Melba Recordings

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Benaud Trio

01/11/2012
Fanfare (US)
Barnaby Rayfield

The number of sneers I get when I tell someone that I’ve been enjoying a disc of Australian chamber music. “No need to be sarcastic,” or “Urgh, yuk, why not drink some British wine while you’re about it?” I’m going to stick my neck out for this great disc, a risk for Australia’s best-known classical label. Melba has compiled four world-premiere works by young Australian composers for the young Benaud Trio, whose first recording this is.

Ross Edwards’s Piano Trio (1998) is certainly a beautiful, melodic way to start the program. The wistful, haunting main piano theme in the first movement is repeated and answered ever more differently by the strings. Subtle elements of folk tunes, especially in the nervy final movement, and a really confident, old-fashioned belief in classical structure make this something that could almost pass for French chamber music of the 1900s. What really jumps out is the fluidity and transparency of the writing, although this is just as much down to the energetic, colorful playing.

After this almost Ravelian, piece, Paul Stanhope’s Monteverdi madrigal-inspired trio, “Dolcissimo Uscignolo” (Sweetest Nightingale, 2007), suddenly creates quite a static atmosphere, also very effective in its way. This Pärtian stillness is soon broken up by the frenzied, disjointed writing (the nightingale in flight), before reaching resolution and solace. A perfect arch of a piece.

More disjointed is Matthew Hindson’s Piano Trio (2007), with movements named “Moto perpetuo,” “Repetitions,” and “Epic Diva.” Although fundamentally tonal and conventional in structure, Hindson’s eclectic mix of techniques (repeated and sustained chord progressions, huge dynamic contrasts) and genres creates a fun, jagged journey that nevertheless demonstrates real skill at maintaining some sort of logic and journey throughout.

Finally there is Trailer Music (2010), a one-movement tour de force from film, choral, and pop composer Nicolas Buc. Punchy, confrontational, and unashamedly emotional, Trailer Music flits, like a series of trailers, I suppose, from gung-ho energy to sentiment and tear-soaked melody, before going off down yet another jittery path. The jauntiness of it all prevents it from becoming pompous and unengaging, and for all his drama and drive, Buc displays a welcome dose of wit.

All the works have been cleverly arranged and programmed, with each subsequent piece more challenging and complex than the last. None of the trios outstay their welcome, and they work well as a played-through set. What lingers is the feeling of endless ideas and confidence in these composers’ bright, unprissy writing. The odd bit of pretension aside, the notes are extensive and informative. Sound is bright and forward, matching the young drive and talent of the performers. Whether the composers’ reputations will travel outside of Australia one can’t say, but this disc is a real charmer.