No change

SCHUBERT’S TROUT

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Monday September 26, 2022

Olli Mustonen

In one of the ACO’s more chaste excursions, five members of the ensemble participated in this latest series event in Brisbane: violinists Satu Vanska and Liisa Pallandi, viola Stefanie Farrands, cellist Timo-Veikko Valve and double bass Maxime Bibeau. Presiding over the program sat pianist/composer Olli Mustonen – a favoured guest of this orchestra and whom I’ve also heard presenting a Beethoven concerto or two with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra – not the happiest of memories. On this night, he led a string quartet through Milhaud’s La creation du monde, then headed an outline of his own Piano Quintet which has been heard here before. After interval, Pallandi dipped out and Bibeau came onboard for the big Schubert quintet.

As soon as the French ballet score began, it all came back: the pianist’s idiosyncratic attracting your attention with extravagant hand motions way above the keyboard, the insistent dynamic dominance of proceedings, and the eccentric singling out of notes for emphasis while others recede or disappear completely. Excuses can be made for the piano’s hogging attention: it represents the missing 14 other instruments in the original score, even if it doesn’t have all their notes entrusted to its care. In fact, what we heard was Milhaud’s own arrangement of the five-movement work.

You could shut your eyes and ignore the manual flamboyance easily enough. But you couldn’t ignore the jerkiness imposed on the central Romance where the phrasing’s sense disappeared. Nor was there a way of avoiding the insistent dominance brought into play during the Scherzo; half the time, the quartet might as well have stayed at home – a pity as, from what could be gleaned, the players were well-matched (what would you expect, given their professional relationship?).

Mustonen’s quintet of 2015, to its credit, gives room for the string lines to make a considerable mark. Still, the piano part has a good number of florid virtuosic flights in a work which shows that Shostakovich didn’t live in vain. You’re faced with aggressive passages of high energy in the opening Drammatico e passionate where percussive cascades are contrasted with lush common chords for the strings, the whole heading towards a powerful conclusion. The following Quasi una passacaglia: Andantino struck me as being a good deal more than quasi; it made a fine contrast to the preceding pages as Mustonen’s attention turned towards a more lyrical scenario. Still, the variants almost fell into predictability in some segments where the actual scoring sounded repetitious; so some firm explosions came as welcome interludes in a format that presented as eloquent and, in some ways, as traditional as some later chamber works by Britten.

Mustonen labels his finale Misterioso but that descriptor seems to apply to the strings which generate some suggestive textures. As in the first movement, the impetus comes from the piano which yet again reaches some eloquent clangorous heights and urges the movement into rhythmic ferocity. Both here, and in the passacaglia, you come across Mustonen’s tendency to write plain diatonic passages in direct juxtaposition with grinding dissonances; despite the latter, I suspect that you could analyse this quintet – well, a large part of it – along orthodox harmonic lines. Which is not to decry the composer’s language which is a stage further along the historical road than, say, Shostakovich’s Op. 57.

I had to move at the start of the Schubert A Major Quintet; a brace of biddies behind me continued to whisper/chat after the work had started – the sort of inconsiderate behaviour that makes me blind with fury. But you can’t take it out on the socially subnormal – well, not in mid-performance. Having settled further back in the Concert Hall, I found Mustonen tinting the opening Allegro vivace by continuing with his peculiarities, vide the piano’s statement starting at bar 40 which moved in and out of focus as his outline favoured some notes more than others. This in a piece where the contours are so lucid that you don’t really have to shape them. Still, the string combination – Vanska, Farrands, Valve, Bibeau – was an unalloyed pleasure for its direct speech and fluent delivery without dynamic abruptness, making the exposition’s repeat very welcome.

Farrands and Valve gave us a glowing partnership in their duet at the change of key to F sharp minor in the Andante‘s bar 24, and again at the reprise of bar 84. B ut then, this whole movement was delivered by all with persuasive eloquence. Across the following Scherzo: Presto, Mustonen had an unnerving approach to his part’s frequent fp markings – the first note firm, the second two in the group almost non-existent. But the movement’s outer segments held your attention for their inbuilt vitality and bite; this is, of course, the music that the Australian Digital Concert Hall uses as a prelude to each of its broadcasts.

