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Ludwig Van
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SCRUTINY| Gryphon Trio Show Off Why Audiences Keep Coming Back For More

By John Terauds on December 8, 2017

Gryphon Trio (Photo: John Terauds)
Gryphon Trio and guest violist Jethro Marks (Photo: John Terauds)

The Gryphon Trio, with violist Jethro Marks. For Music Toronto. Jane Mallett Theatre. Dec. 7.

Just a few months shy of their 25th anniversary in 2018, the Gryphon Trio presented its annual recital for Music Toronto at the Jane Mallet Theatre on Thursday night by showcasing their versatility and fine musicianship.

The program reflected their interests: commanding performances of the chamber music canon; convincing interpretations of music they have commissioned; and encouraging young people to catch the art-music bug.

They always make it look and sound so easy, belying all the hard work that they have put into realising their projects.

No chamber ensemble can survive, let alone thrive, for a quarter century without having something compelling to say about the core repertoire. To this end on Thursday, the Gryphons – violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, cellist Roman Borys and pianist Jamie Parker – began with a particularly humour-filled Piano Trio (Op. 27, in E-flat Major) by Joseph Haydn. The Gryphons played it light, shaping the music with assurance.

The evening ended with the A Major Piano Quartet No. 2 by Johannes Brahms, a work not heard live very often in these parts. National Arts Centre Orchestra principal viola Jethro Marks joined the Gryphons for this piece.

Gryphon Trio (Photo: John Terauds)
Gryphon Trio (Photo: John Terauds)

This may be Brahms’ longest chamber music work, but it is not really his best. Written fairly early in the composer’s life, the Piano Quartet is filled with lyrical moments, contains remarkable little turns by all of the instruments, and displays the composer’s characteristic mastery of weaving certain musical motifs throughout a piece. But making the four movements cohere into a clear narrative is a major challenge. The Gryphons and Marks skirted the problem by playing it straight, sticking to Brahms’ instructions in the score and letting the music speak for itself.

Perhaps the sprawl that is the Brahms piano quartet was further highlighted by the middle work on the programme: the luminous, concise and moving Scales of Joy and Sorrow commissioned from Kingston-based composer Marjan Mozetich in 2007. Its five sections alternate light with dark, and effusion with quiet restraint. It was a pleasure to hear the Gryphons premiere the piece 10 years ago, and I have to admit it was even nicer to hear it again. It is a finely crafted score that was beautifully performed.

For nearly two decades, the Gryphons have worked with some of the music students at the Toronto District School Board’s Claude Watson School for the Arts in North York to help them develop their composition skills. Every year, the trio picks a couple of favourite student pieces and performs them for the Music Toronto audience.

Given that the pieces are written by Grade 11 students, the quality is remarkable. Thursday night’s premieres were Daydream, by Yunjin Bae and Two-Faced, by Vincent Wang. The young people also to witnessed the full range of joy and terror of the concert stage, when a gremlin in Patipatanakoon’s digital reader kept turning multiple pages at a time.

The Gryphons do a lot of work outside Toronto, but they are first and foremost local heroes in so many ways. That their musicianship is so consistently fantastic is what keeps us coming back for more.

Thursday night’s recital was recorded for future broadcast by the CBC.

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John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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