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MALCOLM MILLER reports on the
UK première of Peter Breiner's jazzy Piano Trio


Contemporary piano trios with a swing are few and far between even despite the similarities of the Jazz trio medium. One work to use the ensemble's classical qualities of texture and balance in a bright and energetic jazz and light idiom is that by the Czech-born, Toronto-based composer Peter Breiner, which received its UK première in London on 20 May 2001. Breiner is a remarkably prolific and versatile musician whose discography of over 90 CDs (as composer, arranger, conductor or pianist) includes the singularly distinctive CD-set of all the National Anthems of the world! His Piano Trio came across as engagingly accessible in the première by the highly talented Czech Smetana Trio, the final concert in the adventurous Mill Hill Music Club's current season at Harrow Arts Centre's Elliot Hall.

Breiner's tonal and jazz modal harmony has a nostalgic flavour, sometimes recalling in texture the Gershwin-Heifetz arrangements, sometimes an almost Elgarian richness, notably in the suave lyrical melody assigned to strings in the central part of the ternary designs of the outer movements. Both propulsive and jazzy, the first movement features a syncopated riff in the piano's bass, and the last has a Latin American rhythm introduced by cello and echoed by violin. And Breiner varies the recapitulations, with some exciting jazz chord sequences in the first movement and a duet cadenza in the finale. Only the slow movement seemed somewhat weak, delving through fragmentary phrases to a rather soupy fifties cocktail 'musac' at its climax, but the polished performance of the Smetana Trio sustained a light touch to successfully fuse modern jazz and classical piano idioms. Their programme began with Beethoven's 'Ghost' Trio Op 70/1 and concluded with Dvorák's Trio on F minor Op 65, less often played than the more popular 'Dumky' trio. The F minor has a Brahmsian intensity and characteristic polyrhythm in the Scherzo and finale. Clean and rhythmically precise, their performance displayed an inner affinity for Dvorák's soulful and dramatic soundworld. The string playing was especially impressive, particularly the expressive slow movement where the bright-edged cello timbre of Jan Palenicek (son of Josef Palenicek, pianist of the original 1930s Smetana Trio) duetted with Hana Kotkova's focused violin tone, supported by Jitka Cechova's agile yet slightly reticent piano part. The folkish finale concluded with a flourish. Their vivid encore, Suk's Elegy, with its yearning string dialogue and explosive piano outbursts, encapsulated the Czech emotional essence in microcosm, and brought out some of the best playing of the evening.

Copyright © 25 May 2001 Malcolm Miller, London, UK




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