Monday 21 October 2013

A fascinating and rewarding release of romantic chamber music performed by the Trio Anima Mundi on a new release from Divine Art

The Australian based Trio Anima Mundi was founded in 2008 and has since become a regular part of Melbourne's chamber music life with their annual themed subscription concerts series that bring an eclectic mix of repertoire from the great masters to little-known works. The Trio's members are Kenji Fujimura (piano), Rochelle Ughetti (violin), Miranda Brockman (cello).

One can only be impressed at the variety of works in their repertoire that encompasses works from the great classics to contemporary and includes composers as diverse as Bach, Haydn, Mozart,Beethoven and Brahms, through Bernstein, Copland,  Debussy, Turina and Walton to Elfrida Andrée and Arno Babajanian.

To this we must add the names of William Hurlstone, Miriam Hyde, Max d'Ollone and Dag Wirén whose works for piano trio appear on Trio Anima Mundi’s debut recording entitled Romantic Piano Trios, just released by Divine Art Recordings . This new disc has something of an international flavour with composers from Britain, Australia, France and Sweden.

A near contemporary of Vaughan Williams, William Hurlstone (1876-1906)  was one of the great losses to British music, dying at a young age. He studied under Stanford at the Royal College of Music and went on to become their youngest Professor of Harmony and Counterpoint.  His compositions include a piano concerto, orchestral works and a number of chamber works including his Piano Trio in G major, written in 1905, and which  appears on this new recording.

The Allegro moderato opens with a real romantic waltz that soon gives way to a faster section with rhythmic piano phrases over the strings. The music alternates between the slower theme and the romantic waltz theme with much fine invention. It is lovely the way Hurlstone shares the themes around the instruments. The piano opens the Andante before the strings join in a melancholy little melody. This attractive movement is so well written for the various instruments with some lovely harmonies and timbres so well brought out by the Trio Anima Mundi. There is a lightly dancing scherzo, Molto vivace, full of life with a beautiful trio section before the Allegro comodo that has an attractive theme that permeates the whole movement and a second subject that has the nature of a Scottish Air. The movement rushes to the coda with a fine flourish.

There is playing of much warmth and understanding from the Trio Anima Mundi.

The Australian composer Miriam Hyde (1913-2005)  wrote over 150 compositions including orchestral works, instrumental works, songs and piano works.  She won an AMEB (Australian Music Examinations Board) scholarship at the age of twelve to the Elder Conservatorium, Adelaide as a pupil of William Silver, who remained her tutor until 1931. She later won the Elder Overseas Scholarship that enabled her to study at the Royal College of Music, London with Arthur Benjamin and Gordon Jacob.

As a concert pianist she performed with conductors such as Sir Malcolm Sargent, Constant Lambert, Georg Schnéevoigt, Sir Bernard Heinze and Geoffrey Simon. She was also a published poet and wrote an autobiography. Given that 2013 is her centenary year, it is good to have a recording of her Fantasy Trio, Op.26 for violin, cello and piano, written in 1933.

It is a romantic work, reflecting her preference for such a style. Though such a piece would have found itself out of fashion in 1933, this no longer matters given the passage of time. In one movement, it opens purposefully with a lovely flowing melody before slowing to a more thoughtful section. There is some lovely invention here, attractively shared by the instruments.  There is no lack of drama and interest in its nine minutes. Halfway through the music again slows to a beautiful interlude, before the music returns to the opening theme that leads to the coda.

Maximilien-Paul-Marie-Félix d'Ollone (1875-1959) was born in Besançon, France and studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Alexandre Lavignac, Jules Massenet, André Gedalge and Charles Lenepveu, winning the Prix de Rome in 1897. His works encompass opera and ballet as well as the Trio for piano, violin and cello in A minor included on this disc.

An anxious sounding, forward thrusting theme announces the Allegro ma non troppo e ben deciso but this soon gives way to a slower theme, a very attractive rising and falling motif with some lovely rippling passages from the piano. Though dating from 1920, this trio shows that d’Ollone was obviously a romantic at heart. The Trio Anima gives such taut, expressive playing. After more forward driving music there is a tranquil reflective section before a decisive coda. The piano opens the darker, melancholy Adagio before a wistful string melody appears. Halfway through there is a lovely passage for piano before a string melody above a rippling piano motif that weaves its way to a subdued conclusion.

The Scherzo: Allegro brings some terrifically fine playing from the Trio Anima, with fine ensemble and dynamics in this light rhythmic opening. Soon a slow section arrives with a tentative theme before the two themes combine as the music tries to move forward. The light rhythmic theme soon takes over to end this movement.

An unsettled theme opens the Finale: Presto, rushing forward with some particularly fine playing from Kenji Fujimura as the music hurtles on, swaying to and fro as it does. Halfway through the strings bring a slightly more restrained feel but the piano drives the music forward to end this Trio.

Dag Wirén (1905-1986) achieved a certain fame in the UK when the final Marcia movement of his Serenade for String Orchestra Op.11 was used as the theme tune to the BBC arts programme Monitor. He was born into a musical family in the region of Bergslagen and studied composition at the State Academy of Music in Stockholm before continuing his studies in Paris, where he was greatly influenced by neo classicism, Les Six and Stravinsky. Other influences were Nielsen and Sibelius. His compositions include a number of ballets, choral works, songs, five symphonies, concertos, instrumental works and chamber works of which the Piano Trio No.1, Op.6 (1932) features here.

A seemingly unstoppable Allegro surges forward in music that surprisingly sounds more advanced than the other works on this disc. Soon a second subject appears, slower and more thoughtful, even sombre in nature. Rippling piano scales lift the music back to the original theme where there is some terrific playing from the Trio Anima, with superb ensemble. The second subject returns, with an almost Slavic flavour before the music rushes to the end. When the Adagio arrives it feels as though the music has picked up on the sombre nature of the second subject of the first movement with music of dark strength with an inexorable feel to it as it develops passionately. This is a great piece.

The brief Fughetta is light and rhythmic, showing, again, the fine accomplishment of this Trio. The piano picks out a quiet theme against pizzicato strings in the opening of the Alla Passacaglia. This quickly leads into a mournful melody before a rhythmic motif from the piano heralds a faster section that develops its contrapuntal theme with some difficult individual string passages. The music slowly develops through a series of variants before a scintillating coda.

This is a fascinating and rewarding disc with excellent playing from the Trio Anima Mundi. The recording from the Music Auditorium, Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, Monash University, Melbourne is excellent. There are informative booklet notes by the trio’s pianist, Kenji Fujimura.

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