Could there be a more perfect pairing of piano trios than Schubert's second and Ravel's only contributions to the genre? These were the musical pillars in a superlative evening of chamber music from violinist Viktoria Mullova, cellist Matthew Barley and pianist Stephen De Pledge.
Both works are deceptively easy on the ear; Schubert with an unending stream of tunefulness, Ravel with evanescent yet clear-edged textures. However, something altogether deeper lies beneath the one's melodic innocence and the other's chic elegance: a bittersweet poignancy reminding us that Schubert was mortally ill at the time and Ravel, in 1914, finished his work on the brink of an epoch-ending war.
Here, Schubert was first to enchant us, especially when the streaking gleam of De Pledge's scales took us to that irrepressibly catchy second theme. Another high point was Mullova and Barley soaring over cascading triplets that might have fallen from the composer's piano impromptus.
Barley's singular tone, resinous and autumnal, invested the Andante con moto with an almost klezmer-like beguilement, a theme given a goosebump-inducing reprise in an otherwise sparkling finale.
After interval, being transported by Ravel, I recalled one writer describing his trio as having an austerity both chaste and passionate. The musicians conveyed just this in willowy rhythmic sways, unexpected eruptions of fury and, above all, the uncluttered beauty of Mullova and Barley's unisons.
The three musicians skilfully individualised each movement, heard most effectively when moving from the fleet-fingered exhilaration of Pantoum to Passacaille, with its chiselled procession of harmonies signifying so much more than mere notes on a page.
For those who know Salina Fisher for her lush and prize-winning orchestral scores, her new Mono no aware was a revelation, beautifully played by De Pledge and Barley, who introduced it from the heart. The young New Zealand composer's sensitivity to detail and gesture well evoked the transient pleasures of life, balancing hesitant dialogues of wonderment with outbursts of chilling vehemence.
What: Viktoria Mullova with Matthew Barley and Stephen De Pledge - Chamber Music NZ, Piano Splendour
Where: Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber
Reviewer: William Dart