One of the great things about The Music Room is that it gives young performers a place to give recitals. Also, and perhaps more importantly, the performers are free to present whatever material they like, no matter how obscure.
Regular chamber music partners Véronique Mathieu, violin and Andrée-Anne Perras-Fortin, piano took full advantage of this freedom when they dropped by on Thursday evening.
The concert opened with Six Romanian Folk Dances by Bela Bartok (1885-1945). Miniatures like this are often tossed aside in favour of the more substantial sonata repertoire but doing that means audience miss out on the small delights like the third dance, Standing Still, which is played entirely on false harmonics.
Female composers are as scarce as hen’s teeth but this program featured two: Canadian Heather Schmidt (b 1975) and Parisian Lili Boulanger (1893-1918).
Boulanger was the first woman to win the prestigious Prix de Rome but her exceptional promise as a composer was not realized due to her death at age 25 from intestinal tuberculosis.
The three pieces Perras-Fortin and Mathieu played (Nocturne, Cortege and D’Un Matin de printemps) were strikingly fresh and original.
The Nocturne is hopelessly romantic miniature that brings to mind fin de siècle Paris, while Cortege is cheery, pizzicato romp. Bits of Debussy are detectable in D’Un Matin but Boulanger’s own voice is still clearly audible.
For Boulanger, a spring morning is not a scene of pastoral leisure but a bustling tableau teeming with life.
In the second half, the duo was joined by horn player Pierre-Antoine Tremblay for a run through of Johannes Brahms’ Horn Trio In Eb major Op 40. Horn, violin and piano is a rather unusual combination but the colours work surprisingly well together. Often chamber music with strange combinations was written for a specific group of people but in this case, it seems Brahms chose these instruments simply because he liked them.
In addition to its unusual instrumentation, the Trio has a well-deserved reputation among pianists as being insanely difficult. The slow movements seem to use all 88 keys at once and the fast ones take off at full tilt and don’t look back.
After a short lecture by Tremblay about the natural horn (the valveless instrument for which Op 40 was originally scored) the trio embarked on the autumnal opening Andante. The bumps in the first movement easily have been written off as nerves but as the second movement unfolded, it seemed that the culprit was insufficient rehearsal time. While the group had obviously worked on their interpretation, aesthetic concerns took a backseat to staying together.
Inspired by the death of his mother, the slow movement is Brahms’ at his most gut-wrenching. The ensemble eschewed a wailing and gnashing of teeth-style breakdown, instead choosing to present a more restrained, dignified melancholy. Tremblay took advantage of his hand horn skills and used well placed stopped notes to add some lovely colour.
The final Allegro gallops along lickity-split, rather like a chuckwagon racing down a hill. The trio seemed fatigued and it felt like the wheels would fall off at any minute, but they rallied at the end and made it through to the final cadence in one piece.
29th March – Trio Lila & Beethoven, Schumann and Mendelssohn
30th March – Trio Toronto & Beethoven and Mendelssohn
Note: The ABEGG Trio concerts, originally scheduled for 26-30th March are cancelled. The Trio is unable to make its tour.