Kristian Chong, well known to Australian audiences as piano recitalist, concerto soloist, chamber musician and more recently as popular presenter on ABC Classic FM has, not surprisingly, gathered a stellar cast of collaborators for his Kristian Chong and Friends concerts to be held at the Melbourne Recital Centre in 2018.
This season’s concerts kicked off with one of Australia’s most international artists, Singapore-based cellist Li-Wei Quin headlining a formidable quartet in a program of Brahms and Tchaikovsky. Li-Wei and Kristian were joined by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Concertmaster Natsuko Yoshimoto and the ASO’s Associate Principal Viola Imants Larsens.
In the first half, Brahms’ Piano Quartet No 3 in C minor was presented with persuasive authority from the outset. With the cellist centrally placed amongst the string protagonists, Quin’s innate musicianship and humanely rich tone projected effortlessly into the auditorium, most penetratingly at the beginning of the third movement Andante, which subsequently unfolded as if it were a genial conversation between long-standing intimates. Throughout the quartet Chong was a model of tonal restraint, always providing resonant harmonic support while never swamping his colleagues in what can, in less expert hands, become overly dense textures. The fourth movement in particular was notable for the delicacy of Chong’s gossamer-like touch.
But it was the vast canvas that is Tchaikovsky’s two-movement Piano Trio in A minor that was the great success of the evening. Dedicated to the memory of Nikolai Rubinstein, the Russian composer’s mentor and friend, its prevailing pathos was convincingly captured in the opening movement Pezzo elegiaco, Quin’s plaintive cello featuring prominently. Throughout his career Tchaikovsky was intrigued by variation form and the second, and final, movement of this trio – a theme and twelve distinctly characterized variations that feature a waltz, a mazurka, a music box variation, a fugue, a funeral march and more besides – revealed Tchaikovsky’s capacity to highlight the three instrumentalists both individually and collectively. With the more transparent textures and often more soloistic writing available in the trio format, Yoshimoto’s unerring pitch and well-directed vibrato shone through effortlessly. Complemented by Quin’s languidly expressive bowing and equally deft left hand, this was a performance in equal parts rapturous, beguiling and humorous. Chong’s unfailing technical command of what is a dauntingly difficult piano part served the trio well, ever-sensitive as it was to the continually shifting roles between supportive background, interlocutory middle-ground and texture-leading fore-ground. Notwithstanding an unfortunate-page-turn-induced loss of momentum towards the end of the movement this was a thoroughly engaging reading by three equal partners each reveling in the opportunity to come together to share their collective musical conception of this most challenging and intriguing of chamber masterpieces.
As a post-script – in the absence of detailed program notes it may have been helpful if Chong – an eloquent elucidator both of musical narrative and of historical context – had introduced the works in more detail to his audience. But this is a small quibble to what was on the whole, a most satisfying evening of collaborative music-making.
Kristian Chong with Li –Wei Quin performed Brahms and Tchaikovsky at Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre on May 16, 2018.
The next Kristian Chong and Friends concerts take place at the Melbourne Recital Centre on August 27 and November 12.