All sorts of revelations have occurred as live music crawls from under the stone of Covid. The revelation of this concert to me was that, yes, musicians, like audiences, have been starved of live performance opportunities for the last year, but that has given musicians plenty of time to practice, time that isn't always there during normal concert life for successful groups such as The Streeton Trio.
I had expected their performance of Mendelssohn's D minor trio to be excellent. But it was more than that. The Streeton Trio reminds me of the Beaux Arts Trio in their coherence and warmth of sound. Violinist Emma Jardine, cellist Umberto Clerici, and pianist Benjamin Kopp played absolutely as one, engaging in a lively conversation between like minded musicians perfectly in accord. The succession of lovely tunes that is the first two movements went by like a well-balanced meal – Mendelssohn never over-feeds you, unlike for example, on occasion, Brahms. The last movement's even more beautiful tune was surrounded by the composer's whole gamut of passion and excitement, and they played this familiar but extremely difficult music – well, absolutely perfectly! None of this was lost on an audience most of whom clearly knew the D minor trio well – the applause and bravos which followed the rapt attention said it all.
For the rest of the program the Streetons were joined by the principal oboist of the SSO, Diana Doherty. Her slight, alert, bird-like frame contains a musician who can do just about anything you'd ever want to hear from an oboe. The first work she played with the Trio was Martinu's quartet for oboe and piano trio. Martinu solved the problems of balance inherent in this combination (the oboe is so easily swamped by a piano) by treating the instruments much as one might a string quartet, so that the oboe was another voice in the counterpoint of the strings, and the piano, playing half the time in octaves as in Schubert's Trout quintet, represented a fourth voice. The contrasting timbres amid the similarity of gesture was deliciously conveyed by Doherty and her companions.
Lachlan Skipworth's Oboe Quartet, written for these players, took a completely different approach. It sounded like an oboe concerto, the oboe being allowed plenty of sonic space when it played, and the other three instruments often sounding for all the world like an orchestra. The contrasts were exciting, of course, but I was left feeling I'd like to hear the work in an orchestral version.
The concert finished with an encore, the finale of Brahms' first piano quartet, arranged for this combination. Presumably the parts of violin and viola in the original were divided between the oboe and the violin somehow. The inclusion of an oboe into the ensemble gave the slowish, handler-like tune and almost Klesmer feel, which I liked. But this piece, played with abandon and at times ferocious energy, didn't work well for the ensemble, as here the oboe was indeed swamped by the huge sound of the piano trio. And anything Diana Doherty can't do with the oboe isn't supposed to be done.
This was an impressive display of post-covid delight, and the intense joy of performing to large audiences at last. How vital, literally, live concerts are. Let us not get used to virtual, or recorded, music – let it never displace the real thing.
2021 Adelaide Festival
Diana Doherty and Streeton Trio
Venue: Adelaide Town Hall
Dates: 2 – 3 March 2021
Tickets: $106 – $40