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First Play: Gryphon Trio, The End of Flowers

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Robert Rowat

"When we were celebrating our 20th anniversary, we were asked something like, 'What do you need to be a successful trio for so long?'," recalls Jamie Parker, pianist of the Gryphon Trio, now celebrating its 25th season. "Of course, I answered, 'You need two really patient people, and one cellist.'"

It's a burn that underscores the camaraderie at the core of Canada's foremost chamber group comprising violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, cellist Roman Borys and pianist Parker. Their latest album, The End of Flowers, is streaming in the player to your left until its Jan. 19 release on Analekta Records.

The album pairs two works composed approximately 100 years ago: Maurice Ravel's famous Piano Trio in A Minor from 1914 and Rebecca Clarke's Piano Trio, written in 1921.

"The First World War brought with it unprecedented loss of life, youth and hope. It was the end of flowers," writes Borys in the press release, elucidating the album's title. "Throughout Europe, fields lay barren, blasted and churned beyond recognition. Brought to life by this tumult like a phoenix from a flame, poppies bloomed where bodies fell and stood tall in their memory. In the winds of war, Ravel and Clarke composed two remarkable piano trios. Completed within the early frenzy and aftermath of this bleak chapter in human history, these brilliant works were not intended as memorials but stand as a testament to the enduring power of life and art."

Under the shadow of war

Clarke was an English composer who settled in New York City at the time of World War II. Parker tells us her Piano Trio is "full of passion and beauty [with] lots of stylistic influences — modality, impressionism, bitonality, dissonance etc. — weaved together into a really engaging work."

Her trio and Ravel's more familiar one bear signs of having been written under the shadow of war. "In the Clarke trio, the obvious World War I reference is the bugle call — either the search for fallen comrades, or mourning their loss," explains Parker. "As a motif, it appears a few times, in different registers, keys and emotional impact."

"In the Ravel trio, the influence isn’t as obvious," he continues. "There's just a general sense of angst that results in spectacular energy and explosive climaxes." Parker considers Ravel's trio and Shostakovich's second one to be the two great piano trios of the 20th century.

In addition to releasing this album, the members of the Gryphon Trio have big plans for their 25th season. "We’re gearing up for a big Western Canada tour in late January, including a new piece by Paul Frehner, to help us musically celebrate our 25th anniversary," says Parker. "Then it’s the usual variety of concerts, teaching, travelling (a return to Chris Wilshere’s Northern Lights Festival in Mexico in February is a wonderful winter escape!), with all of the endless hours of practice, rehearsal, planning and logistics that go into it."

On a more reflective note, he adds, "We live in troubling times. I don’t have the answers for how we pull out of the political nightmares around us, but I hope we all try to do something to make the future a better place."

Let's hope that future includes many more years of the Gryphon Trio.

The End of Flowers will be released on Jan. 19. You can pre-order it here.

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