Ensemble Trivium’s French Revelations concert was the perfect way to unwind on a Friday evening. Heritage-listed Old Government House, Brisbane, with its oak-panelled doors, high ceilings and chandeliers, was an intimate setting for chamber music.
Ensemble Trivium is a collective of Brisbane chamber musicians, performing chamber music centred around the flute. The ensemble on Friday featured flautist Monika Koerner, pianist Brieley Cutting, soprano Rachael Griffin, violist Raquel Bastos, and cellist Eleanor Streatfeild. Previously, the group has used various combinations of flute, violin, viola, cello, double bass, clarinet, voice, piano and percussion.
The program featured French chamber music from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries – the Romantic and early Modern periods. Featured composers included Maurice Ravel, Olivier Messiaen, Maurice Duruflé, Albert Roussel, Claude Debussy, François Devienne, and Francis Poulenc.
To open the evening, members from the ensemble performed Ravel’s Chanson Madécasses (Songs of Madagascar), with voice, flute, cello and piano. The first movement, Nahandove, was full of longing, desire and love. The second movement, Aoua!, was loud, clashing, with a sense of danger, warning the listener to beware of colonial invasion. The third movement shifted back to a gentle feel, titled Il est doux (It is sweet). The instruments and voice blended well together with a strong, varied sound.
Next, was a flute and piano duet for Koerner and Cutting, of Messiaen’s Le Merle Noir (The black bird). Messiaen was known for his love of birdsong and incorporating this into his compositions. This piece showcased Koerner’s mastery of the flute, with long passages without breath, and fast, fluttering rhythms.
For the third piece, violist Bastos joined Koerner and Cutting for a viola, flute and piano trio of Duruflé’s Prélude and Récitatif et Variations. Bastos’s viola really shone through, with its deep, rich timbre. Koerner said the choice to include viola was deliberate, giving the less well-known instrument a platform. The trio wove in and out, strongly attentive to each other.
Then, cellist Streatfeild joined Koerner and Bastos for a cello, flute, viola trio of Roussel’s Trio op. 40, in three movements, Allegro grazioso, Andante, and Allegro non troppo. The cello and viola resonated together with a rich quality of tone, sensitivity and colour. Koerner’s flute floated gently above like a leaf on the wind.
The piece we’d all been waiting for: Debussy’s Cello Sonata. Streatfeild and pianist Cutting took centre stage and a deep breath. In Prologue, Cutting played the rippling accompaniment, while Streatfeild rose and fell in waves. Streatfeild moved with dexterity, sliding easily up and down the cello’s neck. In Sérénade, Streatfeild plucked the pizzicato with gusto, against the walking piano. The piece built to a frantic climax, before fading back. In Final, Streatfeild climbed high, displaying the cello’s full range, before a final flourish to finish.
Next, was Devienne’s Duo Concertante in C Minor op. 5, for flute and viola, Koerner and Bastos. In Allegro molto con espressione, Koerner took the lead, while Bastos held lower notes, before the two instruments rose together with faster rhythms. In Rondo, Koerner and Bastos took turns at interwoven melodies and countermelodies with real expressiveness. The unusual combination of flute and viola added an interesting flavour to this piece.
To close, soprano Griffin and Cutting performed a duet of Poulenc’s Métamorphoses. In Reine de mouettes (Queen of Seagulls) and C’est ainsi que tu es (This is how you are) Griffin’s soaring voice sang of longing, love and passion. The final movement was titled Paganini, after the famous Italian violinist, Niccolò Paganini, though the piece made humour and irony of the violin. Griffin ended this piece with a theatrical touch.
Ensemble Trivium regathered on the stage for applause. In all, it was an interesting program of lesser-known French composers with an unusual and well-blended line-up of instruments. The performers clearly enjoyed playing together as an ensemble and showcased virtuosic skill for the challenging repertoire.
After the concert, the drawing room was opened up, revealing nibblies and drinks. The audience had a chance to meet the artists in the ambience of Old Government House, before heading off into the warm Brisbane evening.