Eggner Trio brings triptych of Russian fables to life – The Australian

Triptych of Russian fables comes to life
Murray Black, The Australian
4 April 2011

BEST known to Australian audiences as a pianist, Ian Munro has increasingly devoted his time to composition, amassing a substantial oeuvre. Munro is Musica Viva’s featured composer this year, and his music is described by artistic director Carl Vine as immediately appealing.

In the case of the piano trio Tales of Old Russia (2008), Vine’s description is spot-on.

Inspired by three Russian folk tales collected by Russian folklorist Alexander Afanasiev, Munro’s engaging, well-crafted triptych successfully depicts each of the tales in a musical context while also being an enjoyable listening experience.

The first fable, Vassilisa and the Baba Yaga, tells the story of a princess escaping the clutches of a witch (baba yaga). Textures oscillated between sparsely translucent and densely swirling, strong contrasts in tempos and dynamics generated surging drive in the chase section and shimmering, impressionist-tinged colours brought an eerie conclusion.

The second movement is the famous Snow Maiden story about a childless couple who create a daughter out of snow in the winter, only to watch her melt away in the spring. Plaintive, soulful string lines and warmly impassioned sonorities evoked the tale’s intrinsic sadness.

In the final tale, Death and the Soldier, the soldier outwits goblins, devils and even Death. Here, Munro’s jaunty march rhythms, bright-toned dissonances and clever percussive effects channelled the spirits of Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale.

Throughout, the Eggner Trio sustained superb ensemble balance and blend, astutely varying their timbre to create the different soundscapes required to depict each tale.

The concert opened with a bold, energetic account of Beethoven’s Piano Trio No 4 Gassenhauer. Although fast tempos, emphatic unison attack and incisive rhythmic verve dominated their performance, the three Eggner brothers maintained excellent clarity of articulation and a well-balanced sense of thematic interplay.

Dvorak’s Piano Trio No 3, Op 65 was the other work on the program. Once again, the Eggner Trio’s ensemble blend and balance was exemplary. Speeds were on the fast side but the group’s nuanced control of tempo and dynamic changes sustained tension and intensity.

By contrast, their lissom phrasing sensitively shaped Dvorak’s soaring melodies and their lush sonorities realised its romantic sound-world.

Unfortunately, the rhythmic acuity that marked their performance of the Beethoven trio was less in evidence here. Greater flexibility and freedom were needed to realise the infectious, folk-dance-inspired rhythms of the scherzo and finale. However, this was a minor blemish on what was an outstanding concert.

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