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FRIENDS OF MUSIC: A TRIO (article first published : 2007-09-6)

Three Brahms piano trios were presented at this highly successful Friends of Music concert at the Durban Jewish Centre, with outstanding playing before a big and appreciative audience.

The performing trio consisted of Pieter Schoeman (violin), Anmari van der Westhuizen (cello) and Albie van Schalkwyk (piano). As their names indicate, they are all South Africans but they have a record of imposing achievements in the wider world abroad. Pieter Schoeman is co-concertmaster of the London Philharmonic Orchestra; Anmari van der Westhuizen has played as a soloist and chamber musician in Vienna and Salzburg (she now teaches at the University of Cape Town and is in much demand as a performer); and Albie van Schalkwyk has lectured in Austria for several years and is now a piano professor in Bloemfontein.

Their playing of Brahms was ample evidence of their musical gifts. Albie van Schalkwyk has a big, bold, strong keyboard technique, a prerequisite for most of Brahmsís piano music. Pieter Schoeman has a sweet, true and expressive violin tone that soared eloquently in all three works. And Anmari van der Westhuizen produced lovely sounds from her cello and showed a nimble technique in rapid and pizzicato passages.

They played the three trios in the opposite of chronological order, starting with the last and best, the Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101. This quite late work, composed by Brahms in 1886 when he was 53 years old, contains dramatic contrasts of force and grace. After a stormy opening to the first movement the composer relaxes with a typically broad, mellow theme. The scurrying second movement is followed by an Andante grazioso, serene and almost sentimental. And the final movement returns to the uncompromising toughness of the first.

The performers captured admirably this wide array of moods. They were undemonstrative but intense, dedicated to making music, not showing off, and their rapport was so close and sympathetic that it would be invidious to single out any one player for special praise.

The Trio No. 2 in C major, Op. 87 opens with a theme in octaves for violin and cello, giving these two players an immediate opportunity to show their ability and very impressive it was, too. The work as a whole is not quite as grand as the C minor Trio but it is consistently attractive, with a slow movement, a theme and variations, that has a slight touch of gypsy music about it.

The programme ended with Brahmsís early Trio No. in B major, Op 8, melodious, rhythmical and vigorous. All in all, an evening of unalloyed pleasure.

The concert started with the prelude performers, funded by the SEM Charitable Trust. These turned out to be eleven recorder players aged nine to 13, trained by Sandra Breschi of Durban. They showed technical skill and musicality in playing six short pieces. I think it is wonderful that a love of good music should be inculcated at such an early age and, moreover, as players, not mere listeners. - Michael Green




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