Monday, 15 August 2016

SOIREE OF THREE / The Zephyr Ensemble / Review

The Zephyr Ensemble
Esplanade Recital Studio
Friday (12 August 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 15 August 2016 with the title "Gutsy, skilful debut by trio".

The Zephyr Ensemble is a piano trio formed by Singaporean violinist Wilford Goh and Indonesian-American siblings cellist Bryant Gozali and pianist Aileen Gozali, who have been long-time residents here. Pursuing their musical studies in London, Los Angeles and New York, they presented a debut concert which was a short history of the piano trio.

The piano trio's supposed inventor was Joseph Haydn, whose Trio No.39 in G major opened the evening. This medium in its infancy has the piano as de facto leader, with strings doubling the piano's line or providing harmonic support. Despite this, an excellent balance was struck between all three musicians, with clarity of textures and crispness of articulation being the order of the day.

Goh's violin carried the melody beautifully in the slow 2nd movement, while Aileen's piano provided the fireworks in the famous Gypsy Rondo, which raced away with gay abandon. The direction Presto was taken literally, with no pause of breath in this slick and well-oiled reading.

More complex and technically demanding was Mendelssohn's Trio No.1 in D minor, possibly the most popular and most often-programmed of all trios here. While challenging for performers, this is aural candy for listeners which explains its welcome reception. The trio brought out passion and drama in its 1st movement, which soon dissipated in a flowing cantabile like a “song without words” for the slow movement.

Before anyone could be lulled into a blissful reverie, the Scherzo's ebullience soon sparked into life as the trio skilfully maneuvered through its free-wheeling pages. The finale was just as lively, with Bryant's cello bringing out the big tune, for which all attention was eventually lavished in its emphatic and brilliant conclusion.    

Virtually unknown is the Trio No.1 in F major by Camille Saint-Saens, but it received the same detailed and meticulous treatment as the Mendelssohn. More importantly, the work's overall charm was well highlighted in its four movements. Particularly curious was the slow 2nd movement, which began in hushed and mysterious tones, but like many of the Frenchman's works, melodic interest soon took over and illuminated the scene.

Perhaps a few more practices would have helped polish the fast 3rd and 4th movements to perfection, but there was little denying the gutsiness and dedication in the enterprise. Because of that, this not overly serious work is worth hearing again.

Moving into the 20th century, American composer Paul Schoenfield's heady Café Music provided the sweet icing on a well-baked cake. Its three movements were a summation of many popular American idioms, from ragtime, country, bluegrass, jazz to Klezmer.

Described by the composer as “a kind of high class dinner music”, the threesome immediately threw off all hint of restraint and collectively let down their hair. Whether the Rubato slow movement was a slow rag or sultry tango was immaterial, all that mattered was they were having a good time, and the appreciative audience was sharing every bit of it.

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