Piano and Strings
Music for Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano
from staff of Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music
Wednesday 20 April 2016, Hunter Council Chamber,
Victoria University Wellington
A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs
String Trio in B flat major – Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Cello Sonata #4 in C Major – Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Quartet #1 in c minor – Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Helene Pohl, violin
Gillian Ansell, viola
Rolf Gjelsten, cello
Jian Liu, piano
Second violinist Doug Beilman has retired from the New Zealand String Quartet, and his replacement, Monique Lapins, is joining them next month. A providential circumstance, because the three remaining members and their colleague at the New Zealand of Music, Jian Liu – Head of Piano Studies, had the opportunity to share this programme with an expectant audience.
As their wont, the players spoke to the audience rather than provide a hardcopy programme. I applaud this – the communication and connection from the instrumentalists to the audience is welcome, amiable and enlightening.
The Schubert one-movement Trio was sparkling and mellifluous. The tempo was perfect, and the interweaving of the melody lines was seamless. I have to say that the violin and the cello had the majority of the singing lines with the viola filling in the inner parts with repeated notes or arpeggios. If Gillian was paid by the note, she should be happy!
Rolf introduced the Beethoven Sonata to us, mentioning that it was a innovative piece – at that time, cello sonatas were rare and the piano part was accompaniment only. That was not this case in this piece – the piano and cello were definitively a duo. Beethoven explored the range and technique of each of the instruments: slow, soulful melodies; animated sequences; thundering, audacious rhythms. The cello explored its range from chordal patterns right up on the fingerboard to the bass nakedness of the open C string.
Helene intimated that this was her first time for the Fauré Piano Quartet– usually when a string quartet programmes this piece, the first violin has a vacation and the second violin takes over. I was surprised that strings didn’t include the piano in their seating plan – only Helene could see Jian. But their musicianship was not affected and the Fauré was quite stunning.
This piece was much more rewarding for the viola – it stated the themes in the first, second and last movement and was a equal partner in intermingling the melodies. The first movement was forceful with enthusiastic, passionate longing. The second movement had a playful, innocent theme with the piano tripping over the syncopated rhythms. The Adagio of the third movement was basically a funeral march: the piano enters, and the cello has the theme, doubled in the second phrase by the viola, and tripled in the third phrase by the violin. The intonation was perfect, and the colours from Jian on the piano were superb. The fourth movement was impressive and the the coda and the final cadential gesture was out of this world! The audience responded with a explosive ovation, well deserved.