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Benaud Trio: Gypsy Fire

by Suzanne Yanko

Many aficionados of chamber music believe that the Benaud Trio is simply the best of its kind in Australia and, although I usually prefer not to make comparisons, I believe that’s a fair comment. The Benauds have, in recent concerts, made the practical choice to perform in the smaller Salon, and repeat the program later in the day. This is a good choice for the audience as well, positioning everyone closer to the players and exploiting the acoustic blessings of the room. In this concert, Gypsy Fire, the Benaud Trio featured the music of Haydn and Brahms with the program notes claiming that both composers were “captivated by the wild and furious music of the gypsies”. This was a reasonable claim, as each composer had even named a movement to make this point clear – and possibly to justify a radically different sound. However, the first item was for the Trio alone. Haydn’s Piano Trio in G major Hob XV/25 is a work that conforms to classical form and sound for the first two movements. Although the Benaud Trio’s opening andante seemed more like an allegretto, its elegance was very much of the period. Pianist Amir Farid had a few opening notes before violinist Lachlan Bramble and cellist Ewen Bramble joined in, thereby making all three entries smooth. The sound had an almost Mozartian delicacy, which was of course in the score – but also suited this ensemble well. The balance between the three ‘Benauds’ is rarely short of perfect, although the violinist’s part was almost that of a soloist for much of the movement, while the piano’s series of runs seemed effortless for an artist of Farid’s calibre. The second movement, Poco adagio, cantabile, did indeed sing. The subject, as articulated first by the piano, giving further reason to make comparisons with Mozart; there were beautifully shaped phrases and elegant ornamentation. There followed a ‘duet’ with the violin, the cello like a steady ground bass. At last the movement that justified the work’s inclusion in this program: the Hungarian Rondo. It began with the required presto but for a short while maintained its classical sound … but there was no mistaking the moment when the gypsy rhythm took over. As the cello’s part became increasingly important and challenging, Ewen Bramble seemed to lead the other players to the strong and confident resolution the work needed. There was no interval, so the second work – Brahms’ Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor Op.25 – followed soon after the exhausting Haydn. It was almost disconcerting to find the trio had become a quartet for half of this concert. Merewyn Bramble has an established career as a violist but was not introduced – a pity, as she is the sister of the other Brambles, and the audience was speculating about the possibility of one family producing so many fine chamber players. (It also put in mind the Bachs, the Mozarts and others whose family gatherings added so much to the development of the chamber music form). Brahms requires, above all else, true empathy between players, so this was a fine showpiece for the four. The violist played carefully and well, if perhaps without the flair of the others, although it was hard to judge from the viola’s mainly interior part. Also, the Trio’s trust in each other has been built up over a long period and they too were seen to make adjustments, particularly in volume. Things came together particularly well at the end of the first movement, signaled by pizzicato notes in perfect synch. It was not until the third movement, Andante con moto, that all three strings seemed securely balanced with a Brahmsian sweep of sound that gave way to the piano for articulation of the theme, then joined it again. The work seemed to be a succession of mood changes rather than an intensifying of passion – until a later section changed all that. Strong, confident bowing from all three strings with the viola at last coming into its own, and a matching performance from the piano, heard all four players at their best in this quartet. And we still had the gypsy music to come! The fourth movement, Rondo alla Zingarese, was not a huge surprise – coming, as it did, from the composer of the Hungarian Dances, whose influences were those of the Romantic period. Like Haydn, Brahms set a cracking pace for this movement; but there the comparisons end. The melody itself had a strong gypsy element to it, and it was easy to visualise a swirling czardas, with lots of foot-stamping. The four players showed their strengths in this exciting conclusion to the program, no small feat with complex rhythms, pizzicato, syncopation and sheer speed all presenting challenges. The concert did not end there, as the audience demanded more. The Benaud Trio is known for its idiosyncratic choices of encore and didn’t disappoint, on this night presenting a selection of tunes made famous by ABBA. The audience took this in its stride – and why wouldn’t they, with such a lush and beautiful sound? It was a pity that Merewyn Bramble didn’t join in this item, which was of course the greatest fun the players had on the night, being relaxed and basking in the glow of audience approval. She should have a word to her brothers about joining in next time! Benaud Trio presents Gypsy Fire Pianist: Amir Farid Violinist: Lachlan Bramble Cellist: Ewen Bramble Guest violist: Merewyn Bramble Franz Joseph Haydn: Piano Trio in G major Hob. XV/25 Johannes Brahms: Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor Op.25 Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre December 3 Repeat performance: Pilgrim Church, 12 Flinders Street, Adelaide Sunday December 11, 2011, 3pm

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