Trim and smooth

Trio Dali

Melbourne Recital Centre

November 15, 2016


                                                                                        Trio Dali

                                                  Jack Liebeck, Amandine Savary, Christian-Pierre La Marca

The Dalis have visited for Musica Viva before, appearing here in May 2012 with a similar program to this current one. Then, they performed Ravel and Schubert in E flat, as well as Australian Gordon Kerry’s Im Winde; this time, it’s Beethoven Op. 1 in E flat, Chausson’s Op. 3 and Roger Smalley‘s 1991 Trio, written as a compulsory hurdle for ensembles in that year’s Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition and becoming familiar over that week through sheer power of repetition.   Some things have changed over the years: violin Vineta Sareika has been replaced by Jack Liebeck, and Amandine Savary‘s piano now opens on the long stick – a mixed blessing.

As anticipated from the one previous exposure, this ensemble is nothing if not polished.  The opening movement to their Beethoven interpretation set a high standard in the melding of lines, no one hogging the spotlight.  Even though the temptation is there for the pianist’s taking,  Savary husbands her full power, exerting it rarely, and she avoids the trap of seeing a large level of activity in both hands as giving her a justified primacy.  By a careful and constant control over both sustaining and dampening pedals, she allowed her colleagues a dream run in the trio’s first half.   And if her contribution dominated the last two movements, there’s nobody to blame but the composer who gave his keyboard a rollicking conclusion to both halves of the Scherzo and all the running of the Trio; not to mention that attention-grabbing leap of a 10th to kick off the Presto finale and an irrepressibly effervescent field of action thereafter.

Liebeck  and La Marca make a well-matched string duo, the violinist  generating a line of elegant finesse with a keen sense of shaping his contribution into a piece’s framework, while the cellist shows more aggression although his output offers a marked counterweight to Liebeck in its emphases and mode of attack which, at heated moments, involves the incidental clunking of his bow’s frog as a sort of commentary on his awareness of a phrase’s force.

It surprised me to find quite a few recordings of the early Chausson work – Parnassus, Beaux Arts, Wanderer, even one by a Trio Chausson – but I can’t recollect any live performances at all.   The Dali players showed high enthusiasm for bringing this neglect to an end and their interpretation proved very persuasive.   While Chausson’s returns and reversions have a stilted character, possibly due to the flamboyance of the work’s readily accessible emotional language and a patchwork quality to the recapitulations, the four movements reveal a welcome variety of emotional character.   An urgent energy permeates the first Anime which reaches a strikingly hectic climax across its last two pages with a welter of very loud full chords in triplets for the piano.

The players preserved a piquant sprightliness in the Vite movement, including a finely graduated decrescendo as the movement sank into triple piano harmonics. The Assez lent brought out the string player’s sympathy in canonic and unison passages, even if Chausson makes heavy work for everyone by having his pianist double the other players’ lines for a good deal of the time.   As for the buoyant final Anime, the spirit of Cesar Franck loomed large with page after page of fraught chromatic shifting and broad melodic strokes.

Smalley’s work was presented by Liebeck as an in memoriam for the Anglo-Australian composer who died last year and whose work didn’t feature overmuch in the musical rounds of this particular eastern state.   His Piano Trio uses Chopin’s A flat Op. 59 Mazurka as a fulcrum/springboard although the references are elliptical at best.   But the Dalis infused it with more vivacity and sheer interest than I can recall from its several performances 25 years ago, particularly some haunting Brittenesque cello sounds in the second part’s Passacaglia.   You got the impression from this version – far more than  in others I can recall – that an awful lot is packed into a short time-frame, so much so that the score’s four segments, though clearly discrete, fly past – in this instance, with manifest concern and mastery.   If only all local content on Musica Viva programs could occupy this excellent and enlightening standard of accomplishment.

The Dali Trio plays again on Saturday November 19 at 7 pm.  Smalley’s work sits at the centre, surrounded by Mendelssohn No. 2 in C minor (the third performance here by  professional ensembles in 12 days) and Schubert in B flat.