Elegance and eloquence, but the Streeton Trio sometimes dish up a curate’s egg.

Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre

April 19, 2014

The Streetons make a very elegant and as it turns out eloquent trio, with two of them doing introducing duty. We didn’t hear guest Tasmanian cellist William Hewer speak, but his warm playing spoke for itself. He was replacing regular cellist Martin Smith who has taken up an orchestral job in Europe, and was a good fit in this ensemble.

Violinist Emma Jardine told us that Mozart’s Piano Trio No. 6 in G major, K.564 was his last completed trio and that it was happy music. Indeed it was, although I felt that she could have enjoyed it even more, as some of the playing was a bit stiff and unyielding. A nice tempo was set for the Theme and Variation second movement, letting it’s natural expression speak. The playing was perfectly poised, and at times Kopp made time stand still. In the last movement, sometimes the upbeats were too strong, placing undue emphasis on unimportant notes.

Andrew Anderson is a Melbourne composer, and his piece The Heart from last year runs to three movements. Its language is strictly tonal, and is best described as filmic. It was pleasant enough, but one longed for more harmonic adventure. The composer seemed to be reluctant to stray too far from the tonic key, and the extra long last movement outstayed it’s welcome, pulling the work out of shape. But it made easy enough Saturday afternoon listening for the mainly elderly audience, too terrified to step out in Melbourne at night time (and sometimes who can blame them).

In the first two works, pianist Benjamin Kopp tamed the acoustic of Melbourne Recital Centre’s intimate Salon well, by not playing too loudly on the small Steinway. But in the first movement of the Piano Trio No 2 in C Major, Op 87 by Brahms, he let fly with a bit more oomph, at times producing a strident tone on the instrument which challenged the restricted space. Although the sound is generally uncoloured in that hall, it really is as dry as a bone, and it doesn’t take much to push it to the limit.

Kopp informed us that Brahms was very proud of this piece, and the unison string writing at the beginning and again in the second movement was very effective and almost orchestral in character, reminding one of a Russian or maybe Hungarian folksong. The playing was intelligent and stylish in this Theme and Variations movement, imbuing each variation with its own character.

The trio section of the Scherzo was especially enjoyable, with the players’ love of this music connecting readily with the audience. The spirited but melancholic Finale was given good measure, but at times the rhythmic tedium of the development proved unavoidable.