REVIEW / CONCERT
Esplanade Recital Studio/Monday
Formed by three postgraduate students of the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore, Trio Phoenix made its first appearance two nights ago at Esplanade Recital Studio.
Two of its members would have been familiar to local audiences, as Singaporean violinist Alan Choo and Thai pianist Akkra Yeunyonghattaporn were active performers as undergraduates at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory. Completing the threesome is Taiwanese cellist Yeh Tzu-jou.
Their programme was a diverse one, combining music from the Baroque, Romantic and modern eras. It opened with an arrangement of three movements from Jean-Philippe Rameau's Pieces De Clavecin En Concert No. 5, originally for harpsichord, violin and viola da gamba. While authenticity (or the lack of) was never an issue here, the trio strived to replicate the baroque feel in the three dances, each named after a personality of the times.
The strings eschewed vibrato while the piano traipsed lightly, and there was much to admire in the transparency in textures. The first movement (La Forqueray) highlighted counterpoint, the second (La Cupis) sang like an operatic aria, while the third (La Marais) was an upbeat and jolly dance.
After this palate cleanser, the more serious business took the form of Alfred Schnittke's Piano Trio (1985/1992). Schnittke (1934-1998) was the most important Russian composer of the post-Shostakovich era and his supposed compositional style was known as polystylism, a bewildering mix of the new and old, and everything else in between. This very dark and inward-looking work in two connected movements was built upon an inversion of a theme resembling the ubiquitous Birthday Song.
Instead of good cheer, the music plunged into depths of unrelieved gloom, with braying dissonances and "wrong notes" littering its path. The trio traversed its thorny pages with intense concentration, veering between concord and discord within a split second and back, all through its disquieting and schizophrenic course, before closing with Choo's violin imitating terminal tinnitus.
The patient audience's reward was a rare performance of Mendelssohn's Second Piano Trio In C Minor (Op. 66), a welcome departure from its often- programmed predecessor (Op. 49).
Yet both works have remarkable similarities in four movements, beginning urgently and passionately before settling into a seamless song without words in the slow movement.
All three musicians were well balanced in the hall's somewhat boomy acoustics, and that was largely down to pianist Akkra's sensitivity in supporting his partners without overwhelming them. Cellist Yeh lapped up all her cantabile moments, a perfect foil to Choo's incisiveness and scintillating piano runs.
The mercurial Scherzo was a case in point, which flew on feathery wings, followed by a gratifying Finale which dovetailed two divergent melodies - in minor and major keys - for a brilliant conclusion. The second melody, a Lutheran hymn also known by Anglophones as The Old Hundredth, is regularly heard in Protestant churches here as a doxology of thanksgiving.
Trio Phoenix's encore was a reprise of Rameau's La Cupis, a fitting benediction to a most impressive debut.