Review: Trio Wanderer, Utzon Music Series 2019

David Barmby

It was surprising to learn that this distinguished French Piano Trio is making its first visit to Australia.
Review: Trio Wanderer, Utzon Music Series 2019

Trio Wanderer photo via Sydney Opera House.

It was surprising to learn that this distinguished French Piano Trio, formed over thirty years ago and now en tour for the UKARIA Cultural Centre in Adelaide, the Melbourne Recital Centre and finally the Utzon Room of the Sydney Opera House, is making its first visit to Australia. The repertoire chosen for this occasion was strictly traditional fare, starting with Haydn’s late, London-published Piano Trio in C, followed by Dvorak’s popular Dumky Trio and concluding with Rachmaninoff’s Trio élégiaque No 2 in D minor, Op 9.


Trio Wanderer combines to form a characterful and refined ensemble sharing a warm rapport and deep maturity in narrative approach. Each member of the ensemble is a teaching professor in France or Switzerland so, as is customary for this Utzon Series, a masterclass for invited and talented young Australian musicians followed the performance. 

Haydn’s attractive and entertaining Trio on Sunday afternoon felt constrained, dressed in somewhat old-fashioned and heavy clothing, with effervescently intricate rhetoric broadly played through or over as if the ensemble was playing a work composed many years later. The ensemble provided a carefully moderated sound, though certain passages were too weightily rendered and lacked variation, missing Haydn’s quick wit, lyricism and subtle humour. Mostly, however, nuanced phrasing, firm string intonation and agile pianism gave pleasure.  But much more could have been savoured and carefully handled, such as the delicate coda of the smooth and sleepy Andante.

‘Dumky’ is the plural of the Ukrainian word ‘Dumka’ meaning ‘brooding’ or ‘meditation’ and this radically changed the mood of the recital. Within each of the half-dozen movements the composer plays between the emotions of dramatic melancholy or expressive nostalgia and unrestrained ebullience as a structural means of musical propulsion. A work, it is often said, perhaps meant to be enjoyed more than ‘understood’. Trio Wanderer gave a flamboyantly buoyant performance, showing a keen understanding of style and delineating each of the six movements with narrative clarity, though not reaching any expressive apex.  Rapport between the strings was sometimes flawed and the piano’s left hand muddied by over-pedalling, nonetheless here was generally good playing with excellent string intonation throughout.

Rachmaninoff’s extravagantly Romantic Trio élégiaque No 2 is modelled after Tchaikovsky’s sole Piano Trio in A Minor, featuring another great movement of variations. Rachmaninoff composed it as an elegy to Tchaikovsky, beginning and ending in a mood of dark D-minor brooding.  Once again, string rapport and phrasing was imperfect, and from where I was seated in this contained acoustic the piano’s left-hand voicing was again muddied. The second movement of extensive variations embodied tenderness, grandeur and a vast sweep of scherzo-like delicacy. The ensemble mastered the difficult final Allegro risoluto before a resolution into the final Moderato pages with us all gently submerging into a deep and boundless ocean of D-minor tears.

3 ½ stars ★★★☆

Trio Wanderer

Presented by Sydney Opera House
Vincent Coq, piano
Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian, violin 
Raphaël Pidoux, cello

14 April 2019
Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House


About the author

David Barmby is former head of artistic planning of Musica Viva Australia, director of music at St James' Anglican Church, King Street, artistic administrator of Bach 2000 (Melbourne Festival), the Australian National Academy of Music and Melbourne Recital Centre.