On to the famous lied and its variations. An appealing grace of delivery from the strings prefaced a reading of considerable merit. Not that it was free of some odd piano passages but the first variation, where the tune is entrusted to the piano playing it at the octave, came over with unexpected equilibrium. Later, Variation III with its demi-semiquaver bravura for the piano was handled flawlessly, each note audible and sparkling. Mustonen pounded out his fortissimo (well, they are marked thus in my old Boosey & Hawkes edition) chords in Variation IV, making Valve and Bibeau surplus to requirements. But his articulation in the final Allegretto, where the piano is entrusted with the lied‘s triplet-happy accompaniment, made for sheer delight, this segment an interpretative gem with just the right level of optimistic buoyancy.

Yet again, the ACO string representatives delighted with their restrained resilience across the concluding Allegro giusto with Mustonen emerging and disappearing throughout, then giving a ‘straight’ reading with the delectable triplet chains from bar 135 to 170, and later across bars 371 to 406. Indeed, much of the versicle-and-response pattern of this movement worked very well, the respective dynamic levels of strings and keyboard telling reflectors of each other – nowhere more effectively than in the last sample from bar 457 to 465, with that uplifting brief gallop to the end that brushes away (temporarily) several reservations.

So, another unsettling recital (for me) from Mustonen. Not that there’s much point in rehashing old problems: he’s now 55 and set in his musical behavioural practices. Judging by the QPAC audience response at the end of the Trout interpretation, he has plenty of admirers and you can find it hard to kick overlong against the vox populi – never forgetting the incredibly successful careers of David Helfgott and Andre Rieu, among others too numerous to mention. You just have to admit your bafflement – as you do when faced with the ongoing presences of Eddie McGuire, Scott Cam, Karl Stefanovic, John Laws and their peers: that perennial gang of home-grown mediocrities, who happily stand as cultural gurus for Monday night’s crones in the stalls’ F row.

The lieder recital at its best

WEAVERS OF SONG

Miriam Allan & Erin Helyard

Elizabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre

Wednesday September 21, 2022

Miriam Allan

Finishing this year’s Great Performers series from the Recital Centre, Allan and Helyard’s program was broadcast by the Australian Digital Concert Hall network. The night comprised six Haydn songs, six Schubert lieder, a brief set of six variations by Mozart, another set of six variations by Mozart’s friend Josepha Auernhammer on his Der Volgelfanger bin ich ja aria, and three of the D.780 Moments musicaux. An unexpected, quickly applied encore turned up Mozart’s Abendempfindung, the composer’s longest song and a somewhat stagey finale to the Allan/Helyard musical partnership before the Australian-born soprano returns, I assume, to her home in England and the fortepianist lays down his mantle as the Recital Centre’s artist-in-residence.

The event proved to be rich in eloquence, neither artist handling the Haydn pieces with prissiness or studied restraint, such as we’ve heard too often from British female singers who have accepted the odd idea that this particular composer needs kid-glove treatment and the more sexless you can make your line, the better. That approach can’t work in something as rambunctious as The Sailor’s Song which came across with plenty of vim and bravado, a close cousin to Rule Britannia and that bulldoggie Henry Wood that appears at every Last Night of the Proms. Most of the other Haydn works enjoyed full-bodied handling, the set opening with She never told her love which, thanks to its powerful accompaniment solos, gave us time to adjust to the clangour of Helyard’s instrument. Allan didn’t have the happiest of openings, with a slight production falter on the first syllable; still, the piece came over with a firm blend of melancholy and regret, true to Viola’s intent behind her lines.

Another familiar song, My mother bids me bind my hair, gave us an opportunity to admire Allan’s breath control and line-shaping in a pretty substantial score; not to mention her attention to details like the quaver rests across And while I spin my flaxen thread. Helyard linked these opening three songs with improvised (I think) post-/preludes, taking us from A Pastoral Song to O tuneful Voice where Allan moved to a rich dramatic vein, reaching a climax with a cadenza at with a vestal’s care and preserving a sense of purpose through all those repetitions of that it may ne’er decay on the last page.

