A newly refurbished Athenaeum 2 has become the ideal home for chamber music concerts as Melbourne Digital Concert Hall provides a permanent technical set-up for live and streamed concerts this year. There was a joyful and warm atmosphere and perhaps a more casual approach with both M.C. Chris Howlett and the musicians wearing colourful attire. The popular and highly regarded members of the Sutherland Trio were colourfully dressed in complementary patterned silk jackets adding to the intimacy of the smaller, warmer venue. Cellist Molly Kadarauch welcomed friends and family members present and overseas, connecting the first work, Mozart’s Piano Trio in C, K 548, as a “happy piece” played frequently with her family members when living in America.
The opening unison octaves of the Allegro signalled a passionate and united performance, with Caroline Almonte’s forthright piano solo work spearheading vigour and passion early into this concerto-like piece. She established a fine lead with her broad range of colour and dynamics, with matching empathetic echoing phrases and conversational themes matched by her string partners. The Andante Cantabile showcased Kadarauch’s passionate melodic style with charming and highly detailed expressive playing. The rich colour and broad tone of Elizabeth Sellars’ violin achieved prominence in the trio’s conversations – such a glowing and gorgeous timbre, but dynamically subduing the cello’s dynamic in some ensemble playing.The Allegro was a fabulous movement with further admirable piano work, spotlessly crystal clean embellishments, spirited playing yet also in a graceful frame. Most evident was the technical accomplishment of each musician and the team dedication to venerating Mozart’s essential joie de vivre, coquetry, wit, charm and dramatic spirit.
Inspiration for Melbourne composer Katy Abbott’s Fallen Angels came from Michelangelo’s sculptures – Four Prisoners, and Abbott was affected by the thought of the captive human spirit trying to escape from the marble block.Written twenty years ago for piano, flute and clarinet, it was expertly arranged especially for this trio by acclaimed Australian composer Tim Dargaville. This through composed one movement work opened with a high eight-note piano theme, notes sprinkled slowly above like angel steps, its pattern partially echoed by stronger rising tones from the cello and strings that seemed to grasp hands in the growing insurgency. Long, low, sustained notes explored the restraint of the enslaving marble block, repeated scurrying short scale patterns, sweeping violin glissandos and intense trills added emotional restlessness and eagerness. Freedom was sought through broken sections of the theme rising upwards, seeking release, but freedom from the sculptural theme would not come easily for the four prisoners. Final notes came from soft unison strings as a short motif rose against ponderous beats, then fell slowly and resignedly.
As with much contemporary music, particularly when programmed immediately after a Mozart trio, it was a great delight to access this work again after the live concert on the MDCH streaming access, and feel the true power, structure and tonal effects of this excellent but short work.
The fabulous playing and teamwork of the Sutherland Trio reached a pinnacle with Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor. This highly virtuosic and challenging work opened with elegant and mystical piano playing, Almonte leading with a lightness and graceful tempo in the Modéré preceding colourful themes where elements of Basque folk rhythms developed into passionate and exhilarating textures. Pantoum brought a rich and expansive tone colour from the trio in the many detailed conversational lines with a semblance of true orchestral textures in a passionate waltz section. Glorious low sunken piano chords under Ravel’s long drawn modal melodies brought a final extended and powerful cello melody to complete the third Passacaille movement. Ravel’s superb composition requires absolute melodic and harmonic precision and the final movement Animé brought this trio’s brilliance to the fore with an ecstatic close, as Sellars powered to the end through eight bars of exciting high trills.
Such wonderful music from popular musicians, but I felt there was some awkwardness with optics and casual stage presentation, with a problematic piano stool, and wire music stands carrying distractive loose white manuscripts, which did not blend nicely into the formal black and royal blue stage setting, but stole my attention from some of the piano performance.
We again applaud Australian female musicians and composers for their growing imprint on classical music and hope to hear more of Abbott’s fascinating scores.
Julie McErlain reviewed “Making Angels” performed by the Sutherland Trio at Athenaeum 2 on April 21, 2021.