For the first time in this series of recitals by Brilliant Young Musicians, Saint Peter’s church welcomed a piano trio – three young graduates of the Royal Academy of Music. The Tee Trio has performed together for a relatively short time and are honing their skills by regularly participating in master classes such as the Thomas Ades class in 2017.
They are three young musicians from very different backgrounds. The pianist Weng Soon Tee is Malaysian born, currently the Royal Academy’s Alan Murray Scholar and the recent winner of the Watford International Piano competition.
Laura Jane Armstrong studied at the Royal Academy and then played in the Northern Chamber Orchestra and toured Scandinavia with the Estonian Festival Orchestra. Manuel de Almeida-Ferrer is Portuguese. He began his performing career aged 13 as a boy soprano before transferring to the violin. He has been violin soloist with a number of Portuguese orchestras, and since 2017 has been studying at the Royal Academy.
The programme was very carefully chosen – three pieces by young composers played by three young instrumentalists. They began with Beethoven’s Piano Trio In E Flat major, which is recorded as opus 1, no 1 – Beethoven’s first catalogued work and published in 1795 when the composer was 25.
It is a work very reminiscent of both Mozart and his own teacher Haydn. The first movement, Molto Allegro Agitato contains two themes bounced from one instrument to another and displayed to the audience how these three musicians would work together in a very complex work.
The second movement, Aadagio Cantabile is sunny and much more gentle, the graceful theme first taken up by the piano. Clouds however, do appear in a middle section in a minor key, sequences of repeated notes in the bass line adding a touch of solemnity before the initial theme is take up again.
The mood changes again in the Scherzo, which is much lighter and frothy, while the more serious Finale, completes the work with a touch of solemnity.
The second work was quite different. Rachmaninoff’s Trio Elegiaque was written within three days in 1892 when the composer was only nineteen. It is one single movement divided into a series of very contrasting passages, deeply passionate at times, highly expressive, with great sweeping phrases.
The first passage is dominated by four rising notes, repeated many times. It appears as though these are the same notes, played backwards as in the opening bars of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto, a tribute to his musical mentor that would have been readily recognised by the musical elite of St Petersburg.
A series of short passages makes use of this four note theme. Gentle reflection rapidly gives way to ferocious agitation, before finally resolving into a solemn funeral march.
There was some wonderful playing, not least the serenity of the opening piano, while many cello passages were played with real passion. The final bars, with the two string instruments in unison over mournful piano chords, were so sensitively and quietly played that the audience was initially unclear as to when the piece actually ended.
This was real empathy with the youthful composer’s mood, highlighting the conflicting emotions expressed by the young composer and his reverence for Tchaikovsky.
The second half was devoted to one work, Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D Minor, written in 1839 when the composer was 30 years old. What a wonderful work, full of light and joie de vivre.
The Allegro movement begins the work with a flowing melody first taken up by the cello then the violin, with the piano rippling away beneath – the triplets and arpeggios effortlessly played by Weng Soon.
The second movement must be one of Mendelssohn’s loveliest works. Marked Andante it evolves from a gentle wistful melody, in the same tradition as his Songs Without Words. The audience was entranced not only by the melody itself but by the sensitive interpretation from all three instruments.
This was then followed by a Scherzo, played at an awesome speed. It is bright and chattering; full of good humour with a continuously rippling piano part, very reminiscent of the Scherzo in the composer’s Midsummer Night’s Dream music. The audience were clearly enraptured!
The Finale is much more serious in mood, but once again containing sweeping melodies like tumbling waves. The playing was technically splendid and the interpretation thoughtful, displaying much evidence of empathy and eye-contact between the three players.
The audience’s appreciative brought an encore – the first three of Frank Bridge’s Miniatures. Three jaunty pieces, the first of which, a minuet with a short trio, was especially appealing. These Miniatures have a strong rustic simplicity and felt very English. The Tee Trio’s approach to these added a light, almost bucolic touch to a splendid evening’s music.
We wish the three every success and hope that they will return to Saint Peter’s.
Laura Jane Armstrong – cello, Weng Soon Tee – piano, Manuel de Almeida-Ferrer – violin