For the second bracket of three Haydns, Allan began with The Wanderer and a full Gothic interpretation, Helyard’s fortepiano ominously doubling the vocal line for a goodly amount of time. Not that this reinforcement is uncommon in these six songs; vide A Pastoral Song, and The Spirit’s Song, this latter matching The Wanderer for intensity, notably from the fortepiano’s impressive loud chords, e.g. bars 4 and 6, with Allan wringing as much drama from this scena as possible without falling into Grand Guignol overkill at those suspenseful fermata points. It made for a well-judged contrast with The Sailor’s Song that concluded the evening’s Haydn expedition with amiable buoyancy.

Helyard’s rendition of Auernhammer’s busy variations distinguished itself for a certain piquancy of address, one where the introduction of a decelerando or six broke up some predictable matter. However, each section had its original touches, although the return of the song’s last 10 bars finishing off each variation was a very welcome return to base camp. The performer’s precision was hard to fault, with only a left hand mishap at the start of Variation 6 raising an eyebrow – and the insertion of a final solitary bass G (well, it isn’t in my old Artaria edition).

A few mishaps marred the delivery of Mozart’s work – in the theme itself and in the first two variations. But Variation 3 sounded immaculate, spice added through some clever ornamentation. By the time Helyard arrived at the second half of the last variation, he felt comfortable enough to take liberties with the score and toyed with its demi-semiquavers and his instrument’s expressive capabilities. Not particularly taxing Mozart, but holding individual flights at every turn of the page, the whole finishing with a reassuringly even-handed coda.

For her Schubert bracket, Allan included three master-songs and three entertainments. She opened with Auf dem Wasser zu singen with firm undercurrents in play and a tendency to emphasize each bar’s heavy accents; hence, the pleasure to be found in her long notes on Tanzet, Atmet and Selber. In these operating conditions, the fortepiano depicted heavy water rather than the usual ripples. Another slight attacking flaw emerged at the noun in the first phrase of Du bist die Ruh, yet the following pages’ vocal line flowed past with compelling commitment and clear sympathy, the whole rising to a passionate highpoint at the first erhellt while its repetition was given with appropriate restraint. Both performers made a definite character out of Standchen, Helyard’s mandolin/guitar stand-in more percussive than the smooth burbling we are accustomed to from your everyday piano. It was hard to understand why Allan didn’t give full value to the first note of Ach! sie flehen dich unless it was to heighten the expostulation’s drama (really?). But the interpretation as a complete unit made a considerable impact for its hard edges (even if Helyard muffled/muted his postlude) and rich breadth of timbre.

Trauer der Liebe is a small semi-gem which moved slowly enough to give us a more concentrated exposure to Allan’s curvaceous phrasing. Helyard made a change into triplets for the third stanza, reverting to the regulation music in the 5th last bar, thereby keeping himself and us entertained in fairly bland surroundings. Minnelied, also a page long, was given straight, without any problems apart from something odd in the keyboard during the second-last bar of Stanza 1. Here is another charming lyric, in this reading a vocalist’s delight because of the accompaniment’s lack of distinction. Another three-stanza, one-page lied is Seligkeit, a familiar, sunny delight-in-life creation, treated to a bounce-rich reading with both musicians who freshened up their last run-through with some innovations.

The Schubert songs were divided in half by Helyard’s performance of the Moments musicaux Nos. 2, 3 and 4. Of these pieces, the No. 2 in A flat Major impressed me as one of the recital’s highpoints because of the player’s ability to shape repetitious phrases and clauses with a skillful malleability and his command of shape in its several sections, ending with a moving final 18 bars in A flat in which the repeated chords and their subterranean variants made for one of those occasions when Schubert takes you close to the ideal. For the familiar F minor Allegro moderato, Helyard inserted a piece of paper into his fortepiano’s bass reaches, thereby producing an occasional side-drum rattle, even if the declared intention was to imitate a bassoon.

I’d never heard in live performance the No. 4 Moderato in C sharp minor; having experienced it, I can see why it doesn’t attract keyboard players as much as its predecessor. However, the middle D flat pages were a small revelation, not least for Helyard’s careful outlining of their inbuilt grace and tenderness, And the final five bars of this moment are a fine and moving creation/summation, here realized with touching skill and empathy.

I seem to recall Helyard saying that he and Allan have been presenting this program for some time, this night in Melbourne the end of their mutual endeavours. I, for one, was very pleased to have heard the program which, despite my nitpicking, was packed with excellent music-making. The whole exercise served as a counter-argument to that trite observation about ‘those who can’t, teach’; both these musicians are distinguished teachers and, simultaneously, top-notch performers.

