Review: Gryphon Trio makes provides triumphant overview of 30-year career with Calgary concert

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As if playing to a home crowd, The Gryphon Trio returned to Calgary last weekend to perform two well-attended concerts in the Calgary Pro Musica Society’s main series. The concerts were part of the Trio’s 30th anniversary tour, its longevity as an ensemble remarkable in a world where chamber groups often come and go as the wind.

 Although the Gryphon Trio has long been in residence at The University of Toronto, they have a special connection to Alberta, Calgary being the original home of violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon. Pianist Jamie Parker’s brother, Jon Kimura Parker, runs the Calgary-based Honens International Competitions, and the Trio has a long-standing relationship to the Banff Centre. Over the years The Trio has has made many appearances in Calgary, and the feeling during the concert was like the return of family after an absence.

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  Pianist Jamie Parker introduced the works on the program in an informal, engaging manner, the program planned to provide an overview retrospective of the ensemble’s work over the years. Typically, as in this instance, the Trio’s concerts include the standard works of the piano trio repertoire as well as contemporary music, often commissions to Canadian composers.

 This program, a sampler by concept, included two of these commissions of Canadian composers,: Kelly-Marie Murphy, now an established figure (also with Calgary connections), the other Dinuk Wijeratne, a young Ottawa-based composer in the forefront of Canadian music today.

 Following a crisply delivered, fleet account of the opening movement of Beethoven’s Piano Trio, Op. 70, No. 1 (“Ghost”), the concert continued with the first movement of Give me Phoenix Wings to Fly, a now regularly performed trio by Murphy. Despite the somewhat heroic title and implications of “grand things,” the trio is actually a straightforward, well-crafted work in a post-Stravinsky style, with much rapid motion in all the instruments, “dry” harmonies, and effective contrasts. It was good to hear this work again, especially as performed by an ensemble able to do handle its considerable difficulties with ease and aplomb. A standard work for the Trio and with many performances under its belt, it was presented with complete confidence and authority. Of the many performances I have heard of this trio over the years, this was easily the best.

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    As an antidote, the Trio performed Myroslav Skoryk’s now familiar Melody in an arrangement for piano trio. CPO regulars will remember this work, it having been played at the opening of many concerts at the start of the Ukrainian invasion. Filled with nostalgic longing, and composed in the manner of film music (the original context for its composition), it serves as a musical reminder that even as the world attention has turned to the Middle East, the war in Ukraine continues, and with daily devastation. As a performance and for the occasion, it made its mark.

 Dinuk Wijeratne’s name my strike a chord with Calgarians who attended the recent Banff International String Quartet Competition. His cheeky, witty quartet was the set work at the last competition, and much admired. Wijeratne, who is originally from Sri Lanka and spent his early years in the Middle East, likes to bring together elements of different traditions in his music. In Love Triangle, one finds Eastern rhythmic patterns (rather like a tabula rhythm), over which there is a melody of Middle Eastern intonation, with the larger structure embracing Western notions of form and development.

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  Wijeratne’s music is never less than imaginative, and throughout the course of the 15-minute work there was much variety, the music building to two impressive climaxes. As with the previous work, the commitment of the Trio to its performance could not be questioned: everything flowed smoothly, and the climaxes were achieved in a well-graded, musical way. As with the Banff piece, Love Triangle was very warmly received by the audience.

 The first half concluded with the opening movement of Brahms’s Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8, a work the Trio has recently recorded. For my taste, as well played as it was —there were no errors or performance issues — it was somewhat more phlegmatic as a performance than the other works on the concert.

            The evening concluded with Schubert’s Piano Trio in B-flat, a sparkling work perfectly suited to the performing personality of the ensemble. With the modern works, this trio received the best performance of the evening, the alternate dancing and lyrical elements of the music perfectly engaged in a thrilling account of the music. A special bravo for the scintillating finale. A Piazzolla tango was the encore, sending everyone home in the best of spirits.

 

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Originally posted 2023-11-22 17:19:29.


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