Concert review: The Zephyr Ensemble's piano trio is a gutsy, skilful debut



The Zephyr Ensemble

Esplanade Recital Studio/Last Friday

The Zephyr Ensemble is a piano trio formed by Singaporean violinist Wilford Goh and Indonesian-American siblings, cellist Bryant Gozali and pianist Aileen Gozali, who have been long-time residents here.

Pursuing their musical studies in London, Los Angeles and New York, they presented a debut concert which was a short history of the piano trio.

Its supposed inventor was Joseph Haydn, whose Trio No. 39 In G Major opened the evening. This medium in its infancy has the piano as de facto leader, with strings doubling the piano's line or providing harmonic support.

Despite this, an excellent balance was struck among all three musicians, with clarity of textures and crispness of articulation being the order of the day.

Goh's violin carried the melody beautifully in the slow second movement, while Aileen's piano provided the fireworks in the famous Gypsy Rondo, which raced away with gay abandon. The direction Presto was taken literally, with no pause of breath in this slick and well-oiled reading.

More complex and technically demanding was Mendelssohn's Trio No. 1 In D Minor, possibly the most popular and often-programmed of all trios here. While challenging for performers, this is aural candy for listeners. The trio brought out passion and drama in its first movement, which soon dissipated in a flowing cantabile like a "song without words" for the slow movement.

Before anyone could be lulled into a blissful reverie, the Scherzo's ebullience soon sparked to life as the trio skilfully manoeuvred through its freewheeling pages. The finale was just as lively, with Bryant's cello bringing out the big tune, for which all attention was eventually lavished in its emphatic and brilliant conclusion.

Virtually unknown is the Trio No. 1 In F Major by Camille Saint-Saens, but it received the same detailed and meticulous treatment as the Mendelssohn. More importantly, the work's overall charm was well highlighted in its four movements.

Particularly curious was the slow second movement, which began in hushed and mysterious tones. But, like many of the Frenchman's works, melodic interest soon took over and illuminated the scene.

Perhaps a few more practices would have helped polish the fast third and fourth movements to perfection, but there was little denying the gutsiness and dedication in the enterprise.

Moving into the 20th century, American composer Paul Schoenfield's heady Cafe Music provided the sweet icing on a well-baked cake. Its three movements were a summation of many popular American idioms, from ragtime, country, bluegrass, jazz to Klezmer.

Described by the composer as "a kind of high-class dinner music", the work saw the threesome throw off any hint of restraint and collectively let down their hair. Whether the Rubato movement was a slow rag or sultry tango was immaterial. All that mattered was they were having a good time and the appreciative audience was sharing every bit of it.