October 2022 Diary

WHITE NIGHTS

Southern Cross Soloists

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Sunday October 2 at 3 pm

I don’t know how they’re going to carry off this program. Take the ending, for a start: Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite of 1919 with its pairs of woodwind, 10 brass and numerous percussion, not to mention all those lush strings that feature heavily from first bar to last. Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo capriccioso exists in two forms – orchestral and piano accompaniments; you’d assume we’re getting the latter, especially as Konstantin Shamray is slated to participate in the program as well as cellist Richard Narroway who’s taking the solo line in this sober work. No problems with the Notturno from Borodin’s String Quartet in D. But what about the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2 which requires nine woodwind and a horn quartet? Unless, of course, the piece is being presented in that two piano arrangement prepared for the composer and his son. In the middle of this all-Russian program (which ends with an untitled gypsy folk song from that country) comes a new work commissioned by the Soloists for themselves and didgeridu, composed by ABC Classic FM music director Matthew Dewey. This last is the third in a series of works that utilise the Aboriginal instrument, in this instance played by Wakka Wakka descendant Chris Williams, the Soloists’ artist in residence. Good luck to all concerned but I’m dubious about this sort of fusion exercise which I’ve experienced since as far back as George Dreyfus’ Sextet of 1971 – the best of a rum lot, as far as I can tell. Perhaps Dewey has something interesting to offer, especially as few of us know what forces the Soloists are meant to summon up for this first outing. But then, a kind of personnel haze has settled over most of this evening’s music-making.

CONTRA SCHUBERT

Shikara Ringdahl. Jonathan Henderson, Hyung Suk Bae, Vatche Jambazian

Holy Trinity Hall, Fortitude Valley

Friday October 7 at 6 pm

The title is probably not as adversarial as you’d assume; nothing like the state of being against the great song-writer in the style of my old friend Kenneth Hince who was contra Brahms, Vivaldi and Prokofiev, for instance. No: this Contra refers to the organization presenting the recital; a pretty new body (3 years old?) which seems to be an offshoot of the Southern Cross Soloists. So you’d be right in concluding that it’s all about Contra forces being engaged with Schubert. Which they are, for part of the night. Flautist Henderson and pianist Jambazian begin with the seven Trockne Blumen Variations by Schubert on his own song: the composer’s only chamber work for this instrument (or any other wind solo-plus-piano). Then Jambazian gets to work over three Sculthorpe works: The Stars Turn (with Ringdahl? Or in the arrangement for voice, cello and piano?), the five Night Pieces, and Mountains. Finally come two Ravel brackets: the Deux melodies hebraiques, and the three Chansons madecasses which involve all four participating musicians, including Hyung Suk Bae. Men and women have sung the first pair but Ravel designated the singer for his Madagascan lyrics as a mezzo. As far as I can tell, both sets are given complete pretty rarely, let alone on the same program. Including the Schubert, it’s something of a night full of short pants – nothing hangs around for very long, like the Liberal Party’s post-election promise to self-appraise.

GRIEG, LISZT, CHOPIN

Piers Lane

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Sunday October 9 at 3 pm

Brisbane-educated Lane is back for a one-off recital in the local Medici series which presents piano solos as its sole brief, an undertaking that you’d suspect has been inherited (aesthetically) from Lorenzo and the rest off the famiglia. The night begins with the Holberg Suite as it was originally composed; here, the interest comes in noting the differences that Grieg employed when moving the five movements across to suit a string orchestra format. As well, you can admire the composer’s skill in writing excellently shaped four-square melodies that somehow avoid sounding as if they’ve been strait-jacketed into position. Then Lane moves back some years (about 30) to Liszt’s B minor Sonata, that famous spread-eagled masterwork in one (or four) movements that delights for its history of bamboozling the emotionally stunted, like Clara Schumann and Hanslick. After interval, we go back a few more decades, get all atmospheric and the Medicis bring out the candles for a second half comprising Chopin nocturnes – 11 of them, which is a little over half of the complete oeuvre and Lane covers the year-range of their production. It’s been a while since I experienced this kind of small-scale son et lumiere show – the most memorable being Alfred Hornung playing the cello suites in one of the Toorak churches, beginning each one in darkness and gradually building to full house-lights by the time he got to the gigues. This Chopin demonstration is, however, more in line with the original operating conditions, although it’s doubtful that the pianist/composer ever operated in a space as massive as the 1800-seat QPAC Concert Hall.

