Trio rise to the challenge of great music

The Sydney Morning Herald
July 2, 2014
by Harriet Cunningham

City Recital Halll, Tuesday July 1

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50, In Memory of a Great Artist, is a massive work, nearly an hour in length. The Great Artist of the title is pianist Nikolai Rubinstein, brother of the more famous Anton Rubinstein, and a close friend of Tchaikovsky. When he died in 1881 the composer was devastated. This formidable set of variations, however, while coloured by grief, celebrates a grand appetite for life.

To perform this demanding work Kathryn Selby assembled a crack team: long-time collaborator Julian Smiles on cello and newcomer – at least, to Selby’s circle of friends – Daniel Dodds on violin.
The combined experience of these three fine musicians contributed to a performance that was not always perfect, but consistently enthralling. The opening to the pezzo elegiaco was a sad but satisfying dialogue between cello and violin, beautifully matched in tone and phrasing, and sympathetically accompanied by piano. The theme and variations, meanwhile, cast the piano as concertante soloist. The third variation was a breathtaking demonstration of Selby’s virtuosity, an effervescent cascade of notes while, in the ghostly ninth variation, the impressionistic piano figures in the background were no less exacting. If there were a few missed notes in the headlong finale, they died for a good cause.

Beethoven’s ‘'Kakadu Variations'’ (about a character called ‘'Cockatoo'', nothing to do with Australia) is a less obviously challenging work, but no less testing in terms of subtlety and nuance. From the outset the trio demonstrated a delicate feel for dramatic timing, laying out the portentous drama of the introduction before relaxing into the folksy heritage of a popular song. Variation two showcased the violin’s beautifully liquid tone, while variation three gave the cello a chance to sing.

Completing the program was Faure’s Piano Trio in D minor. The trio performed this eloquent and spare work with the lightest of touches, matching the ‘'less is more'’ approach of a composer reaching the end of his life.

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