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
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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