Friday 20 October 2017

Norwich chamber music: the Neave Trio in French piano trios

Neave Trio (Photo by Mark Roemisch)
Roussel, Fauré, Debussy, The Neave Trio; The Chapel, Park Lane, Norwich
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on Oct 15 2017 Star rating: 4.0
A piano trio of maturity, subtlety and substance

The Neave Trio - which, incidentally, derives its name from the Gaelic word ‘niamh’ meaning ‘bright’ and ‘radiant’ - lived up to this description inasmuch as their performance at The Chapel, Park Lane, Norwich on Sunday 15 October (as part of Norfolk & Norwich Chamber Music), was bright and radiant and, indeed, lively and entertaining. The programme included Roussel's Piano trio in E-flat major, Faure's Piano Trio in D minor and Debussy's Piano Trio in G major.

And in this vibrant and highly-talented ensemble, formed just seven years, a trio of nations come together with American-born violinist, Anna Williams, Russian-born cellist, Mikhail Veselov and Japanese-born pianist, Eri Nakamura.

Regally, they follow in the footsteps of such famous trios as the Istomin/Stern/Rose Trio (whom I had the great privilege of seeing in the Usher Hall at the Edinburgh Festival in the 1970s) and the Beaux Arts Trio as well as the Florestan Trio and the Gould Trio who have both performed in Norwich under the auspices of the Norfolk & Norwich Music Club. In fact, the Gould Trio return to Norwich early next year to treat Music Club audiences to the complete piano trios of Beethoven over three concerts at the John Innes Centre on Saturday/Sunday, 20/21 January 2018.

A globe-trotting outfit, that’s for sure, the Neave have performed all over the show including New York’s Weill Recital Hall (the chamber hall of Carnegie Hall) and now The Chapel in Norwich (a wide contrast in venues, may I add!) by invitation of Roger Rowe, a champion of classical music and opera across the board. He has just retired as programme director of the Norfolk & Norwich Music Club after enjoying an immensely-successful 20-year tenure.

Although champions of new writing the Neave offered a relatively safe programme for their Norwich concert (by the way, their second visit to the city in less than two years) featuring a trio of works by such imposing and iconic French composers as Roussel (Piano Trio in E flat major), Fauré (Piano Trio in D minor) and Debussy (Piano Trio in G major). They’ll record these works for Chandos Records with the release date fixed for 2018. In fact, Neave’s 2016 début album ‘American Moments’ - featuring works by Erich Korngold, Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Foote - was also recorded by Chandos following their concert at The Chapel.

Also coming up for the Neave in 2018 is a new release by Azica Records featuring brand-new arrangements of Piazzolla’s works for piano trio and voice by the Argentinian-born arranger, Leonardo Suarez Paz, now the torchbearer of Argentine tango and the legacy of its greatest composer, Astor Piazzolla. In fact, Leonardo’s father, Fernando, played with Piazzolla. The featured soloist will be the mezzo-soprano and Metropolitan Opera singer, Carla Jablonski, hailed by the New York Times as a ‘seasoned and multi-dimensional singing actress’.

However, the opening work of The Chapel’s concert was Roussel’s Piano Trio in E flat major. A wonderful lyrical and warm-hearted piece it provided a superb curtain-raiser to the evening with the Neave - who click together in an effortless and relaxed partnership - on top form. They were alert to every nuance that the score offered and their phrasing and delivery was so confidently executed. They were simply a joy to listen to.

Amazingly, Roussel only turned to music at the age of 25 after spending seven years as a midshipman in the French Navy. It proved a turn for the best as he became one of the most prominent French composers of the interwar years. His early works are strongly influenced by the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel which was self-evident in the E flat piano trio.

The central work in the programme - Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Trio in D minor - proved a ‘meaty’ piece in relation to the other two works on offer and, of course, the most often played.

An imposing and important figure in 19th- and 20th-century French music, Fauré - who loved the chamber-music genre - spanned an astonishing timeline of musical history particularly emphasising the innovations of his countrymen. For instance, Berlioz was still alive in the composer’s youth while he was a good friend of Saint-Saëns, Chabrier and d’Indy.

He was a prolific composer and his output include the magnificent piano quartets and quintets and a number of excellent duo sonatas but it was in Fauré’s later years that produced the single D minor piano trio. What a gem! What a work! And the Neave did it full justice getting their teeth into the score playing with such intensity and feeling that in my romantically-inclined vision conjured up a host of abstract images of the picturesque and undulating French countryside. Debussy’s youthful Piano Trio in G major ended a very satisfying and rewarding programme. He wrote the piece at just 18 years of age in 1880 in Fiesole, Italy (a town and commune of the Metropolitan City of Florence) where he lived and worked at the residence of Nadezhda von Meck, a Russian-born businesswoman who was an influential patroness of the arts and gracefully supported Tchaikovsky in his endeavours, too. Most of the autograph of the work was thought to be lost until 1982 when it was discovered from the legacy of Maurice Dumesnil, a pupil of Debussy.

In many respects, the work, lyrical to the extreme, was tame in its concept but that’s only to be expected in such an early composition by the budding young, eager and fiery teenager but, all the same, it highlighted Debussy’s qualities as a composer and more than hinted at things to come.

The Neave - a young and exuberant trio with every member a master of their chosen instrument - pulled out all stops giving a fine reading of a work that’s seldom heard and heartily warmed The Chapel’s discerning audience to the quality and prowess of their playing.

And for a well-earned encore the Neave - who have the world at their feet and need to perform more in the UK and also break through on the Continent - turned to Piazzolla delivering a haunting romantic interpretation of ‘Fall’ from ‘The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires’. It provided a perfect ending to a glorious English autumn day.

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