One of the good things going on at the Opera House is the five year old Utzon Room series, curated by harpist Marshall McGuire. This year, as well as a finely varied selection of chamber concerts, McGuire has teamed up with Musica Viva Australia to showcase some of MVA’s so called Rising Stars. This is a worthwhile initiative, which, with time, might even turn the Utzon Room into a debut venue of choice, sort of a local Wigmore, albeit very much smaller at only 200 seats.
The first to appear with the rising stars mantle was the Strelizia Trio, an ensemble of young women who have been playing together since 2008. They presented a program delightful in its variety mixing Brahms with Arno Babajanian, an Armenian composer of whom I had never heard, and Matthew Hindson.
The program opened with the Brahms Opus 101 in C minor, a shorter work than its two masterful predecessors, though nonetheless beautiful. Lacking quite the raft of glorious melodies of the bigger two trios, the third, like a short story, requires very precise and careful presentation. The Strelizia players struggled with balance throughout the work, although it was particularly evident in the opening movement. The first violin (Victoria Jacono-Gilmovich) sounded strident against less than articulate piano (Lindsay Gilroy), perhaps both overplaying rather than letting the power of the music produce the brahmsian sound. This made life difficult for cellist Eleanor Betts who played elegantly enough but was unable to provide the sound so necessary to create the emotional effects that Brahms had in mind. As a result the beauty of elegiac moments like the second subject, where violin and cello play in unison, failed to come through with dramatic intensity. The quieter and slower middle movements worked better, and by the final movement the balance had settled down somewhat.
The shortcomings of the Brahms could be put down to many things: it is tough to walk on stage and open up with Brahms when you are playing a room, for the first time encountering the acoustic effect of a full audience. Perhaps nerves may have played a part too. Certainly the second two works came across much better.
The Arno Babajanian work, which drew strongly on folk influences, was something of a delight. There is a lot of piano trio repertoire out there, unknown or unplayed. This was one that deserves more outings. (Hear Strelizia play the fourth movement at www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBhKG7VuEtY .) It would have been nice had the players made a bit more of the conversations amongst the instruments and brought out the folkish elements more strongly. Like the Brahms there were times when the ensemble should have played much more softly, if only to emphasise the ebb and flow and to bring out the beauty of the long phrases.
Although the Matthew Hindson Piano Trio has been around since 2007, your correspondent had heard it neither live nor on radio. A pity, since it is a lovely work drawing on dance and contemporary themes. Hindson presents some challenges where he calls on classically trained musicians to look across to their jazz inspired colleagues. This was true in the third movement which had some fine swing to it. The Strelizia band could well do some work on their swing. A few hours with a jazz pianist would work wonders. Then we would hear Hindson at his best.
It would be remiss not to pass comment about dress. Not the performers, mind, who dressed very well indeed. It was the page turner who also turned heads. It has been my experience that page turners are retiring beings who try hard to merge into the background. All black and often nondescript. Not last night. The young lady (someone’s sister perhaps?) was dressed to kill. She almost received a round of applause when she came out to put the music on the stands. Now your correspondent can’t say he disapproves. It didn’t detract from the performance in any way. He is a believer in performers dressing for the occasion and couldn’t care less if he didn’t see another black dress or suit. It all adds to the event. And if it’s not an event, then why go. On balance, this concertgoer is in favour. May her page turning career flourish along with the Strelizia.
The Stelizia Trio launched a five program series with Sunday’s Utzon Room concert. They are to be congratulated for the variety in their program selections. Only one of their programs pays lip service to “Dead White Males”. Good on them. Their next concert is at the Chapter House, St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney on Saturday April 30 at 7.00 pm. Hear Gwyneth Walker, Ross Edwards, Cassado and Smetana.