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SCRUTINY | Beethoven’s ‘Ghost Trio’ Highlights Intriguing Mixed Program By Montreal’s Trio Fibonacci In Toronto Return

By Robin Elliott on October 4, 2019

Montreal’s Trio Fibonacci earned a standing ovation in an afternoon concert with a mixed program of Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Arbós, McKinley, and Brasset hosted by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto

Trio_Fibonacci
Montreal’s Trio_Fibonacci plays at Walter Hall, University of Toronto

Trio Fibonacci: October 3, 2019, 1.30 p.m. Walter Hall, University of Toronto

Trio Fibonacci from Montreal was founded in 1998 by the violinist Julie-Anne Derome and the cellist Gabriel Prynn, together with the pianist André Ristic. In 2017, Steven Massicotte joined the group, fresh from having completed his doctorate in piano performance. From its initial exclusive focus on contemporary repertoire, the trio has branched out to embrace the entire history of the genre, with a specialization in little known works for this medium. The trio’s Toronto debut with Music Toronto back in 2013 featured new Canadian works and two trios by George Onslow, a little known 19th century French composer. John Terauds ended his review of that recital by saying “Let’s hope the Fibonaccis can be invited back to introduce us to some more obscure treats.” The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto realized that hope by inviting the trio to open its 122nd concert season. I had never even heard of three of the five composers featured, much less listened to any of their music. The trio did make a concession to popular taste, however, by including a Beethoven trio on the program.

The first work was a set of three pieces “in Spanish style” by Enrique Fernández Arbós. Perhaps the reason I had not heard of Arbós before is that aside from this work, his Op. 1, none of his music of which there was never a great deal to begin with seems to be in circulation any longer. Composition was a sideline to his career as a violinist and conductor, in both of which occupations he enjoyed great success. The three movements of this trio a bolero, a habanera, and a seguidilla included some clever pizzicato effects in the strings in imitation of the guitar, and lots of infectious Spanish rhythms. The modern publisher of the work explains, a bit apologetically it seems to me, that this is, “more than salon music”. This is a debatable point, but whatever its genre, at nearly 25 minutes in duration, the piece went on a bit too long for my taste. Arbós took pains to include the word “original” in his title (Trez piezas originales), perhaps fearing that critics would think that he had stolen some rejected sketches from Bizet’s Carmen, which is admittedly what came to my mind in places.

Next up was a new work titled Falling Blue by the Montreal-based composer Maxime McKinley (b. 1979). I confess I had not heard of McKinley before, which is entirely my fault, as I see in the biography on his website that he has received commissions from, among others, the Esprit Orchestra, New Music Concerts, and the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, so he is well established in terms of Toronto performances. The title of this new work is borrowed from a painting (now in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) that Agnes Martin made in 1963; it is a huge square (six feet by six feet) of painstakingly drawn and densely packed thin horizontal blue lines on a sepia linen background. It may be an overly simplistic interpretation, but the lines of Martin’s painting seemed to me to correspond with the scales in McKinley’s work, of which there were a great many both chromatic and octatonic. Contrasting with the scales, and setting them off like Martin’s sepia linen canvas, were moments of long held or quietly repeated notes, such as the opening dozen slow repetitions of the lowest note on the piano. The piece reached its apex near the end, with a long melodic line in the violin somewhat in the style of Messiaen. It was an intriguing work, and made me curious to hear more of McKinley’s music.

The first half ended with the Rachmaninoff Vocalise (yes, I had heard of this composer before). In this arrangement of the famous wordless song, the violin and cello share the melodic lines while the pianist is confined to the simple chordal accompaniment. It struck me that this piece not only did not fit in well with the rest of the program, it also did not suit the playing qualities of this trio particularly well, but it certainly sent the audience off to intermission in a good mood.

The second half began with the recent work L’Amoureux (2017) by Marie-Pierre Brasset (b. 1981), another Quebec composer new to me. The title of the work, and its inspiration, come from a Tarot card that depicts a man with a woman on either side of him and a Cupid overhead. The card was projected on a screen behind the performers for the audience’s contemplation. The work abounded in novel and clever effects: chord clusters, artificial harmonics, and so on. As in the McKinley trio, this one too seemed to find its moment of maximum expressiveness in a long-breathed melodic line, this time for the cello, after which the piece deconstructed into a series of questioning melodic fragments. Somehow the many interesting ideas never seemed to coalesce into a larger statement, and the relation to the Tarot card remained enigmatic at best.

Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio concluded the concert and, to be honest, cast the rest of the works firmly in the shadow. What genius shines through in every bar of this work, written at the height of Beethoven’s powers. All of life is here joy, sorrow, passion, wisdom, contemplation, exuberance, and much more. The celebrated “ghostly” effects in the slow movement, with a fast, shimmering piano tremolo accompanying whispered, haunting motives in the strings, was very beautifully realized; this is music that must be heard live to be fully appreciated, and the Trio Fibonacci obliged with a first-rate interpretation. In fact, it was a terrific performance from start to finish, exploring the work’s extraordinary range of expression to full effect.

One sign of a good recital is when the buzz of audience conversation is as lively and animated after the concert as it was before it, which demonstrates that the experience of the performance was every bit as satisfying as the anticipation of it had been. This was certainly the case here. At the conclusion of the Beethoven trio, the musicians received a warm standing ovation, followed by the excited and lively buzz of satisfied concert patrons. It was an enthusiastic audience, to be sure, applauding even between the movements of the two multi-movement works on the program a welcome development, to my mind at least. Classical concert decorum tends to reinforce to too large a degree the qualities of reticence and restraint with which Canadians are already, by common consent, too generously endowed. It was good to hear the members and guests of the venerable WMCT expressing their spontaneous and sincere appreciation for the terrific music making of these three Montreal musicians.

[Disclosure: Robin Elliott is the coordinator of the Tuning Your Mind pre-concert talks for the WMCT]

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Robin Elliott

Robin Elliott

Robin Elliott studied music at Queen’s University (violin and chamber music) and the University of Toronto (musicology). After six years as a faculty member at University College Dublin, he was appointed to the Jean A. Chalmers Chair in Canadian Music in 2002. He is the historian for the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto and coordinates their pre-concert lecture series, “Tuning Your Mind”.
Robin Elliott
Robin Elliott

Robin Elliott

Robin Elliott studied music at Queen’s University (violin and chamber music) and the University of Toronto (musicology). After six years as a faculty member at University College Dublin, he was appointed to the Jean A. Chalmers Chair in Canadian Music in 2002. He is the historian for the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto and coordinates their pre-concert lecture series, “Tuning Your Mind”.
Robin Elliott
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