Arranged as a celebration of some Slavic master composers, Seraphim Trio’s Slavic Passion program could also be said to combine representations of remembrance. Across grief, loss, celebration, and captured moments, the pieces uniquely demonstrate the trio’s range of skill and interest.
The opening piece by Joseph Suk titled “Elegie” begins the theme of remembrance as it was composed to commemorate the one year anniversary of the death of Julius Zeyer, a Czech writer who had collaborated with Suk in the past. The full titled reads “Under the Impression of Zeyer’s Vysehrad“, an epic poem that itself includes themes of remembrance in its representation and glorification of Czech and French legends. The piece begins delicately before breaking into the sudden announcement of romantic strife in a piano bang. With the second break, the strings drop away for a reflective piano moment. Tim Nankervis’s cello turns deeper and darker to close on a grounded note.
The second piece is a brand new composition from Richard Mills commissioned by patron Professor Dimity Reed in celebration of her husband’s 80th birthday. This performance by Seraphim Trio marks the world premiere of this creative piece which wanders through nine movements that alternate between capturing portraits and corresponding memories with brief promenades in between. Nankervis hints that each portrait could be attributed to the trio’s members but the true identity of each representation remains a close secret of Mills.
There is plenty of variation across “Portraits and Memories” including playful back and forth between the cello and Helen Ayres on the violin that breaks into a swanning duet over the plopping piano. As the piano grows in breadth, the strings stretch out to build a soaring soundscape that calming deflates into the next movement. Other stand-out sections saw discordant racing and skipping up and down scales with the strings slashing across the piano’s crystalline rifts and some parts that sounded surreal, other worldly like running through a maze in Wonderland. The final movement was like a bird in smooth, easy flight that built a landscape of wonder before a discombobulating fall from grace and a slow relaxation into peace.
Mills’s composition is tonally interesting with eccentric moments and unexpected harmonies that move the piece between contradiction and beautiful contemporary simultaneity. The trio masterfully navigate the journey of the individual instrumental as well as the compelling overall narrative meant to inspire portraiture and memories of loved ones at special occasions.
For the final piece, the concert takes a turn for the sombre with Bedrich Smetana’s “Trio in G minor”. This was the only piano trio composed by Smetana and was written to express his grief at losing his three children and wife within a two year period. Smetana did much in his time for developing Czech music into a particular national style that incorporated Romantic influences while laying a path for future great composers. In three movements, the piece opens with a brave violin that is quickly supported with the fullness of the cello and piano, which builds drama until the cello slows the pace. The piece is customarily Romantic with demonstrations of dynamism and grandeur as the trio traverse high spirited peaks and deep troughs balancing Smetana’s hope and sorrow. At times the piece feels angry in compressed playing like pent-up emotions that release into curious and dreamy moments. With Anna Goldsworthy on the piano capturing a sense of nostalgia, the trio play with care until the end when the piece fades out only to creep back for a final taste.
Encompassing two Czech composers and an Australian all recreating memories, the Slavic Passion programme covered wide stylistic ground and exemplified the depth of emotion to be drawn out in remembrance. With Seraphim Trio’s careful and balanced skills, the overlapping of stories real and imagined from times passed and contemporary made for a novel exploration of the Slavic musical scene.