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Strathearn Music Society Review – Oliveros Ensemble

23 February 2022 Concluding a short Scottish tour in Crieff last Wednesday, the members of the Oliveros Ensemble appeared upbeat despite having experienced some challenging weather events en route. Continued high winds and rain also plainly deterred some of the Strathearn Music Society stalwarts, but those who did attend surely came away well rewarded.
Oliveros are a string trio comprising Flora Curzon (violin) and Sophie Rivlin (cello) with, on this occasion, Tom Hankey as guest viola player. Eminently comfortable in the middle seat, he was entirely alive to the subtle rapport between the two regular members of this tightly-knit group.
The repertoire for String Trio isn’t perhaps very familiar to concertgoers, who are much more accustomed to the sound of the String Quartet (not surprising in view of the huge output for the medium by almost all of the great composers) but the smaller group has many treasures to reveal, and the programme offered here gave an intriguing taste of this.
Starting with Bach (never a bad idea) the Oliveros presented the first half-dozen of his Goldberg Variations, whose contrapuntal virtuosity, originally conceived for the harpsichord, proved the ideal vehicle for focussing ears and minds on three equal yet individual intertwined lines of musical thought. The next take on the same ensemble showed the young Beethoven, in his Trio opus 9 no 2, displaying a sense of serious drama which clearly tells his listeners that, despite the seemingly lightweight forces at his disposal, he is not intending the piece as a mere divertimento for easy listening. More obviously “Viennese” and sparkling in character was Schubert’s single-movement B flat Trio D471 from a couple of decades later. Although probably intended as the opener to a full-length piece it can stand alone on its own elegantly classical terms, and provided a perfect prelude after the concert interval to the intriguing main course of the event.
Described in the programme notes as a “rare gem”, the String Trio by Jean Cras is exactly that. No shame at all if you’ve never heard the name, but the obvious question after even a single hearing of this remarkable work must surely be “why is he not better known?” Well, since you ask, he had a Day Job, and a pretty demanding one at that, which saw him rise to the rank of Rear Admiral in the French Navy over 35 years of distinguished service; hence his musical activities were all fitted into whatever free time his seafaring duties allowed. That he nevertheless managed a level and quality of output which would have done credit to many a “full-time” composer is impressive. Recognisably French in many ways and owing a clear debt to some of his Impressionist predecessors, the language of his String Trio is also highly individual and varied, displaying influences from many different sound-worlds – surely derived, in part at least, from the travels that his naval career entailed. This piece was a real eye-opener, so a big thank you to the Oliveros Ensemble for championing it.
Indeed it was a pleasure overall to share their exciting and unique blend of artistry and presentation – always something a wee bit different from the Strathearn Music Society, and always in a good way!
Next, and final concert of the season: The Gaia Duo – Katrina Lee (violin) and Alice Allen (cello) with a programme of music by Sancho, Finnis, Beamish and Strachan – Wed March 16

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