Monday, 14 November 2011

TRIO OWON / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Friday (11 November 2011)

An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 14 January 2011 with the title "Like a whiff of exotic perfume".

This begins to sound like a broken record-player, but if you love good chamber music, often performed by world class players, you could do worse than becoming a Conservatory regular. This evening’s visiting group, Trio Owon, formed by violinist Olivier Charlier, cellist Sung-Won Yang and pianist Emmanuel Strosser, all Paris Conservatory alumni, qualifies to be world class.

Their recital was virtually a history of the piano trio genre. Joseph Haydn is often credited as the “father of the piano trio”. His G major trio (No.39 out of 40) gets played more than all the others combined. Little surprise as it is a most congenial work, beginning with variations where violin and piano play mostly the same melody with cello providing simple harmony. The claim to fame is its Gypsy Rondo, favourite of child pianists, performed with a breezy and carefree elan by the trio.

This was merely warm-up practice for Ravel’s sublime Piano Trio in A minor, one of the great chamber masterpieces of the early 20th century. Its hushed and syncopated opening was deftly coloured, conjuring the sense of a whiff of exotic perfume, which got headier in the scherzo-like Pantoum.

Structured like verses of the Malay pantun but without Asiatic themes, the movement bristled with vitality, contrasted with the solemn procession of the ensuing Passacaille. The finale, which used pentatonic themes, provided the grand conclusion, rising to a voluminous crescendo with the threesome engaged in full throttle. Cue huge cheers from the audience.

The clock was turned back by almost a century for Schubert’s Second Piano Trio in E flat major (K.929), the less often heard of two trios. Its Biedermeyer charm, characteristic of Vienna in the first half of the 19th century, was disarming. Much in the spirit of the better-known Trout Quintet, its conviviality was akin to three friends sharing different versions of a same joke over coffee.

The chemistry between the three performers was innately felt, with the ensemble water-tight but with ample room to breathe. How Yang’s cello waxed lyrical in the slow movement’s song without words, and the good-humour of the Scherzo and Trio infectiously borne.

The drawn-out finale’s goodwill never waned, and there was vicarious thrill to the sequences of repeated notes played by the increasingly frayed hairs of Charlier’s bow and Strosser’s lightning swift fingers. Multiple curtain calls ensured two generous encores – movements from trios by Dvorak and Mendelssohn. Just about perfect.

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