Benaud Trio: Night Flight

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Published: 26th July, 2018

This was to have been a regular review of an always-welcome ensemble with an interesting program of work and so it is … to begin. The Benaud Trio is giving three programs for Melbourne over the winter months. The first, Night Flight, was at the Hawthorn Arts Centre on  July 20, 2018. The next will be on Sunday at the Melbourne Recital Centre, featuring Debussy and Shostakovich.

Night Flight, however, had  a notably different feel from the MRC’s more formal Salon concerts. The Benauds appeared to have an audience made up entirely of friends determined to love whatever was put before them. The “whatever” consisted of new music from Australia and the USA as flagged on the flyer.

But in the absence of a program and even a chatty introduction, with the first piece we were left with something of a distraction: trying to guess the work, possibly the composer, or at least what his or her intentions were. In fact the first work was by Nicholas Buc, a local composer born in 1982. among whose achievements is his work on the Benaud Trio’s “string of infamous pop covers.” Trailer Music (2010) was however a concert showpiece for piano trio, commissioned by the Benaud Trio for their 2010 season. as their notes assert, “Whilst the title takes its inspiration from the pre-film advertisements regularly seen at the cinemas, the music is more than just a two-minute thrill ride”. A thrill ride it was, nevertheless.  From the opening bar the music was fast and frenetic, if not furious, with challenging syncopation, music just made for the Benauds’ dramatic style.

Pianist Amir Farid, sporting a new wild haired look, delivered some sturdy chords, the strings quite elegiac in response, then pizzicato joining the now-delicate piano. A lovely moment was when the piano reverie was echoed by Ewen Brambles’ cello. True to its film-inspired title, Trailer Music, the score developed into a lush and romantic passage, with the cello anchoring the sweetness of the violin and piano. Altogether as satisfying as one of the black and white romantic movies of the 30s that the music recalled.

Next came a world premiere: Luke Altmann’s The Sun is Rising, evidently inspired by John Donne’s poem of the same name. More could have been made of the composer being in the audience especially as the poem’s vigorous metre (“Busy old fool, unruly sun”) unexpectedly translated to the sweet sound of Lachlan Brambles’ violin matched with delicate chords played by Farid. With the cello again adding depth to the sound, the work became more evidence of another Benaud characteristic: the balance between the three instruments, apparently achieved with ease.

The third contemporary Australian composer was represented by Matthew Hindsons Rush, something of a Benaud favourite, which I first heard in company with the music of Dvorak in 2015.

It was good to again hear the lovely piano syncopation that seemed to invite the other two instruments to join in music that explored folk themes and a building of complexity with no loss of vitality. The work could have easily been commissioned by the Benauds: it was such a showpiece for their individual and collegiate talents.

At this point I regretfully had to make my own “night flight” so contacted the Trio later for details of the after-interval works. These comprised perhaps surprisingly, Percy Grainger’s 6-minute Colonial Song and finally the promised American work:  Kenji Bunch’s Swing Shift, music for the evening hours .In addition to lending a name to the concert the work comprised:

i.Prelude ii.Night Flight iii. Interhour
iv. Club Crawl  v. Magic Hour  vi. Grooveboxes

According to the Benaud Trio, “Kenji Bunch (b.1973) is a young man living in a big city. In Swing Shift, Bunch recreates the atmosphere of his native New York between the hours of dusk and dawn. In Night Flight the excitement and bustle of the ‘Big Apple’ after dark is almost tangible.”

My only criticism of the Benauds is that we do not see them nearly as often as we would like. So it’s good to be able to report that they will be giving two more concerts this month and other two in August. 

Finally, if you’ve read to the end of this piece (more a report than a conventional classical review) simply to find out what the Benaud Trio played for an encore I am reliably informed it was Billy Joel’s – Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)…. so now you have perhaps the most important information of all!

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