There is always an air of anticipation when the Seraphim Trio visits North Sydney’s charming Independent Theatre, but this concert came with added expectations, as they were to be joined by guest violist, Martin Alexander. Over the pre-concert refreshments provided at the Independent’s signature ‘Prelude in Tea’ series, there was talk of what this inclusion would add to the afternoon’s entertainment.
Collaborations are a treat for the audience as they enable expansion of the offerings programmed. They are also an opportunity for groups to join in performance with their colleagues, provide mentorship to less experienced players, and assist in building a dynamic way forward for the growth of music performance. This concert, in association with the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM), certainly proved a win-win for players and audience, as violist Martin Alexander fits in with the group as if they have been playing together forever. This concert was the end of a series in venues across Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales, and the rapport between the four players was evident.
With the added depth and richness of the viola, the program for the afternoon was meaty and satisfying. Martin Alexander’s introduction testified to the value of ANAM’s dedication to developing their musicians through the means of such collaborations and gave the audience a valuable insight into how performers develop artistically and professionally. His short introduction to the Mozart Piano Quartet in G minor, KV 478, followed. The opening movement was characterised by clean attack and lyrical lines with each instrument being showcased at different times, and finished with a triumphant restatement of themes. The Andante saw the piano establish a serene underpinning for the deep calmness of the entry of the strings, creating a still and peaceful centre. The movement proceeded in this contemplative mood, seeming to be searching out the tune, exploring the possibilities of the instruments. This very engaging movement ended with delicate filigrees of sound. The final movement was a study of contrasts, not only with the tranquillity of the preceding Andante, but within itself. These contrasts were extremely effective, as by turn wisps of sound were balanced by strong passages, and rippling work from the piano operated above a cushion of sound from the strings. Mozart kept us waiting through a false ending, as the instruments pulled back before a strong and joyful finish.
Cellist Tim Nankervis’s introduction to the final work revealed him to be possessed of a ready dry wit and a penchant for bad puns. In pointing out that Dvořák was originally a violist, he drew our attention to the fact that his Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op. 87, is an opportunity for the viola to shine. The strong opening statement of the quartet established a wildness of character that would appear again and again, then settled into the composer’s characteristic tunefulness. Powerful passages from the piano led into a section of high drama from all instruments, swift and attention-grabbing. The Lento offered many almost singable themes and the light and shade of ideas, as near-frenzied passages were bookended by slow and melodic sections, demonstrating the mellow tonal qualities of the instruments. In the third movement the atmosphere of the dance pervaded, while the Finale offered an opening unanimity that gave way to some wild individualism as excitement built towards the finish. But Dvořák had more surprises in store: what seemed an obvious hurtle towards the end was instead followed by some calmer lyrical passages, before a glance between the players ushered in a strong and exciting ending.
This was playing of the highest calibre in a most appealing program.