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23 July 2009

TRIOZ: Pathos and Poetry

Turramurra // NSW // 19.7.2009

TRIOZ: Niki Vasilakis, Emma-Jane Murphy and Kathryn Selby Image: TRIOZ: Niki Vasilakis, Emma-Jane Murphy and Kathryn Selby  

Kathryn Selby brought her friends and her music north of Sydney Harbour on a bright, sunny midwinter’s afternoon, but her first act on stepping out in front of the audience was verbal rather than musical. She told of the legend woven by Elena Kats-Chernin into The Spirit and the Maiden, and gently teased her listeners as to whether she would end on a melancholic note or an uplifting one. The composer had both moods to offer in the one piece. Kathryn let the audience off with an uplifting conclusion, and the music began in shared good humour.

Trioz works solidly as a trio, and the material they had selected was strong on collaboration. It meant a concert where harmony was the key, three instruments applying themselves with a common objective. This was not a showcase for any individual artist to lead with a duo accompaniment, and there was no sign of any of them wanting it otherwise. Occasional glances from one player to another, visible but unreadable to an observer, kept the threesome together.

Church pews have come a long way in modern times, and the Uniting Church was a comfortable place to sit and listen. The interior is large, modern and brightly lit, with a free (on Sundays) car park right outside, covering an area big enough to hold several churches. Acoustically, it was not primarily designed to be a performance space in the same regard as a purpose-built concert hall, nor could it run to any atmospheric lighting effects. Shortcomings in these aspects might have been easy targets for complaint, if the performance had given any reason to complain. Although it did not, the effect of the environment was for the three instrumentalists to remain a little glued together in the sound they generated.

The laws of physics were intact, however, so it was noticeable that the smaller the instrument, the harder it had to work to impose itself. This gave Niki Vasilakis the toughest job, in some ways, trying to keep her own share of the music out of the grasp of, particularly, cellist Emma-Jane Murphy. There is a sizeable overlap between the sonic ranges of violin and cello, and that sharp acoustic separation that is easy to pick up in a hi-fi recording, say, was not there, despite the commitment the friends had to make room for each other. There were moments when three-part collective volume won out over the individual delicacy they all displayed.

It was, as the concert’s title promised, a performance of 'pathos and poetry'. Both qualities were evident, by means of moving the music in the opposite direction, from the poetry of Elena Kats-Chernin through to the concluding pathos of Bedrich Smetana. Kathryn made the point that Kats-Chernin was asked to make this one of her more tuneful works, and this she certainly did. It is easy to see The Spirit and the Maiden establishing itself as one of her most popular compositions.

Of the four composers, it was naturally Brahms who had the most extensive musical portfolio to choose from. His opus 101 was the last of his three piano trios, and one of some two dozen chamber works that he wrote, from sonatas up to sextets. So perhaps he had the least need of the four to use this trio as the vehicle for some particular issue. He had opportunity to spread his concerns across a range of works, whereas that legend chosen by Elena Kats-Chernin was a one-issue, one piece of music proposition.

The shortest of the four works gave the audience most cause to wonder about when the right moment would be to applaud, and the trio enjoyed holding out until the last moment. Smiles all round when they reached it. Being a contemporary composer, Arvo Pärt understands audience psychology. With this piece of music, he found a popular subject in elements of Mozart’s K280 Sonata, which he reconfigured into a statement of his own, that is in keeping with the widespread approval his work has found.

Back in the mid 19th century, though, Bedrich Smetana found it harder to establish his sorrowful trio, written in grief on the death of his daughter. It was a long time ago now, and being the longest work in this program, it gave the trio the best opportunity of the afternoon to show their skills. The audience had enough time to appreciate Smetana’s many emotions, highs and lows, in a work deserving of its place today as a concert piece for musicians of this calibre.

The performance by Trioz was refreshingly free of the star syndrome often seen at other, more fashionable events. During the interval, audience and musicians mixed easily over drinks and nibbles, and there was a sense in which this Turramurra audience took Kathryn at her word, and did their best to welcome her, Niki and Emma-Jane as friends. Trioz may receive more kudos from holding ensemble-in-residence at the City Recital Hall, but they made a lot of people outside the city limits very happy on this bright, cold, winter’s afternoon.

Their appearance in Turramurra brought Selby and her colleagues close to mid-point in their 2009 program of five tours. That means two more opportunities this year when northern suburbs music lovers will not have to travel far to enjoy another quality performance.

Event details

'Pathos and Poetry'
Kathryn Selby & Friends - Trioz (Niki Vasilakis, violin; Emma-Jane Murphy, cello; Kathryn Selby, piano)
19 July, Turramurra Uniting Church, NSW
Works by Kats-Chernin, Brahms, Pärt, Smetana

Further links

TRIOZ (www.trioz.com.au)

Subjects discussed by this article:

Phil Vendy broadcasts frequently on Sydney classical music radio, and has written many published articles and classical CD reviews.


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