Combining the intimacy of the salon with the captivating vistas of suburban Paris and Gallic countryside, Seraphim Trio’s first stop on their European Grand Tour relished in the sumptuous sound worlds of France.
Part of The Lab’s Illuminate Festival offerings, the concert featured Seraphim’s violinist Helen Ayres, cellist Tim Nankervis and pianist Anna Goldsworthy (recently appointed the new director of Elder Conservatorium of Music) alongside operatic soprano Lorina Gore, exploring a cross-section of French repertoire ranging from the 1850s to 1930s.
While a run-of-the-mill chamber music performance might be anticipated in traditionalist settings, The Lab’s immersive visual technologies afforded a complementary Impressionist landscape, with Orlando Mee’s dynamic designs – drawing on the likes of Cézanne and Monet paintings depicting metropolitan and rural scenes – situating the music in its aesthetic homeland.
Sensibly set in the view of a Parisian lamplit streetscape and nearby crepuscular lake, Lili Boulanger’s Nocturne (1911) for violin and piano was expertly rendered by Ayres and Goldsworthy, attuned to the fragility and passion lost all too soon with the composer’s untimely death at age 24.
Progressing deeper into the night amidst images of a twilight forest, Jules Massenet’s Elegie (1872) for soprano, cello and piano showcased Gore and Nankervis at their most resplendent, the mournful lyrical lines of both intertwining amidst Goldworthy’s intoning (almost funeral) chords.
The full ensemble joined together for selections from Joseph Canteloube’s first series of Chants d’Auvergne (1923-30), a collection of folks sourced from the Auvergne region in central France. Originally scored for voice and orchestra, Seraphim’s own arrangements of Trois bourrées and Baïlèro succinctly captured the pastoral idyll inherent in the rustic accompaniments, with avian flourishes from the strings and rippling cascades of pianistic arpeggios. Gore’s personification of each song’s narrator was sublime, elegantly leaning into risque drinking songs and soothing shepherding ballads with sensitivity.
Perhaps the most thought-provoking match of music and visuals was Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio in A Minor (1914), a work written in haste so that the composer could join the war effort (driving a truck he called Adelaide for the duration of the conflict). Mee’s choice of a winter military parade scene in the streets of Montmartre reframed the music as a prelude to the horrors of World War I awaiting, which Ravel would reflect on later in the commemorative Le Tombeau de Couperin and bombastic La Valse. Seraphim’s performances lent a martial atmosphere, with the thematic opening piano chords of the Modére sounding like the echoes of an eerie fanfare, growing to vigorous climaxes balancing Ravel’s calculated counterpoint alongside impassioned intensity. Most arresting was their Passacaglia, conjuring a melancholic blend of fragile expressivity alongside Ravel’s Swiss watchmaker-like precision for formal clarity.
In embracing contemporary technological possibilities alongside the intimate surroundings of the French salon experience, Seraphim Trio and The Lab have struck on exciting new possibilities in the presentation of traditional chamber music, with future explorations keenly awaited!
Reviewed on 26 July 2022 at The Lab.