The Dumky Three
by Harriet Cunningham
I’ve heard Katherine Selby play Dvorak’s Dumky Trio (Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, Op. 90) so many times, in so many different incarnations. It’s a bit of a signature piece, and I thought that I had a definitive idea of the work in my head, cobbled together from years of various performances. But no. Yesterday, in the hands of Selby and her latest friends, cellist Clancy Newman and violinist Grace Clifford, I think I heard Dvorak’s quirky, lumpy, gushy, graceful trio as I’ve never heard it before. This was the real thing.
What was it that made this performance so good? Nothing obvious, and everything subtle. The balance, for one, which was brilliantly judged. Neither Clancy Newman nor Grace Clifford come across as power players. Their virtuosity is a given (Kathryn Selby has excellent taste in friends) but without the blast of egotism that can go with it. Even the opening outburst from Newman felt somehow private, as if we were being invited to listen into a very personal angst. An invitation to listen rather than a demand to be heard.
The communication between players was also a factor: fitting the fragments of song and dance together is an intricate business, and you could hear the fabric of the music stretching at times, but it came back together not with someone banging out a thumpy rhythm or an assertive entry, but by letting each gesture run its course. And the other lovely thing to hear was how one player would introduce some rubato into a phrase and the next player would take it, and make it their own, as if, with a wink, they were acknowledging a joke and embroidering it. This wasn’t just a feature of the Dvorak. It was there in the Beethoven’s E flat major Piano Trio, Op. 1 No. 1 as well – that sense of witnessing a really thoughtful, enlightening conversation.
Saint-Saens’ first piano trio, his Op. 18, completed the program and it was a real discovery. It’s still not fashionable to like Saint-Saens, but I reckon if you played this to someone blind, without telling anyone who it was by, they’d be utterly charmed. Especially in the hands of three such persuasive musicians.
No more performances from this line-up, sadly, but much good stuff to come from Selby and Friends through the course of 2017.