A Final Offering | Selby & Friends

To round out the year of online performances, Selby & Friends presents their final concert consisting of pieces composed as the “last of” the respective forms for each composer. From Schubert to Schumann, A Final Offering takes on the highs and lowest lows in tone and inspiration.

Opening the program was an extract from Franz Schubert’s “Piano Trio in E-flat major Op. 148” called “Notturno”. The piece was found amongst his papers after Schubert’s death and published posthumously, making it one of his last compositions. It was a gentle, understated piece that moved in quiet waves. The delicate rhythm was hypnotising in its repetition and worked as a soft gateway into the program.

On the other hand, the second piece “Piano Trio in E minor Op. 67” by Dmitri Shostakovich was highly unusual and evocative. This was the last piano trio the composer wrote before his death and it was inspired by the horrible treatment of Jewish prisoners during World War II. Violinist Susie Park spoke of channeling her feelings of grief and loss for this year into the performance of this “deranged waltz”. From the first note, this piece is immediately unsettling with the particularly difficult opening of the cello at a much higher in pitch than standard. Timo-Veikko Valve played this piercing lullaby rhythm atop Kathryn Selby’s piano rolling like thunder. An abrupt change to staccato strings signalled a change of pace that saw the violin climb and fall dramatically on repeat. These unfamiliar sounds building and crashing into tense quiet established the piece as unpredictable from the first movement.

The second movement had quite a different energy to the first with the strings sharp and biting, often overlapping at odd moments. At the same time Selby’s piano maintains a steady, unstoppable momentum in the background that serves to increase the tension of the piece. The trio very clearly feel the emotions of Shostakovich’s composition in their bodies, throwing themselves around with the rhythm and hunching over with the weight of the darker moments.

In the last two movements, the physicality of the performance increases as the musicians navigate the unusual playing required by the piece. The piano’s heavy chords are left to reverberate through the air like giant footsteps and later the strings transition to a plucking section like dripping water. Juxtaposing the two weights of the sounds, the feeling of the music in the air, turned the rhythm ragged and fractured with the playing becoming a jerky caricature of a trio. As the piece comes to an extraordinarily broken, whimpering ending, the players are transformed into overwound automatons, bringing to life the uncanny inhumanity Shostakovich was influenced by.

After such a strange and emotive piece, the Robert Schumann felt like a return to the conventional. “Piano Quartet in E-flat major Op.47” was written in 1842, Schumann’s “Chamber Music Year”, and introduced Stefanie Farrands on viola to the trio. The addition of the viola certainly rounded out the tone of the strings and provided a versatile middle sound to weave the piano more tightly into the strings. The piece was light and cheerful with skips and leaps in the rhythm that then wound up into racing passages that repeated throughout the movements. Even the third movement with its much slower, more romantic pace never became melancholic. Then the rousing final movement closed out a rather upbeat and entertaining piece that one could easily picture in a Victorian salon.

For three pieces demonstrating the last of their composers’ work in the form, the selected pieces vary wildly with the men’s interests and temperaments. The Shostakovich stood out as the star of the program not only for its unusual composition and moving inspiration but also for the enthusiastic and engaging way the trio performed the piece. Seeing the Selby & Friends musicians commit to the atmosphere of the piece was a reminder that live performance reawakens the music anew each time.

A Final Offering is available for online streaming from November 6th. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit the Selby & Friends website.

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