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Review: First By No Means Last! at City Recital Hall

Review by Charlotte Leamon

Artistic Director Kathryn Selby was joined by violinist Alexandra Osborne and cellist Clancy Newman at the City Recital Hall for a night of Mendelssohn, Schoenfield and Brahms.

First By No Means Last! Is a program full of iconic piano trios written from different periods of music and styles, thus showcasing the talent of these musicians. The night began with Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1. With flowing piano accompaniment, the cello plays a melancholic, yet beautiful melody as it rises with hope. The violin soon joins and answers with the cello, following the arpeggios and runs in the piano. The drive within the first movement is passionate, and the sonata form in which it was written allows for the thematic material to be changed and developed. The players work as a unit, letting the instruments shine when certain parts attain the melody. With Osborne and Newman using their physicality for cues and timing, this allows for rubato when necessary and flawless changes of tempi.

The slow second movement is lyrical and wistful. Andante is tender and the delicacy of the melody is played clearly by Selby, where pedal is implemented carefully. The third movement is virtuosic, a ternary form that integrates the violin and cello with the premise of the solo piano. Referencing his Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the scherzo is light and colourful. The final movement however is march-like and driven. The Mendelssohn overall was a bold beginning for the concert with the four movements summarising all that Mendelssohn writes. The trio of performers exquisitely executed the work.

Followed by Mendelssohn was Paul Schoenfield’s Café Music. A mixture of ragtime, classical, and many other genres this piece is a challenge for the musicians. A brisk, swung melody sounds almost drunk. The violin begins with this melody, being swayed back and forth by the piano. As the piece goes on, the piano interjects this melody that is thrown about and all instruments start to dissect it in an increasing drunk manner. The dissonance increases, but in a jazz crunch rather than angst. Once again, the unification of these three players is evident with the drama and playfulness between the instrumentalists. Interruptions are demonstrated through smiles and a lot of physicality. The players enjoyed playing music Café Music, evident by their delivery of the work.

Finally, Johannes Brahms Piano Trio No. 1 was performed last. The first two movements are in B major, whereas the last two are in B minor. This is interesting as it is unusual for a multi-movement work to end in the parallel minor key. However, this results in the need for a dramatic ending which is powerful and full of gusto. At the end of a two-hour performance, it takes courage and energy to end with a work of force such as this Brahms work. A charming work that is moving, it was reworked by the composer somewhat 30 years after he wrote it 20 years of age after Schumann called it a disgrace. This revision and refinement worked well, as Newman stated, “It is one of the greatest piano trios of all time.”

Overall, First By No Means Last! was a night full of memorable music. The acoustics of the City Recital Hall favoured the balance between the instruments. Nonetheless, Selby, Osborne and Newman highlighted melody and texture delightfully.


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