north east scotland's festival of new music

press reviews

Fidelio Trio

Written by Alan Cooper

reproduced with permission

Music in the University: Fidelio Trio

The second concert in the sound Festival was given by the Fidelio Trio who delivered four fascinating and very different Twenty-first Century works followed by a Piano Trio arrangement of Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht the original version of which was composed in 1899. It was intriguing to attend a concert in which Schoenberg's music seemed strangely "conventional" but we have to remember that it was written a long time ago and if we go back in time by the same number of years as Verklärte Nacht is distant from us, we arrive in 1789 when it was still all of nine years until Joseph Haydn had finished The Creation.

Derivation of ideas and the forms of music thus created are a helpful starting point in getting to grips with the music of today and our four contemporary composers demonstrated radically different approaches. Piers Hellawell's Etruscan Games (2007) was largely abstract with a form which concentrated on the primary role played by each of the three instruments in the trio in the first three shorter sections of the work before a larger scale finale worked at binding these ideas together. The opening movement highlighting the piano was forceful, stormy and gusty with splendidly brittle piano playing from Mary Dullea. In the second part, Darragh Morgan and his violin took centre stage with some fascinating special effects in the background from both piano and cello. It was nice to see these used properly as an integral part of the musical texture and not simply stuck in for the sake of seeming contemporary. In the third section, the Trio's splendid cellist Robin Michael took over and delivered his most expressively beautiful playing. In the finale Piers Hellawell proved to us that he has a unique musical voice that can handle intricacy of form in a way that really punches through to the audience.

Tschei Hora by the late Christopher Cadwur James espoused a musical form that set up a tension between the powerful rhythmic force of fragmented musical utterances and the binding of these together to form a coherent whole. In a way, I was reminded of the toy kaleidoscope which I had as a child which you could shake and each time the pieces would form a different pattern which nevertheless had an underlying continuity.

Nigel Osborne's The Piano Tuner (2004) derives from his own opera of the same name. Based on a novel by Daniel Mason, it tells the story of a piano tuner Edgar Drake who is sent to Burma to tune the piano of a military doctor. The Piano Trio consists of eight short scenic pieces, often excitingly colourful and visually evocative. In Sensations of Travel the piano seemed to depict a train steaming away into the distance. Sea Bird gave us both the sound and movement of the birds while amazingly delicate harmonics from violin and cello gave us a magical sound picture of The Dragonfly. In Song of Loss, more extended harmonics with an Eastern flavour suggested the Asian background of the opera.

Judith Weir's music is equally evocative with hints of folk music from many world sources expertly woven into her Piano Trio Two (2003-4) but as often with Weir, she creates a world that while totally alluring is filled with a sense of the mysterious and the intangible. The second movement entitled Your Light may go Out was particularly appealing with its sensual intertwining of violin and cello, the piano providing a background landscape. Then, Open your own Treasure House, with bracing unisons and startling but satisfying imitations came to an abrupt end as the piano lid slammed shut and thus the magical music box was closed.

Eduard Steuermann an Austrian composer and pianist who later moved to America was a pupil of both Engelbert Humperdinck (not the pop singer!) and Schoenberg. He arranged Verklärte Nacht for Piano Trio in 1932. Although I felt it lacked the seamless continuity of the string sextet or string orchestra versions it still conveyed much of the sensual and ethereal beauty of this music. I loved the image of shimmering starlight near the end conveyed by Mary Dullea's astonishingly delicate piano playing and both string players really got stuck into the flaming intensity of this music.

  • Published on 29 November 2009
  • Written by Alan Cooper

Reproduced with kind permission of the author.

events mentioned
  Date Day Time Location Event Details

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29Thu 7.45 pmAberdeenFidelio Trio