The Orfeo Trio Lecture-Recital
23 March 2018 ● Grand Hall, The University of Hong Kong

Haydn​                 Piano Trio Hob.XV:25 ‘Gypsy‘​
Dvořák​                Piano Trio No.4 Op.90 ‘Dumky‘​
Shostakovich​     Piano Trio No.2 Op.67​
Haydn                  Piano Trio Hob.XV:27 (Finale)

Orfeo Trio_20180323 HKU stage.jpg
The Orfeo Trio on stage (courtesy Cultural Management Office HKU)

Stalin, Bolshevik Revolution, persecution, Holocaust, Ashkenazi Jewish theme, etc were mentioned when the Orfeo Trio’s pianist Julie Bees introduced at HKU Shostakovich’s second Piano Trio (1944), which the composer dedicated to the memory of his polymath friend Ivan Sollertinsky.

Even nearly full house, the Hall could barely accommodate when Bees’ piano hammered the iconic Shostakovich staccato pattern upon the attacca entry into the Allegretto final movement. Such Jewish theme was not unfamiliar with his String Quartet No.8 Op.110 (1960), or Piano Quintet Op.57 (1940). Upon series of fierce pizzicato chords of the strings, the piano’s two-hand unison of two octaves apart embodied a peculiar oriental nationalism flavour, with exaggerated dynamics. The coda was a return to Passacaglia of the preceding movement. Throughout this movement Appassionato or espressivo, in either ff or fff, are marked on score. Not until the ending Adagio (section 105), marked molto vibrato, could the foregoing vigor be brought to tranquility.

Orfeo Trio_20180323 HKU violinist
Evgeny Zvonnikov perfecting his long bow (courtesy Cultural Management Office HKU)

If not too mindful of the somewhat disproportionate pouring of the piano, Zvonnikov the violinist has exhibited both his superior bowing and fingering artistry. His vibrato at high position of notes up to the bridge could be clearly heard while bowing angled ergonomically just like a precision tool. His right arm movement was elegantly at ease. Maybe this is typical of the Russian school of string training.


Formed in 2012 by music school faculty of a Kansa university, Orfeo Trio is made up of string players trained in St Petersburg, and a pianist from the US. Its cellist Leonid Shukaev, who spoke with heavy accents, was also a founding member of the St Petersburg String Quartet. When asked by Bees how comprehendible his talk was, the audience burst into immediate laughter.

The opening Haydn trio ‘Gypsy’ was short enough to remember, especially the violin’s recitative love song melodies in the second movement’s cantabile. The ‘gypsy’ style was so conspicuous in the last movement Rondo a L’Ongarese that has instituted many sixteen notes and sudden tempo changes. Orfeo encored with the Finale-Presto of the C Major Trio, Hob.XV:27. Bees introduced the crisp piano motif, and the violin crafted same to follow in a row.

However, my beloved piece was Dvorak’s ‘Dumky’, the last one of the six he composed (two are said to have lost). It is full of Slavic folk song flavour. Opposed to the title of pensive and melancholy connotation, the Lento maestoso opening was just fierce, with contrasting interludes. In the following Poco adagio, the sobbing, yet neat and tidy, cello of Shukaev was again arrested by the violin’s rhythmic exuberance before a return to the somber theme, upon the cello’s sustained low-pitches. After an introspective Andante movement, it was the cello in the fourth movement, set on a March-like tempo, gave another sad melody against the ostinato figures of the piano and the violin. What a profound interpretation by the Orfeo for this! The final Lento maestoso, amid the intermittent melancholy tone, was often wrapped with accelerated excitements, reflective of the Dumka characters, and ended in a stormy closeout.

Curtis on Tour in Asia
24 March 2018 ● CMA Lecture Theatre, HKUST

Beethoven       String Trio No.3 Op.9/1
Fauré                Piano Quartet No.1 Op.15

curtis at hkust (adopted from HKUSTMusicAlive Facebook)
Curtis members on stage (courtesy HKUST Music Alive Facebook)

Moving onto Beethoven’s String Trio No.3 Op.9/1, his final works in the form, could have commanded some adjustment for the ears (and the mind too). Formed by alumni, a student and a faculty member, the Curtis group offered closeness, or touchable music, in HKUST’s lecture theatre. Such “room style” has markedly contrasted against the “hall style” at HKU of the preceding day for chamber concerts.

Primrose transcriptions 2
Primrose: Viola Transcriptions (Naxos 2006), in which Díaz performed with the ex-Primrose Amati viola, c. 1600

The first movement’s Allegro con brio was vigorous for the violin, on which Stephen Kim has displayed good technical grasp over the full-bodied themes. Yet the renowned violist Roberto Díaz, who is an alumnus and now director of Curtis Institute of Music, at times favourably outshined the violin’s dexterity and vigour. [1] In the third movement Scherzo-Allegro, in ternary form, the outspoken viola, with clear and bold articulations, also stood out that it has dwarfed the reclusive cello. The finale Presto was played tight-knitted, with good harmony and lucid delivery to the audience. A good companion to his String Quartet Op.18, this Beethoven Trio Op.9/1 could look up to the more passionate Op.9/3, which also comprises Allegro-Adagio-Scherzo-Presto alike but is in C minor, one of the composer’s most important keys.

Joined by alumnae pianist Natalie Zhu, the Curtis kicked off the Fauré quartet with turbulent emotion, full of swirling musical ideas. The sonata form Allegro molto moderato dissipated a folklore aroma of nationalist themes. The next bouncing Scherzo starring the piano has collated its leggiero melodies, accompanied by the strings, albeit at times eruptive. Returning to C minor, the Adagio was affectionately – no lack of plaintive tones – crafted in tandem by the Curtis, who were mindful of the nuances down to the recapitulation endnotes. The next Allegro molto, amid an overcast cello on and off, ended with a gorgeous coda, rightly followed by a big hand from the audience. Indeed, this Curtis partnership event did showcase the strengths of the institute, of which the admission criteria and About Us were also briefed.

Copyright © 2018 K Chan

[1]  As principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which acquired the Antonio and Hieronymus Amati viola, Díaz bought the instrument from the orchestra in 2002. The instrument was owned by the father of the legendary William Primrose (1904-82), both were professional violists. The viola of 39.8cm (only 15.6″) is a cut-down model and quite small, but has a wonderful contralto depth of tone. Primrose used it extensively over his career as a violist and soloist, and as his primary performing instrument until about 1950. Thanks to his transcriptions like the above recording, Primrose has shot to fame with the expansion of the viola repertoire, and lifted the string instrument to its eminence.

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