Melba Recordings chose to launch the Benaud Trio’s new CD, Bohemian Rhapsody, in the space where it was recorded – the South Melbourne Town Hall, home to the Australian National Academy of Music.
This added resonance to the event – in the fullest sense when the Trio gave a brief performance. The superior acoustics of the space were evident, lending listeners an expectation that the CD would sound as good. With sensitive work by a team led by producer Peter Taplin, this has proved to be the case.
I must declare my hand here, as I am on the record as saying (in 2011): ‘Many aficionados of chamber music believe that the Benaud Trio is simply the best of its kind in Australia and, although I usually prefer not to make comparisons, I believe that’s a fair comment.’
My opinion, after hearing several more concerts – and now, this CD – is unchanged. The Benaud Trio comprises Amir Farid (piano), Lachlan Bramble (violin) and his brother Ewen Bramble (cello), each a fine musician in his own right. But it’s their evident empathy that is a constant, with balance always achieved regardless of the nature of the work.
This CD is a shining example, with the two major works providing as great a contrast in moods as you could expect from the two great Czech composers, Smetana and Dvorak.
Smetana’s first (and only) piano trio, in G minor, Op15, was completed just months after the death of his four-year old daughter. Even without knowing that the work was born out of grief, the listener would recognise from the opening theme sensitively played by the violin, then the cello, that this was music that was heartrendingly beautiful, and tinged with sadness.
The Trio moves with ease through furious energy to a quieter phase: soft chords, pizzicato violin and a steady rhythm for the cello, before the solo piano has a series of stunning chords. The synchronicity of the three is never in doubt even in the roller-coaster ride of the final movement, with its virtuosic section for Farid and equally brilliant music for the strings.
Perfect timing is also called for – and achieved – in the slightly longer (and better known) work, Dvorak’s Piano Trio in E minor Op90 B166, known as the ‘Dumky’. Popular from the outset, this work is a standard in the Benaud Trio repertoire and this performance shows why. Its eight contrasting movements allow all three players to show their understanding of typical Slavic moods – from deep sorrow to almost rollicking celebration of the dance.
Dvorak’s technical demands are well (and equally) met, with almost breathtaking bowing and brilliant runs on the piano. Nothing less than you’d expect from the Benauds.
The CD ends with Nicolas Buc’s beautiful, arrangement of the Queen hit, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – a popular encore at Benaud concerts. It is played with such resonance and richness that you’d swear this was a much larger ensemble – an illusion that is perhaps the key to the Benaud Trio’s magic.
With Bohemian Rhapsody, Melba’s executive producer Maria Vandamme has delivered on the label’s reputation for the finest of Australian recordings. It could stand beside any recordings of these works world-wide.