Atos Trio returns to collect and justify its prize

Eamonn Kelly, The Australian, 9 November 2010

Held every four years, the sixth Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition arrives next July at the Melbourne Recital Centre, a venue it helped to inspire.

The victors of the previous competition, Germany’s Atos Trio, collected an unprecedented four prizes, including a Musica Viva national concert tour contract.

Three years later, the Atos is back to claim its tour, with trios of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms and Rachmaninoff, and a work by this year’s Musica Viva featured composer, Paul Stanhope.

In 2007 at the South Melbourne Town Hall and Hamer Hall, Atos demonstrated professional accomplishment and maturity. Ensemble was tight, contrasts energetically realised, and phrase endings crisply executed.

In the Melbourne Recital Centre’s revealing acoustic, the Atos indicated not only further strengths in accurate, focused delivery but a broadening of its expressive palette to include mellower, gentler shades and effects.

The playing is animated, enthusiasm and expression writ large on bouncing eyebrows, swaying shoulders and dancing feet.

Stanhope’s single movement Piano Trio (2007) takes inspiration from Monteverdi’s melancholic madrigal, Dolcissimo Uscignolo, a vivid setting of Guarini’s poem about a writer pining for the nightingale’s capacity to summon its obedient lover and enjoy airborne freedom.

Stanhope’s composition revisits these emotional and textual contours, building on madrigal fragments yet shattering Monteverdi’s seamless monody. Outer sections feature sparse, glistening string textures, employing harmonics, tremolos, glissandi and the penetrating ring of baroque techniques, including selective vibrato and rapid bow speed adjustments.

The middle section amplifies the rhythmic agitation of the text’s birdsong paraphrasing and poetic outcry, paired strings providing sonorous arching lines over dissonance peppered piano.

Atos Trio’s reading was delicate, nuanced and impeccably balanced.

Its capacity for refined lyricism was further demonstrated in the middle movements of Brahms’s Third Piano Trio and the andante from Schubert’s First Piano Trio. Here Annette von Hehn and Stefan Heinemeyer unified violin and cello lines to charming effect, matching depth of tone, lightness of touch and elegance of line.

Less effective were the outer movements, the strings tending to overstate louder dynamics and overemphasise articulation in animated passages.

Unnecessary in this acoustic, these excesses exposed unpleasant bowing noises, the violin becoming shrill and the cello raspy, strings buzzing against fingerboards.

Pianist Thomas Hoppe avoided such intemperance, consistently demonstrating intelligence, control and collegiality.

This was particularly apparent in an extremely sprightly encore performance of the allegro from Haydn’s Piano Trio No. 32, where Hoppe’s crisp, delicate touch and regal phrasing provided outstanding direction and support.


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