Sir Arthur Streeton’s painting ‘Fire’s On’

The Streeton Trio have always been a treat to hear. Founded just over 10 years ago, performing far and wide through China, Middle East, Scandinavia and extensively throughout Europe they have built an enviable international reputation for outstanding work. It was a treat for us to have them at the Independent Theatre, North Sydney last weekend performing their program titled FIRE’S ON. The ensemble’s name comes from famous Australian painter Sir Arthur Streeton. Fire’s On is one of his superb landscape paintings showing pioneers dwarfed by steep, massive clay rocks in the Australian countryside. You can feel the heat of a heavy summer as they are constructing the first railway line across the Blue Mountains and Fire’s On is the warning call of an upcoming dynamite blast. This incredible painting was the backdrop to the performance. Though not explained on stage nor in the program it added a warm colour scheme to the otherwise simply painted interior.

The program began with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Trio Élégiaque no 1, a feisty, confident way to kick start the concert. We were told Rachmaninoff was in his final year as a student at the Moscow Conservatory at the time of composing and, as with many students of the time, was heavily influenced by the writing of Tchaikovsky. Some parts of the Élégiaque were so similar to Tchaikovsky’s writing that it wasn’t published for quite a time afterwards. The players felt there was a lot of love written into it and we certainly felt the warmth in their interpretation.

To complete the first half of the concert was a starkly contrasting piece from Dmitri Shostakovich. A modern piece written towards the end of the second World War when Shostakovich was deeply oppressed by the Soviet Party “Cultural” (dare we can call them that) officials who had little musicality in deciding what was good and what was not. There seemed to be very little Shostakovich could do to please them and even when they asked for a specific style of music, even the critics would attack him as a way to protect themselves, interpreting his commission as being anti-Fascist, turning audiences against him. So, by 1944 Shostakovich was well beaten down and this Piano Trio Opus 67 was a mix of moods from the lowest of depressions to “fierce” joy – a bit like a child forced to put on their best dress, paint on a smile and perform in front of the guests when they hated the idea of it. It’s an extremely challenging work. The audience didn’t feel completely receptive to the idea when it was announced the work would be depressing at times though they were captivated once the work began as it travelled through a journey as rocky, burnt and steep as the painting in the background. 

The second half was different again with a longer Piano Trio no 1 by Anton Arensky.  Carrying the Tchaikovsky theme throughout the program, Arensky and Tchaikovsky had been classmates at St Petersburg Conservatory frequently trying out draft compositions on each other for the mutual benefit of feedback. This four movement work begins in a fairly standard way though the Scherzo second movement and finale really rallied the audience with strong Russian folk influence.

Our artists in the Streeton Trio included the ever glamorous violinist Emma Jardine sporting a baby bump under her very elegant long black sequin dress. An exceptional technical talent, she handled these very challenging works with ease, confidence and clarity. Joining the trio was a young talent not long out of her education, cellist Eliza Sdraulig. In temperament she felt like an excellent fit to the group with good communication, very capable technique and expressive phrases. A confident, lovely player and I hope we see her many times more in the future. 

For this time around pianist Benjamin Kopp became the shining beacon of light. Showing great understanding of each concept offered by the composers he threw himself into the works, intricate in his accuracy, emotionally fluid and clearly enjoying every minute. He stretched himself to concert soloist level as if in front of a mighty orchestra – an outstanding performance.

We are so very lucky to have Streeton Trio based here in New South Wales. Their performances are rare so book well ahead next time you hear their concerts are available. Check their website for the next dates. Highly recommended.

Also worth mentioning is the 80th Anniversary celebration next weekend of the Independent Theatre. The New Independent Players will be doing a reading of the comedy play performed at the theatre opening in 1939. Definitely worth supporting. Get there at 2pm in time for afternoon tea!

Concert Program

Trio Élégiaque no 1 in G minor (1892) by Rachmaninoff

Piano Trio in E minor op 67 (1944) by Shostakovich

Piano Trio no 1 in D minor op 32 (1894) by Arensky

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Featured image : The Streeton Trio- Chris Pidcock, Benjamin Kopp, Emma Jardine