BEETHOVEN & DVORAK

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Concert Hall., Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Friday October 14 at 11:30 am

Only two works are on offer here: Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, coming in at about three-quarters of an hour, and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 which takes about ten fewer minutes. Put together, you’re not getting particularly high value for your money, in my estimation; at the evening performance, seat prices are over $100. But then, the QSO may be betting on the novelty appeal of a violinist-conductor, guest Guy Braunstein filling both roles. This musician’s main claim to fame was his serving as the Berlin Philharmonic’s concertmaster for 13 years, suffering under Abbado and Rattle. But his work will be fresh, as far as I can tell: he hasn’t recorded either of these works, it seems. He’ll have his hands full with the Beethoven which only a few violinists have had the confidence to conduct while taking on the solo line. Tognetti has done it but his Australian Chamber Orchestra core are ultra-responsive; and I have hazy memories of some Russian attempting the same exercise with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Probably the symphony will fare better, if the interpretation doesn’t roam into the rough-edged bucolic, particularly in the glorious waffling of its finale.

This program will be repeated on Saturday October 15 at 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm

MOZART, MILLS & MAHLER

Ensemble Q

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Sunday October 16 at 3 pm

Centre-piece of this program will be an arrangement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G, the easiest to imbibe of the whole series. This version pares back the (for Mahler) small forces of the original to just 14 instruments: one each of the woodwind, a horn, two percussionists, a harmonium or accordion, a piano, one each of the string lines . . . and, of course, a singer for the last movement (nobody’s listed to take on this role but the line still features, having survived into Klaus Simon’s rearrangement). That’s the symphony taken care of, more or less. What about the concerto? Daniel de Borah is presenting the K. 453 Piano Concerto by Mozart, here in an a quattro arrangement. Which is stretching things more than a tad: I don’t think you can cut the forces back to a string quartet format, not in a full-bodied masterpiece like this one. Sure, there are precedents – composer-approved ones – with some of the earlier concertos, but not with the middle K. 400 works. Anyway, the occasion’s overture takes the form of Richard Mills’ Little Diary of Transformations, which is probably referring to A Little Diary of 2002 for clarinet and string quartet, about which any available details reflect the title’s adjective. Still, it looks like it will be played as written, which is more than can be said about the rest of the entertainment. Q originals Trish and Paul Dean will be directing, and the ensemble’s concertmaster is the Queensland Symphony’s own Natsuko Yoshimoto.

VIENNESE CLASSICS

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Sunday October 23 at 11:40 am

Mention of Vienna used to take my mind back to Willi Boskovsky, especially his visit to Australia in 1976 during which he brought his irresistible lilting approach to the Waltz Kings’ warhorses. Recently, the images have become more linked with Andre Rieu and his extravaganzas in Maastricht where any pretense at fin de siecle sophistication gets obfuscated by vulgarity. But this evening takes in more than the Strauss family; indeed, the only sample from that clan will be Johann Junior’s Emperor Waltz which applied to the German and Austrian rulers of the time and was premiered in Berlin. The closest, in similar vein, is von Suppe’s Light Cavalry Overture written 23 years prior to the waltz but just as entertaining. Once again, Guy Braunstein will be soloist and conductor in one, starting the night with Beethoven’s F Major Romance for Violin and Orchestra. Another work produced in the capital city was Schubert’s Symphony No. 8; Braunstein and his forces are offering both movements. A bit of neglected Mahler is being played: Blumine, originally the second movement in the Symphony No. 1 but discarded after the first few performances. This was written in Leipzig and premiered in Budapest but the composer is inextricably linked with Vienna, the city that eventually treated him like a dog. Kreisler’s Syncopation, here given in a Braunstein arrangement, was published (written?) in 1925, probably in Berlin but it’s an amiable essay by the Viennese-born violinist/composer to mimic the throwaway style of Scott Joplin. Australian writer Margaret Sutherland visited Vienna but it’s hard to find any connection with that city in her Concerto for Strings of 1953, from which the QSO will play the first Allegro con brio only. You may wonder why: that question is, like Ives’, unanswerable.

