Clara and Dulcie meet the Eggner boys

EGGNER TRIO         ***

Musica Viva

Melbourne Recital Centre

November 10

Eggner Trio

Over a fairly short period, the Eggner Trio – comprising brothers Georg, Florian and Christoph – has become a familiar presence on Musica Viva‘s annual guest artist schedule.   After winning the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition twelve years ago, the ensemble then visited Australia on three further occasions.  This fourth time, the programs on offer both begin with a Schumann work – one from Robert, the other composed by wife Clara – and then the nights centre on Dulcie Holland’s 1944 Piano Trio; one of those scores more talked about and extolled in the abstract than performed.  The final offering brings matters back into the mainstream for any patrons rattled by the preceding novelties: either Dvorak’s Dumky or the magniloquent Brahms in B Major.

For their competition final, the Eggners played the major repertoire: Mendelssohn in D minor in the opening rounds, keeping the big Schubert Trio in E flat for the finals and in the process edging out the Ondine Trio who performed the same work with – I thought – a good deal more conviction.  In 2005, Schubert in B flat – the more popular one of the pair – enjoyed an urbane airing, along with Schumann in F Major and a refined version of Ross Edwards’ Trio, which had been a compulsory work for all competitors in the 1999 competition.  Three years later, the ensemble recycled their competition Mendelssohn D minor, made an ardent experience out of Debussy’s G minor trio – dismissed by some commentators as over-hyped juvenilia – and ran through Beethoven’s first work in the form.  I missed the 2011 programs, happily handing them over to another reviewer as the content looked, for once, unappealing.

Clara Schumann’s solitary chamber work has a solidity of structure and melodic straightforwardness that prove eminently satisfying, particularly when given as finished a performance as the Eggners provided.  The outer movements show a clear-eyed approach to organization, the finale intriguing for its linear interplay.  But the work picks up real interest in its Scherzo and the following Andante – simple in its turn from placidity to crisis and back again but crafted with skill and giving each player an opportunity to shine.

A major figure in Australian musical life, and not just because of her involvement with the Australian Music Examinations Board, Dulcie Holland studied in London before World War II and the Trio, written after her return to Sydney, shows obvious marks of her training.   What shouldn’t surprise, but does, is a firm individuality in the composer’s style; the writing is based on a kind of sophisticated diatonicism but with enough edge to avoid any traces of triteness.  Listening to the threatening initial theme of the opening Allegro, you can’t avoid comparisons with similar ominous passages in the work of John Ireland, Holland’s teacher, but the curves and inflexions remain Holland’s own, unnervingly reminding you of the subterranean lurching of the E minor Shostakovich Trio written in the same year.

Holland’s score has no slow movement; rather a succession of three fast segments which found amiable exponents in the Eggner players, cellist Florian a committed voice throughout, probably investing more plosive force than the piece needs.   As with the preceding Schuman, the reading’s main impact was positive thanks to the group’s warm polish, the ensemble clean and its lines balanced, if every so often violinist Georg showed traces of the reticence which has figured in some of his earlier Musica Viva appearances.

With the Brahms Trio No. 1, these musicians demonstrated a control and spacious breadth that informed each page.  Many groups have turned this masterwork into a sort of piano concerto and admittedly the keyboard writing is temptingly hefty; the competitions that come around every two years invariably have one set of ambitious executants making a sweat-soaked welter out of these bracing pages.  The Eggner approach showed remarkable restraint, the driving climaxes pronounced with weight rather than hysteria, pianist Christoph treating the high passage work in the Scherzo with unfussed celerity, all three members taking time with those slow, melting arches that distinguish the Adagio, as do  its sustained moments of dangerous exposure: a moving conclusion to an intelligent, original recital.

The Eggner Trio will play again in the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall on Saturday November 21 at 7 pm.