Three times the joy

22 July 2023

Haydn’s piano trios get a rare outing with a grand guest. Classical enthusiast Julie Hosking is swept along by the majestic movements and their magnificent players. 

Haydn Piano Trios, Australian Baroque  
Government House Ballroom, 21 July 2023 

The curtains are a little late opening to Government House Ballroom thanks to a temperamental grand dame. To be fair, she’s 227 years old, hasn’t been out for about 15 years, and the weather has wreaked havoc with her system. 

“She was fine this morning,” classical pianist Geoffrey Lancaster tells the audience. “But then we got here and barumph!” 

So she required a little extra love (or tuning) before being introduced to the world, or at least those of us who had come to hear Lancaster, violinist Helen Kruger and cellist Noeleen Wright perform Haydn Piano Trios. 

Joseph Haydn is feted for his symphonies and string quartets, but the Austrian composer also wrote 45 piano trios, many of them rarely performed.  

Tonight’s program features G Major Hoboken XV:25 (gypsy) – nicknamed Gypsy Rondo, it’s perhaps Haydn’s best-known piano trio – A Major Hoboken XV: 18 and Ab Major Hoboken XV:14, each performed in three movements. 

And what could be a more appropriate instrument on which to share the piano trios than one the composer might have seen on one of his successful creative sojourns to London in the late 1700s. Made by legendary piano manufacturer John Broadwood in late 1796, the English pianoforte is a beauty and Lancaster is clearly excited to bring her out of his music room to show her off in public. 

Of course, no matter its history, the pianoforte is only an object to admire without a musician to bring her to life.  And we couldn’t ask for a more accomplished artist than the multi-award winning WAAPA professor. 

Helen Kruger, Geoffrey Lancaster and Noeleen Wright are masters of their instruments. Photo supplied

Unlike their Viennese counterparts that “talk”, Lancaster explains, English pianofortes “sing”. And, oh, what a voice this maestro gives her. He plays with the finesse and assurance you would expect from a performer of his stature, but it’s his almost spiritual connection with the instrument that helps make this a transcendental experience rather than simply a polished performance.  

And while the piano may get star billing in the concert title, the strings are far from support acts. Kruger is a marvel to watch, fluidly shifting from wistfully magnetic on the more sombre movements to the energetic playing of the gypsy-inspired rondos. Frenetic and flighty, they demand a lot of the strings. 

Like Lancaster, the Australian Baroque artistic director makes the complex seem so natural it’s hard to believe she hadn’t played the pieces before the trio began rehearsals.  

The cello has long been my favourite instrument and Wright reminds me why, expertly bringing a richness to the compositions, the depth of sound wrapping the violin and pianoforte like a warm blanket, pulling on the heartstrings. 

Together they are simply magnificent, musicians so in sync with each other performing pieces perfectly crafted for a combination given individual moments to shine, particularly on the evocative and ultimately joy filled A Major

We are so lucky
to have such
world-class musicians
in our midst.

Government House Ballroom is a fitting vessel for such majestic music. During the lush first movement of the G Major, which Lancaster describes as like a regency ballroom, I can almost imagine myself at a soiree at Pemberley with Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. 

It would be remiss, too, not to highlight Lancaster’s erudite introductions to the evening and each piece, especially for those in the audience (like myself) who are classical music lovers, rather than experts. 

His encyclopedic knowledge of the era and its practitioners is undeniable but it’s his enthusiastic and humorous delivery that makes these casual lessons so memorable. I did not know, for instance, that so much music was written for women who were not allowed to perform in public. Told to practise for nine hours a day as part of their preparation for marriage, many became so accomplished that the likes of Haydn would write specifically for them. I can’t help thinking if I’d had a piano teacher like Lancaster (rather than at least one nun with ruler at the ready every time I messed up a scale) I might still be playing. 

What a privilege it was to be in the audience tonight. To hear magnificent music rarely played on an historical instrument by a master, accompanied by two equally talented musicians. We are so lucky to have such world-class classical performers in our midst. 

The good news for all those who missed it is the trio will be recording this divine Haydn set for Tall Poppies record label next week (with filming by Master Performers). I know it will be on my playlist. 

Join Australian Baroque and Geoffrey Lancaster for the second of a series of Intimate Musical Conversations, Art Collective WA, Perth, on 16 August 2023.

Australian Baroque will perform with the Giovanni Consort at St Andrew’s Anglican Church, Subiaco, on 26 August 2023

Pictured top: Helen Kruger, Geoffrey Lancaster and Noeleen Wright perform Haydn’s Piano Trios. Photo supplied

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Author —
Julie Hosking

A journalist with more words to her name than she can count, Julie Hosking has worked for newspapers, magazines and online publications in Melbourne and Perth. She has been a news editor, travel editor, features editor, arts editor and, for one terrifying year, business editor, before sanity prevailed and she landed in her happy place - magazines. If pushed (literally), she favours the swing.

Past Articles

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    From Awesome activities to magical nannies, there are so many marvellous ways to have a jolly holiday, writes Julie Hosking.

  • In the eye of the storm

    Breaksea’s poignant story of the search for light in the darkest hours ignites the senses. Julie Hosking rides the waves of emotion.

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