Apart from one memorable performance of a Romantic gem, it was the A to Z of contemporary chamber works which marked day three at the Asia Pacific Chamber Music Competition as something special. Japan’s ARC Trio cemented its position as a real finals contender, playing a wonderfully warm, romantic Brahms Piano Trio No 1, which had your correspondent eating his words about the Asian groups’ lesser understanding of Western repertoire. It was a joy to have been wrong. The ensemble’s balance was impeccable, Ryo Onoki played the evocative cello part deftly and with well crafted phrases, while pianist Kae Ozawa displayed her undoubted skills with sensitivity and perfectly judged dynamics. Her left hand seemed to be particularly in evidence bringing new insights into Brahms’ warm harmonic structures.
The ARC’s opening work, by Toshio Hosokawa, ‘Memory – in Memory of Isang Yun’, was an introspective work of great beauty. Invoking Zen Buddhist ideas, notes seemed to come from nothing with an evocative peace, quietly expressed in long phrases on the strings while the piano intervened with single notes and simple chords adding to an always mysterious landscape.
Viazza, the second trio of the day, selected two short works for their contemporary element. Paul Stanhope’s ‘Dolcissimo Uscignolo’ draws its inspiration from a 16th Century madrigal by Monteverdi. This conception in no way constrained the composer and the work wanders through a range of moods and emotions in a rather delightful assemblage. It was a good selection, played well, and displayed Viazza’s strengths. Then followed a miniature by Hans Werner Henze. Light and elegiac, it was a suitable intermezzo to lead in to the Shostakovich Piano Trio No 2. While competently delivered, your correspondent failed to be moved. The work’s context suggests an ice cold, detached approach. Viazza’s warm vibratos seemed out of place.
While the Amber Quartet played a technically sound Beethoven Op 74 (‘Harp’), it was their performance of Zhang Zhao’s 1st String Quartet (‘Totem’) that underscored the quartet’s skill and perhaps cemented a place for them in the finals. The work is complex in structure, overwhelmingly Asian in its conception, yet with occasional acknowledgement of Western contemporary influences. Your correspondent found it quite wondrous.
The Auric Quartet, with Kate Sullivan in first chair, opened with a youthful and warm rendition of Mendelssohn’s equally youthful A Minor quartet. Although not easy to pin down, their interpretation was very individual with a soft or legato approach to bowings which departed from more conventional norms. Good on them for trying something new. Their presentation of Thomas Ades’ ‘Arcadiana’, this time with Francesca Hiew in first chair, was well executed, particularly considering its challenges and complexities. The performance underlined this young group’s potential.
Friday’s timings will limit commentary on this blog before the finalists are announced. As is so often the case, second round challenges open up the field. Your correspondent still likes Orava, with Amber a close second. On current performances preferred trios are ARC and Lyrebird. But there are four telling performances to come. A day is a long time in competition.