Ensemble Trivium | Queen’s Gambit
Friday 13 August, 2021, 7pm
Twice postponed due to COVID-19 related event restrictions, pulling together Ensemble Trivium’s latest chamber music concert, Queen’s Gambit, has been a labour of love for all involved. And it was a testament to the need for audiences to engage on an intimate level with transformative acts of creativity. Originally planned to include interstate-based artists, Brieley Cutting and Kristian Winther, the new lineup of Brendan Joyce (violin), Roger Cui (piano) and Monika Koerner was inspired, delighting the audience with their bravura interpretations of forgotten masterpieces and a thought-provoking new work by prominent local Brisbane composer, Thomas Green.
The concert opened with Italian composer Nino Rota’s Trio for flute, violin and piano. Rota was best known for his film scores including Fellini’s La Strada and Juliet of the Spirits and Rota’s score for The Godfather Part II garnered him an Academy Award. His cinematic roots were evident in this thrilling work which captivated the audience with its almost relentless tripwire tension. This piece wouldn’t be out of place in a Hitchcock film with its sense of urgency and watchful brooding. The audience held its collective breath throughout all three movements, entranced by the virtuosic interplay in which the piano quietly menaced as violin and flute chased each other to an exhilarating climax.
Rota’s piece was followed by Margaret Sutherland’s Sonata for violin and piano. Sutherland was an Australian composer who wrote in almost all forms but focussed particularly on chamber music. She was a pioneer of ‘new music’ and a champion of women’s involvement in the creative industries. Though prolific, her work is, sadly, seldom performed today. Sonata for violin and piano is a slippery piece, taking unexpected turns, never following a predictable trajectory. At once wild and restrained, soulful and melancholy it disturbed with its unsettling shifts in mood and tempo. Joyce and Cui did justice to the rich and nuanced emotionalism conveyed by this fascinating composer; it was a passionate performance.
Erwin Schulhoff, a regular on Ensemble Trivium programs, provided a complete change of tone. Schulhoff was a Czech composer and pianist. Considered one of the greatest musicians of his era, his life and career were cut tragically short by the rise of the Nazi regime. Sonata for Piano and Flute was not one of Schulhoff’s favourite works. He described it as “printed kitsch, but skilfully made”. Written for his friend, flautist, Rene Le Roy, Sonata for Piano and Flute is light, lyrical and playful. It has also been described as “genial”, but this is damning it with faint praise. Its relentless energy and highly complex contrapuntal rondo was interpreted with gusto and precision by Koerner and Cui.
Surprisingly, Queen’s Gambit, has absolutely nothing to do with the beloved Netflix series. Local Brisbane composer Thomas Green created the closing piece of the concert for Monika Koerner before the series was released. It was, however, inspired by the now famous opening chess move, The Queen’s Gambit. It is one of the oldest and most used openings played today.
The piece is a literal translation of the moves and potential variations, with violin opposing flute, then switching. A knowledge of chess was not required to enjoy this original, playful and striking piece, though chess tragics may have noted greater nuance and gotten the ‘in jokes’ more than say, the reviewer. It was a delight to have the composer himself present at the concert to explain the history of piece and Ensemble Trivium should be commended for their commitment to presenting bold new works by local composers.
Queen’s Gambit was a delight. Small in scale but great in ambition, Ensemble Trivium, continues to surprise with pieces old and new, and forgotten treasures deserving of rediscovery. Don’t miss Rising on 15 October at Old Government House. Rising will feature musicians Monika Koerner, Natsuko Yashimoto, Anne Horton, Yoko Okayasu and Katherine Philip with works by Tower, Beach and Shaw.
Reviewer: Amy Hyslop
Amy has worked in arts management for the past ten years with organisations such as Musica Viva, Australasian Dance Collective, DeClassified Music and Brisbane Writers Festival. She’s s published playwright and reviewed theatre for Australian Stage and Aussie Theatre for seven years. She currently leads Supercell’s fundraising subcommittee. She loves discovering new composers and is a total Max Richter tragic.