Duncan Gifford, Susan Collins and Sue-Ellen Paulsen

Friday, 25 August 2017 at 8pm

Duncan Gifford (piano), Susan Collins (violin), Sue-Ellen Paulsen (‘cello)

"What a profound delight this music is—and how terrific to hear it performed so wonderfully by these Australian musicians." Alistair Noble, Loud Mouth Music Trust E-Zine, April 2015 

 

Tickets for this concert can be purchased in advance:

 

Programme

Mozart           Piano trio no 6 in G, K 564

Beethoven     Piano trio in D, op 70, no 1, Ghost

INTERVAL

Schubert       Piano trio in E-flat, op 148, D 897, Notturno

Smetana       Piano trio in G minor, op 15

About the Artists

Established in 2005 - and originally called the Kingfisher Trio -  this fine ensemble brings together three distinguished musicians with successful careers on different continents (Duncan lives in Spain, Susan and Sue-Ellen in Australia). The ensemble members meet each year for an exhilarating series of concerts, performed with consummate technique and spontaneity. They released a CD of Schumann Piano Trios in 2012.

Read more about the ensemble members.

Programme Notes

MOZART - Piano trio no 6 in G, K 564

Alegro / Andante / Allegretto

Mozart completed this trio in october 1788, soon after Don Giovanni and the three last great symphonies and just befor his last trip to Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin with Prince Karl Lichnowsky. This phase in Mozart’s life was the most depressing. His creative power was at a low ebb and poverty further impaired his already failing health; he had only three more years to live.

While it may have been written at a difficult period in Mozart’s life,  the trio has an uplifting quality. It is thought to have been  be based on earlier sketches for a piano sonata,  which Mozart enriched with string parts to beautiful effect. In comparison with his earlier piano trios, its musical form and expression are more concise, giving the the work a restrained elegance and graceful flow.

The first movement has a sequential beginning, much like a conversation begins with a preliminary remark about the weather. It becomes increasingly brilliant later on, the strings mostly playing against the piano in block harmony.

The slow movement is composed of a theme and six variations, making good use of counterpoint with closely-knit voices, while the last movemen is dominated by a Siciliano theme with a folk-song atmosphere.

                                                                                                                         G. Z. F.

BEETHOVEN - Piano trio in D, op 70, no 1, Ghost 

Allegro  vivace e con brio / Largo assai ed espressivo / Presto 

The two opus 70 piano trios represent a major shift from the three earlier trios of op 1, and the op 11 trio (composed originally for clarinet, 'cello and piano).   Gone is the quite strong influence of Haydn and Mozart; we are now in Beethoven's so-called "middle" period.  Both trios, written in 1808, were dedicated to the composer's firm friend, the Countess Marie von Erdödy. 

The D major trio of op 70 takes its name from the second movement, in which the slow pace and what Günter Schneider calls the "subterranean mutterings of the piano part provide a Poe-like ghastliness of effect".  The theme expressed by quickly played octaves which opens the first movement almost immediately gives way to a melody introduced by the cello and then taken up by all three instruments.  This melody is based on the material of the opening chords and, indeed, this material permeates the whole movement. A short  presto movement  concludes the work with  energy and an exultant spirit.

This work stands alone among Beethoven's piano trios in having only three movements, rather than the four of all the others.  This represents a greater compactness, perhaps, but certainly not a diminution of scale.

M.C.

SCHUBERT - Piano trio in E-flat, op 148, D 897, Notturno

Adagio

Composed in the final productive years of Schubert’s short life at the same time as his two great piano trios and published posthumously, this single movement for piano trio was titled “Notturno” by the publisher. It is now widely thought to be the discarded slow movement for the Piano Trio in B flat (D898). As Robert Rival points out there is also a compelling case that it was the seed for the Adagio in Schubert’s magnificent String Quintet in C major D956 making the Notturno—discarded sketch for one work and the basis for another—an insight into the artist’s creative process.

Schubert uses dynamics and rhythm to achieve contrast so that this radiant slow piece alternates between intimacy and formality but even at the height of its activity retains a stately character. 

The opening theme begins softly with harp-like chords in the piano, which is soon joined by the violin and cello in a slow melodic duet. When the piano takes up the melody, roles are reversed and it is accompanied by plucked strings. Except in these sections of plucked accompaniment, the strings are paired together against the piano and embellishments increase throughout the piece. 

The louder, more robust alternate theme has a noble character enlivened by busy triplets. Its second appearance reinforces the happy feel with the brilliance of C major. By contrast the final appearance of the first theme, decorated with piano trills, seems even more intimate—shimmering in the serene calm of moonlight.

                                                                                                                              B.J.

SMETANA - Piano trio in G minor, op 15

Moderato assai / Allegro ma non agito – Alternativo I. Andante – Alternativo II. Maestoso / Finale. Presto

Bedřich Smetana is best known as a nationalist composer and father of Czech opera.

This, his only piano trio, was written in 1855 before he had worked out the descriptive compositional style, imbued with characteristics of Czech folk music, that would mark his orchestral tone poems and operas - the works of his public persona.  In this piece we hear the private man, who when inspired by events in his personal life chose the intimate conversation between a few instruments that is chamber music.

The death of his first-born musically talented daughter Bedřiška at 4½ years from scarlet fever moved Smetana to compose this trio and it shows his ability to turn deep grief into powerful music.

All three movements feature the descending chromatic scale that had signified lament since Baroque times, but, Peter Laki says “Smetana made this old device sound new by letting it guide him to what were extremely modern harmonic regions in the 1850s”.

The anguish and anger of the grief-stricken 30 year old pour out in the first movement, with the violin alone introducing the main sombre theme. A contrasting theme, announced by the cello, is lyrical and tender - perhaps meant to console as it rises gracefully between onslaughts but ultimately unsuccessful as the anguished, raging theme builds and returns to end the movement. At the end of the development section in which both themes are transformed, the piano is given a beautiful, free solo - a moment of meditative relief before the drama repeats.

The second movement is a lively (but not excited) polka-like dance, with two contemplative (“Alternativo” or trio) sections creating contrast and variants of the first movement’s descending theme providing underlying sadness. The first of the trios is lyrical, swaying and wistful; the second, with its dotted rhythms, more dignified. The uncontrollable grief has passed, replaced with fond memories of the child and perhaps regret for the woman that might have been.

The finale is faster still, with a sense of restless activity caused by conflict between patterns in two beats set against patterns in three. The first idea is interwoven with an expressive, mournful melody, introduced by the cello but taken up and developed by all three instruments separately and together until both are transformed; the first into a funeral march and the second into a brilliant song.  The agitated minor theme returns briefly before an abrupt end in G major.

Smetana was at the piano when the trio was first performed in Prague in December 1855. The Prague critics disliked it. A year later he was again at the piano and better pleased with the reactions of an audience that included his hero, Liszt. Liszt’s view was affirmed by the enthusiastic reception in Göteborg in 1858 of the new version of the trio - Smetana had shortened the first and third movements in 1857.

There are some interesting connections with Mozart in Smetana's life. He  recorded his aims in his diary (23 January 1843): ‘By the grace of God and with his help I will one day be a Liszt in technique and a Mozart in composition’. As a virtuoso pianist Smetana  took part in the musical life of Prague as a chamber player and as an organiser of chamber concerts. In 1854 he participated in the Beethoven celebration, in 1856 in the even grander Mozart celebrations, when his piano playing was widely praised by the critics.

                                                                                                                            B.J.