Saturday September 26
Last weekend’s recital in the Festival sequence featured three musicians – two from Brisbane’s versatile Ensemble Q, and the Festival’s own presiding genius: Ensemble co-directors Trish Dean and Paul Dean, and pianist Alex Raineri. For this event, we were back at the usual site in Bowen Terrace studio for another close-quarters affair. All musicians participated in the Clarinet Trio by Brahms of 1891; then, Trish Dean and Raineri launched into Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata, written a decade after the trio. A Romantic program, for sure, and one celebrating the last fruits of that era . . . sort of; Strauss was still indulging himself in lushness over 40 years after 1901, and many writers have persisted with that creative strand to the present day – well, it’s easier than inventing your own path, isn’t it?
From the outset of the Brahms work’s Allegro, Raineri displayed a performance-enhancing ease, a supple quality when treating the unsettling triplets that disturb the equanimity at bars 13 and 14, only to erupt powerfully eight bars further on when the keyboard comes into its own. Still, the pianist kept his swamping potential well under control, probably taking a few leaves from Paul Dean who did the right chamber music thing and took a mellow, restrained view of his part, apparent in the unforced top line between bars 71 and 82 and later, in tandem with Trish Dean, maintaining a welcome dynamic clarity in the close duet beginning at bar 96.
In its overall shape, this movement was typified by a calm surface, any tension coming in sporadic outbursts like Raineri’s two explosions starting at bar 127. If anything, the cello line took overall prominence with an ardent attack and lots of crescendo–diminuendo surges inside phrases, best seen during an impeccable duet for clarinet and cello from bar 189 up to the poco meno Allegro on this movement’s last page. the whole coming to rest with excellent balance.
Each player enjoys a wealth of exposure in the second movement Adagio, Trish Dean’s cello an early aspiring delight in the slow semiquavers of bar 7. But the ensemble had prepared these pages carefully, with a finely judged rubato at work in the decrease of tension from bar 19. By the time the players had reached bar 31 with its antiphonal clarinet/cello interplay, you were quite confident in these interpreters, who went the full Romantic in those generous textures obtaining from bar 41 until the last 10 measures where the linear interweaving proved touchingly eloquent.
Raineri treated the Andante grazioso with further suppleness, keeping his left-hand contributions mobile but not attention-grabbing when shape and accent changed. Later, in the D Major trio, the pianist gave excellent service in his three-fold treatment of the main melody, notably in his deftly crafted third statement where a temptation looms large to overstate your case. To their credit, all three executants captured the not-too-rustic lilt of these happy pages.
Right from the first page, Trish Dean engaged with the Allegro finale, delivering her isolated semiquavers with bite and setting an urgency of attack in play for her colleagues. Raineri made a brave display at the first of the ‘gypsy’ outbursts in bar 58; it’s not difficult to get through, but here it was treated with a scene-setting brio that carried all before it, even to an electric shaft of light from everyone at bar 128. Each episode, each reversion and reshaping glowed as Brahms swept to his determined A minor conclusion. In the recital hall, this performance would have been greeted with acclaim for its balance, ensemble and drive; let’s hope that the days are not far off when we can once again show well-merited enthusiasm in public.
A different story in the sonata. Both Raineri and Trish Dean presented a languorous Lento before letting us know that aggression was forming the backbone of a work where the cello often has to work hard to be heard. Raineri made strong work of his staccato chords introducing the movement’s main body, then gave a sweeping, rubato-rich enunciation of the second subject. Mercifully, the exposition was repeated so that Dean’s soaring moments could be savoured; yet, the players made an excellent match for the shared vigour of their attack, as witnessed by their treatments of that second theme, the cello giving a sensible and sensitive shape to each phrase. While the keyboard enjoys the dominant role, Raineri gave place at difficult moments, like Dean’s mid-development pizzicati. Mind you, when solo chances came, he wasn’t one to hold back as at the 14-bar hectic interlude preceding Rachmaninov’s return to duet work. Each player milked the second subject’s return with possibly even more Romantic endeavour than before, but Dean hit on a golden seam at the (largely) G Major Un poco più mosso segment: sweetly engaging lyricism with a moving near-vocal responsiveness before Raineri urged her into the brisk A tempo hurtle to the finish line.
You might have asked for cleaner definition from both players of the near-full C minor descending scale that gives the Allegro scherzando its impetus; they galloped rapidly enough but a lot of sotto voce material flew pretty much under the radar. A well-positioned vein of sentiment came at the change to E flat Major at the Un poco meno mosso point, Dean urging out a persuasive continuous line at this point. Just as well that she took her opportunities because the movement’s outer reaches are piano-heavy, more so as the motion fragments towards the conclusion – here handed to us with a well-judged pair of perdendi.
Was there a late entry from the cello in bar 9 of the mellifluous Andante? I was following the score in a desultory fashion, but it seemed to me that Raineri did a bit of filler before Dean joined in with her main theme restatement. Later, the cello’s first fortissimo marking sounded under-powered for such a dramatic moment, but both performers were having their way with the dynamics of these pages, best seen at the climax to this Andante where the descent from Rachmaninov’s heights enjoyed a wealth of well-sited rubato. Not for the first time, Raineri showed his worth as a sometime-supporting player in his allowance of space for his partner across these pages, both rhythmically and dynamically.
Finally, a heady rush into the Allegro mosso from the piano’s initial flourish. I admired the assurance of this start but delighted in Dean’s D Major second-subject statement – the cello enjoying the splendid breadth of this moment – and took even more pleasure in this theme’s restatement in faux-canon with the piano a page later. Even more so, it seems, than in previous movements, the piano encounters virtuosic explosions across this Allegro with bar after bar of full repeated chords in both hands. gestures which have strayed in from the Piano Concerto No. 2.
About this stage of the performance, Dean started showing signs of fatigue in reaching for her top notes; not too often, and rarely two times running, but just enough to be worrying. Yet much could be ignored when faced with the expressive power of the second theme’s restatement at he final Moderato (come prima) direction where the composer lingers over his tender melody, unwilling to give it up until coerced by the need for a concluding racy Vivace and yet another brilliant coda.
Here was a full-blooded program, living up as much as it could to its era-encompassing title, delivering to us a pair of essentially optimistic works performed with a valuable musical acumen by three of this city’s top professionals. It’s intense experiences like this that generate good humour and gratitude in testing times, even to those of us who have enjoyed a pretty easy time of it. Events like these keep your faith alive in hopes for a revival of public performance, despite the ignorance and disdain for art shown every day by governmental charlatans of all stripes.