ANDREA BOCELLI

Brisbane Chorale

Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Boondall

Tuesday October 25 at 8 pm

I’ve never been to this 13,600-seat venue but have had experience of similar at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne where I saw Bocelli – and Carreras, I think. Such large spaces bring in the big bucks for artists and sponsors, even if you have to reconcile yourself to the mediation of banks of speakers and programs of questionable merit, although little in my experience rivals the Three Tenors at the MCG which proved that world-famous artists could money-grub alongside any over-hyped rock band. Anyway, tenor Bocelli – whom I last saw on screen mooning around an empty Milan Duomo – is back in this country to work through his repertoire in the company of a 70-piece orchestra and a 60-strong choir . . . which is how I found out about this exercise: on the Brisbane Chorale’s website. Well, at least you know what choral forces you’re getting; can’t say the same for the orchestra which might not be Queensland Symphony Orchestra standard. Still, what do such details matter to people who attend this type of event? As anticipated, no actual content details have been provided by TEG Van Egmond, although you can predict, with near certainty, that patrons will be treated to Amazing grace and Con te partiro as Bocelli kicks off a tour that then takes him to Sydney’s Super Dome/Qudos Bank Arena, the Hunter Valley’s Hope Estate, Rod Laver, and the Sandalford Estate in the Swan Valley. Perhaps the Chorale will accompany him all the way down south and across to the west? No: probably not.

MUSIC FOR THE SISTINE CHAPEL

The Tallis Scholars

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Wednesday October 26 at 7 pm

These British singers have, as their signature offering, Allegri’s Miserere – or so it would seem. It’s hard to see how this monopoly has arisen, except that they’ve recorded it and the British press has gone into overdrive to claim it for the Tallis group. I just don’t see how they handle it. The ensemble is small – about 10 in most publicity shots – and their numbers would be stretched; not so much to cover the nine lines, but to carry off that contrast built into the setting between a distant small force and a larger main body. Possibly, patrons will enjoy some physically challenging disposition of forces in the Concert Hall. In any case, this work was the preserve of the Sistine singers for a long time – another nauseating example of papal privilege – but we, the unwashed, will be able to hear it tonight, partly thanks to the intervention of the young Mozart (supposing that story is true). Speaking of which, the program also boasts Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli that was written for the coronation of a particularly short-term pontiff. This will be preceded by Morales’ Regina caeli – but which one of the four settings? This piece – whichever one it turns out to be – might have been written during the composer’s years in Rome singing in the papal choir. Then we have Festa’s Quam pulchra es and that’s OK as this writer sang in the Sistine Choir itself. Carpentras of the several Lamentations was master of the papal choir; Josquin (Inter natos mulierum on this occasion) brought status and credibility to the body when he joined it. Victoria (represented by his Magnificat primi toni a 8) lived in Rome, certainly, but I can’t find any connection to the pope’s music-making forces and this particular work was published in Madrid in 1600, long after the composer returned home. But you have to bow to British scholarship, particularly that stream represented by the ensemble’s erudite conductor, Peter Phillips. You couldn’t ask for better singing, even if it cannot hope to imitate the plaintive off-colour stridency that has typified the choral contributions to every papal ceremony I’ve heard broadcast over the past 70+ years. At the time of writing, there are about 150 seats left for this event.

TRANSCENDENCE

Roger Cui

Holy Trinity Hall, Fortitude Valley

Friday October 28 at 6:30 pm

Just what you expected: a night of Liszt’s Transcendental Studies, all twelve of them. A few have turned up in piano recitals – Chasse-neige, Harmonies du soir, Wilde Jagd and Feux follets – but I can’t remember sitting through the lot. Some wildman in Melbourne once played Mazeppa to generous acclaim but the rest are mysteries to most of us. Roger Cui is a well-known piano presence here in Brisbane at Griffith University and also at Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium. You don’t have to look too far into his CV to note an attention to the music of Liszt. So good luck to him in following the dream of preparing and presenting these repertoire summits. With limited experience, I’ve found that the transcendence promised is generally confined to becoming engrossed in the studies’ physical demands; but then it’s been many decades since I went looking for the aesthetically transformational in this composer’s work.

