Research efforts at the Perimeter Institute on Friday evening were devoted to investigating the properties of French wine and Swiss chocolate, an endeavour that should frankly be afforded limitless resources.
The occasion was a dinner concert with Trio Laurier providing the aural foil to the handiwork of the Black Hole Bistro chef. The Laurier Trio consists of violinist Stephen Sitarski, cellist Paul Pulford and Leslie De’Ath on piano.
The French wine portion of the inquiry was taken care of by a set list of wines selected to complement each course.
For the most part, sparkling wine tends to crinkle my nose but this time the pre-appetizer glass of Antech Cremant de Limoux Brut was just the ticket.
A gloriously green spring pea soup with a hint of mint followed accompanied by a Willm Reserve Reisling.
Programming Ernest Bloch’s Three Nocturnes was a brilliant idea and Trio Laurier played well despite the considerable challenges of balancing a piano trio in a room the size of the Bistro. The Nocturnes are more ephemeral than melodious and the overall reverie was often disrupted by the piano. This was most noticeable in the first movement when the strings were using mutes and was mostly corrected by the orchestration in the remaining two movements.
In light of this, De’Ath’s decision to play at full stick seems odd. It was as if the group was forced to use the basic eight-pack of Crayolas rather than the box of 64 late French Romanticism requires.
A choice of coq au vin, salmon or a puff pastry tart was offered for the main course. A quick survey of ambient conversation revealed that by far, the most hotly anticipated item on the menu was the sea asparagus accompanying the salmon.
It did not disappoint. Aside from its salty taste and membership in the seaweed family, sea asparagus is a near perfect one-twelfth model of its landlubbing cousin.
Balance was better for the second selection, Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Trio Op 120, largely due to the scoring.
In a piano trio, usually the instruments take turns playing with each other but in this case, Fauré chooses to treat the violin and cello as one instrument for large portions of the piece.
Long unison passages are a nightmare to tune but when done well create a rather unique tone colour that is well worth the extra effort.
Pulford in particular was outstanding, managing to create a warm, nuanced sound even when travelling for extended periods high up on the A and D strings.
Chocolate crepes were an absolutely splendid end to the evening. The wine offering, Pierre Gaillard Domaine Madeloc Banyuls, was overly sweet for my taste but in theory was a good complement for the dark chocolate and sour cherry flavour of the crepes.
Trio Laurier’s last selection was Trio on Irish Folk Themes by Swiss composer Frank Martin. The piece was composed at the request of a wealthy Irish American couple, but Martin wasn’t happy with just arranging a few numbers.
Instead, he did hours of research about folk tunes and created something that is one part Charles Ives and one part plainchant.
Generally speaking, each instrument is assigned its own tune and plays it at the same time as the others with each movement getting increasingly manic as it progresses.
The result is something entirely original but not sing-a-longable, a circumstance that prompted the couple to withdraw their commission.
One minor quibble is that although the piece was interesting, it was perhaps a shade intense for a post-dessert selection.
Mellowed by imaginatively prepared food and a fantastic selection of wine, I found myself wishing for something a little less cerebral to accompany my tea.
NEXT DINNER CONCERT
Winds of France
Friday, June 13, at the Black Hole Bistro in the Perimeter Institute. Tickets: $65 each, a vegetarian option available.