A great deal of affection illuminated the performance of Mendelssohn's Trio in D minor for piano, violin and cello, Op. 49. The piano tone was bright and effervescent to open, maintaining a pleasing lifting energy throughout. In the Andante con moto tranquillo Mendelssohn's legendary talent for lyrical writing was brought to life by luxurious phrasing and consolidated in the bubbling piano line and graceful bowing of the Scherzo. The Finale did not disappoint, weaving the three parts into a united, jubilant statement. Clara Schumann's music closed the concert in the slow movement of her Piano Trio, played as encore.

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