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April 28, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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Classical Music

A Strong Start to the Season

Chamber Music New Zealand’s Concert Season in Wellington for 2008 kicked off with a fabulous night at the Town Hall on April 9. The Eggner Trio, consisting of three Viennese brothers, Christoph (piano), Georg (violin), and Florian (cello) Eggner, played a very well-attended and even better-received programme of Mozart, Psathas, and Tchaikovsky.

First on the playlist was Mozart’s Trio in G (K496). It was clear from the get-go that the brothers communicate very well musically. Once settled in the opening allegro movement, each showed exquisite sensitivity to the others’ interpretations and phrasing. This was a source of musical strength all night. K496 isn’t an ‘important’ work by Mozart. Its underlying harmonic undulations that are part of Mozart’s musical drive are slower than in some of the famous quartets, yet the Eggners captured them beautifully without hamming it all up. This was Mozart’s chamber music as it should be played: neither dry nor fat. A cellphone did go off between movements; its owner should be thankful it wasn’t during the music, since I would otherwise have pulled a Sweeney Todd.

Island Songs by Vic’s own John Psathas was next. Written originally for clarinet, cello, and piano in 1995 (that is, before Psathas achieved ubiquity in the classical scene here), these three brief pieces were outright exhilarating in the hands of the Eggners, and went down like blue Powerade during a hangover. I particularly enjoyed the first, where the piano like a fresnel lens builds, seemingly inexorably, and then falls back, only to build and fall again and again. A veritable storm of applause concluded the first half.

Instead of eavesdropping and mining the half-time chatter for review fodder, I stepped outside for some fresh air, and on return, performed a seat-ninja. Now in a marginally-better seat, I was ready for the Tchaikovsky.

The Piano Trio in A minor (Opus 50) occupied the entire second half. An elegy to the great pianist Nikolai Rubenstein, this work is explicitly romantic and deeply tragic. The Eggner Trio nailed it. Christoph Eggner in particular had a chance to shine, since the piano part is spectacular and very intense.

I confess I let my critical faculties go a little and let the music take me over during this piece. There were so many moments that hit just the right spots at the right times that I simply sat back and became immersed in the assault. The lengthy second movement, a theme and eleven variations, reminded me why I love Russian music so much. The fugal variation, treated in this concert as a sort of micro-movement, was stunningly played: a bit like a Bach fugue but not too much. Sitting a little aloof from the rest of the night, it gave the whole concert shape and paved the way for the powerful, and powerfully played, finale and coda. I wanted it never to finish, but it did, and to great enthusiasm.

Much applause, including some foot-stamping for hillbilly chic — I approve —, and for a long time. A tasteful encore was played but I forgot to write down what it was. Then I got drunk.

The Eggner Trio was founded in 1997, so they’ve been around the circuits for a while now, but this is only their second visit to New Zealand (they were a hit in the 2006 season). I’m sure they’ll be back.

The next concert in Chamber Music New Zealand’s season is this Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the Town Hall. Alexa Still (flute, NZ), Roger Chase (viola, England), and Yolanda Kondonassis (harp, US) are three fantastic musicians, and I’d happily pay money to go hear any one of them in concert. They’ll be playing a varied programme, the highlight of which should be Debussy’s Sonata for Harp, Flute & Viola (1915).

These concerts always have student rush prices — $15 — if you buy your ticket on the day (remember your Student ID card when you go to Ticketek). If you don’t normally go to classical concerts but you’ve got no plans on Wednesday, give it a try. Drag a couple of friends and make a night of it. I promise you won’t regret it. The audiences at these things aren’t as geriatric and scary as the opera mob. Just turn your fucking cellphone off.

Why settle for the live broadcasts on 92.5 and 95.6 FM? Classical music fans know these are some of the best concerts you’ll hear in Wellington. Be there.

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BK Drinkwater's actual origins are shrouded in mystery, but it is said that he sprang from the summit of Taranaki fully formed, four days after the birth of Aristotle. He resents having been overshadowed in this way.

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