Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio / Loke Trio

Hoe Kit, Nicholas & Hoe Yeong
Living Room @ The Arts House
Monday (8 November 2010)

A rare performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio in A minor (Op.50) took place in the intimate confines of The Living Room at Old Parliament House. This was possibly the first ever performance of this 50-minute-work by a group of Singaporean musicians. Brothers violinist Loke Hoe Yeong and cellist Loke Hoe Kit were partnered by pianist Nicholas Loh. For want of a name, let's refer to the threesome as the Loke Trio. I was afforded the privilege of saying a few words about the work and interviewing the musicians. Tchaikovsky composed his only piano trio in memory of his friend Nikolai Rubinstein who died in 1881. As one might already know, it was Rubinstein who initially savaged Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, calling it worthless and unplayable. Somewhere along the way, he changed his mind and even championed it. As a supreme piece of irony, this trio is even more difficult than the piano concerto, with the pianist playing in almost every bar!

The concert began with Tchaikovsky's Nocturne (Op.19 No.4), in a transcription by Fitzhagen, played by Hoe Kit and Nicholas. In the interview, the musicians talked about their Russian connections. Hoe Yeong, a political science graduate, was a student of Mikhail Kopelman, former first violinist of the Borodin and Tokyo quartets. Hoe Kit was a student of Nathaniel Rosen, winner of the 1978 Tchaikovsky Cello Competetition, himself a student of the great Gregor Piatigorsky. Nicholas humourously likened one of the 2nd movement's variations as a long trudge in a snow to St Petersburg in search of a potato, the end result being a celebratory mazurka!

Incidentally, nobody in the hall (by a show of hands) had heard a live performance of this piano trio. For me this was to be only a second experience in 30 years of concertgoing. My first was in 1992, at the Scriabin House-Museum in Moscow. The trio's violinist was none other than a certain Alexander Souptel, before his days as concertmaster of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra!

The trio gave a well conceived performance, tightly held together despite some repetitiousness on the composer's part. I loved the sound of Hoe Kit's 1987 Clifford Roberts cello, once the property of Nathaniel Rosen. It produced a full bloom of sonority that was mellow and comforting. Nicholas' pianism and steadiness was also an inspiration, and despite the boomy acoustics of the venue, was well matched by both string players. There were some rough spots and a few misreadings, but overall it was a really good effort, and the musicians have everything to be proud of.

As an encore, the trio played their own arrangement of Troika, November from The Seasons. Totally delightful. The audience, always attentive and very encouraging, was rewarded with glasses of wine. What, no vodka?

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