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Benaud Trio: Powerhouse

by Suzanne Yanko

The Benaud Trio began Saturday’s concert with their “absolutely favourite piece”. They ended it with a work likely to become plenty of people’s new favourite. And there was a good audience to appreciate both, with a sprinkling of children at a concert well chosen to foster their enjoyment of classical music.

The favourite piece, unsurprisingly, was by Dvorak. The Piano Trio no.3 in F minor Op.65 began with a spare theme played by the strings, soon joined by ominous chords from the piano but then springing into life for all three players. Pianist Amir Farid was soon given the opportunity for the sonorous chords he loves and plays so well, with violinist Lachlan Bramble’s melodic line not to be ignored as the cello (played by Ewen Bramble) underpinned the whole. The piano was a bridge to the cello “solo”; very sweet and Beethoven-esque as well as an example of Dvorak’s best music. The violin asserted its leadership but with plenty of interest in the two other parts. The Benauds’ sound is almost unique in the way that it bounces off the receptive walls of the Salon. With a development that is complex and harmonically very satisfying, the violin and cello appeared to seize the melody from each other as the piano kept up an orchestral-like accompaniment.

Typical of the contrasts were the very sweet and soaring violin as the piano kept a respectful mp or mf dynamic as the cello again asserted its part. Joyous outbursts of sound soon became a gentle reflection but the end of the first movement was so strong it was surprising the audience did not clap! Next the Allegro grazioso appeared to have the fiendishly difficult challenge of two different time signatures for the piano and the strings; all were delicate and sprightly rather then graceful at this point. Farid’s excellence as an accompanist was put to good use as his busy work appeared to the listener as a continuously flowing background. The movement settled into a smoother subject, the piano taking on more resonance than each of the strings – until all three melded beautifully. Again, a strong resolution allowed the trio to shine in its distinctive way with another flourish to end.

Next was the slower movement, Poco adagio. The piano chord introduced the cello and a duet of great intensity, slow and sweet, ensued – with more of the same when the violin joined in. Taking the spotlight, the violin’s sound was infused with romantic sensibility, then the strings almost merged as the piano accompaniment shimmered. When the movement picked up speed the sound was simply joyous. A reprise of the beginning saw the violin again to the fore until all joined in a quieter mood to end.

The finale was Allegro con brio. It began with a short note from all players in perfect sync. This is music the Benauds excel in, each being a master of his instrument with a keen awareness of the other two and how they blend. Exciting fast and loud music gave way to delicate piano arpeggios and chords as the foundation for a string duet that built in intensity until the pattern of short notes was repeated – moving between major and minor keys adding dramatic interest. Phrasing was never sacrificed to the “busyness” of the music. As throughout, the work the end came as a moment of reflection followed by a brilliant climax.

After interval, the Benaud’s desire to “look forward” was represented by the music of Matthew Hindson, specifically his work Rush. The program notes did the composer no service in suggesting he was Australia’s “classical techno head” (whatever that means!). The commissioned work in fact mirrored Dvorak in its empathy with the piano trio form. The piano began with a little syncopation, then the violin and cello lent layers of complexity before the somewhat agitated melody began.

By the second subject, as the cello entered, the piece had an energy about it that recalled Copland (with some of the violin techniques employed like Appalachian music as played by Joshua Bell). This is no criticism of the composer or the music. If it is appropriate to compare Dvorak to Beethoven then I hope it is acceptable to compare a modern composer with one from the last century!

Certainly it seemed right to describe Lachlan Bramble’s performance as “brilliant fiddling”, echoed by the piano with long notes on the cello. Hindson took all three on a thrilling ride right to the end of his work, albeit sacrificing some bow strings along the way! The composer was in the audience and received (deservedly) enthusiastic applause.

The Benauds are famous for their rather cheeky encores and so we waited to hear what this year would bring. We were told we would have “something to calm us down” and so it proved. A sonorous piano led in, and the cello had the melody in a piece that sounded Irish folk-inspired but also contemporary. Catching up with the performers later I was quite surprised to be told this appealing piece was The Luckiest by Ben Folds, having to suddenly reverse my opinion of the American composer who visited Australia not long ago.

But that’s the thing about the Benauds – they do like to turn your thinking on its head!

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Suzanne Yanko reviewed the Benaud’s performance, Powerhouse, at the Salon on March 3, 2015.

The year 2015 marks the 10-year anniversary of the Benaud Trio as the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Local Heroes series shares the stories of World War I heroes. This concert paid tribute to Lieutenant Fred Birks VC MM, a former waiter and conscientious pupil who enlisted in WWI.

This performance was the first of three the Benauds will present for the Local Heroes series this year. Read more.

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