Over motoring strings, pianist Kathryn Selby hammered out an anxious, climbing melody, setting the scene for the haunting tale that underpins Elena Kats-Chernin’s programmatic The Spirit and the Maidenfor piano trio. Inspired by Russian music, folk tales and the female protagonists of works like Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, Erlkönigand Rimsky-Korsakov’s Ice Maiden, Kats-Chernin’s Maidenwas written for Selby’s former Macquarie Trio in 2004, though the piece has undergone some revisions since then.

Violinist Natalie Chee and cellist Julian Smiles joined Selby on stage for the musical story-telling, Chee bringing a rich, brooding sound to the story of a young girl who meets a beautiful spirit in a well, her energetic dance-like motifs in the second movement given a kind of desperate gravitas. Smiles carved intense, keen-edged cello lines through the third movement, his low pizzicato offset by Chee’s shimmering in the upper registers. The trio gave Kats-Chernin’s work a surging momentum that made the ghostly harmonics of the tragic ending all the more effective.

Selby and friends rounded out the first half of the concert with Dvořák’s Piano Trio No 1, Op. 21. Written when Dvořák was in his 30s, his first piano trio came eight years before...