Amael Piano Trio at The Forge

Lucijan Marija Skerjanc
Maestoso lugubre
Nenad First
Something Wild
Milko Lazar
Five Short Pieces [UK premiere]
Piano Trio in B flat, Op.97 (Archduke)

Amael Piano Trio [Tatjana Ognjanovic (piano), Volodja Balzalorsky (violin) & Damir Hamidulin (cello)]

Reviewed by: Malcolm Miller

Reviewed: 30 November, 2010
Venue: The Forge, Camden Town, London

The members of the Amael Piano Trio have a large discography and numerous works composed for them. On this occasion they presented a fascinating selection of Slovenian music and a riveting interpretation of Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’.

Pride of place was accorded to Maestoso lugubre by one of the leading Slovenian composers, Lucijan Marija Skerjanc (1900-1973), a multi-talented musician – pianist, conductor, composer and head of the Ljubljana Academy of Music – who composed it when he was thirty-five, as the finale of a 45-minute work. The movement starts with a Hindemith-like fugue based on a widely contoured subject, introduced here with strident resonance by Damir Hamidulin. The work evolves a more opulent chromatic impressionism reminiscent of Delius, with crunchy piano chords overlaid by expansive, sustained melodies in octaves for strings. There is a funereal dotted-rhythm procession assigned to the piano at the mid-point, which Tatjana Ognjanovic projected with compelling character, highlighting the biting, ostinato-laden bittersweet flavour suggestive of Shostakovich. In the final section there are several passages of exquisite beauty which counter the general dour mood, but the ending is a darker procession for piano alone.

In a more experimental atonal idiom was Something Wild by Nenad First (born 1964), an intriguing work that Volodja Balzalorsky projected with stunning virtuosity and gripping energy. In the hands of this subtle yet communicative artist the violin came alive, with pointed pizzicato, incisive double-stopping and rapid passagework adding to the relentless excitement.

A more radical exploration of the piano trio emerged in Five Short Pieces by Milko Lazar (born 1965). Composed in 2001 for the Amael musicians, each of the movements is vividly contrasted and finely crafted, alert to a range of influences including minimalism, jazz harmonies and rock rhythms. The two slow movements, second and fourth, evoked poetic imagery in the spare use of tiny ostinato patterns and wisps of melody; in the second (‘Largo lamento’) an atmospheric texture of high violin and low piano chords frame an elegiac cello melody. The faster movements radiated energy and panache, with quick-fire repeated-note motifs and fizzing syncopations.

The concert concluded with a superb ‘Archduke’, full-blooded in tone yet also respectful of structural clarity. Magical colouring of modulations, highlighting of luminescent trilling, and fresh shades, lifted this performance above the usual. The fast tempo for the scherzo contributed to its lively imitative dialogues, and also the syncopations of the jocular finale. Yet the Variations of the third movement was the highpoint, a transcendent, calm flowing beauty of tone, the rhetoric involving and absorbing. The Amael Piano Trio was on top form and will be welcome in London again and often.

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