BRUCKNER SYMPHONY NO. 8

Queensland Conservatorium Orchestra

Conservatorium Theatre, South Bank

Friday October 28 at 7:30 pm

How lucky are the young musicians whose only task is to present this leviathan of a symphony! Conductor Johannes Fritzsch has to do most of the work, not least in deciding which of the many versions or editions will be used. After he found out that I knew nothing about Bruckner, an enthusiastic uncle gave me World Record Club LPs of the Symphony No. 4 and this one, which must have been the Vienna Philharmonic under Carl Schuricht interpretation of the 1890 version. It took me many years to investigate the disputes and recriminations concerning the composer’s two versions, his pencil alterations, the readings of Haas and Nowak, and the various rectifications carried out by more contemporary musicologists and editors. In any of its potential shapes, this symphony is a powerful and lengthy construct, the last of the composer’s completed scores in this form. It calls for plenty of determination and a fine ear for chromatic shifts, but a composition of this venerable nature – over 130 years old – should be a feasible accomplishment for the Conservatorium’s forces – you’d hope. At time of writing, there are about 60 centre-stalls seats left at $40 each.

MUSICAL THEATRE GALA

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Saturday October 29 at 1:30 pm

Back by popular demand is this celebration of musicals, an art form whose title covers a multitude of sins. Inevitably, the program’s conductor and host is the gregarious Guy Noble who is charged with supervising some sharp material as well as lots of treacle. First, he takes the QSO through Gershwin’s overture to Girl Crazy – which is something of a slap in the face to the composer and his librettist brother as the work holds some brilliant songs that would eclipse much of what else is on offer here: Embraceable You, But Not For Me, I Got Rhythm. Still, top-class music like that would probably over-tax some of this occasion’s soloists: Amy Lephamer, Lucinda Wilson, Alexander Lewis, and Aidan O’Cleirigh – two fresh faces and two experienced artists. It’s not all dross from here on, however. Noble takes the two female singers through A Boy Like That from Bernstein’s West Side Story, and possibly Lewis will work at the same work’s Something’s Coming. More Bernstein emerges with the finale to the operetta Candide, Make Our Garden Grow. A couple of other musicals score two appearances: from The Sound of Music come the title song and the Something Good duet; I Dreamed a Dream and One Day More from Schonberg’s Les Miserables massacre; John Kander’s Chicago hit All That Jazz and Maybe This Time that was inserted into Cabaret; a surfeit of Lloyd-Webber with Superstar and Herod’s Song from Jesus Christ Superstar, plus the Entr’acte and Wishing you were somehow here again from the same composer’s The Phantom of the Opera. As you’d expect, patrons will be treated to a fair number of one-offs in this 20-number event, like Billy Bigelow’s Soliloquy from Carousel; Fanny’s exuberant Don’t Rain on My Parade from Styne’s Funny Girl; Popular from Stephen Schwartz’s unaccountably popular Wicked. But the big name that this occasion cannot do without is Sondheim, represented by the male duet Agony from Into the Woods, the hero’s self-justifying Finishing the Hat from Sunday in the Park with George, and Being Alive that brings Company to its conclusion. At present, there are plenty of seats available at the back of the stalls and balcony. Because of the amplification that this sort of show demands, I doubt if you’ll miss much from anywhere in the hall.

The program will be repeated at 7:30 pm.

WHEN WE SPEAK

Jodie Rottle, Katherine Philp, Alex Raineri

Holy Trinity Hall, Fortitude Valley

Saturday October 29 at 3 pm

This is a Brisbane Music Festival recital that is also a collaboration with the Brisbane Writers Festival, which I thought had been done and dusted in the first half of May but which resurged for a single day in September. Whatever else has happened beforehand or along the way, this exercise features a combination of music and words, involving three freshly minted musical works by the afternoon’s flautist, Jodie Rottle; the program’s cellist, Katherine Philp; and festival director/this event’s pianist, Alex Raineri. The musicians have collaborated with some poets (unknown at present) and these are the results. Other contributions are noted as ‘works by Smith, Cheney, and Ablinger.’ You’d assume that this last is the Austrian composer Peter; the middle one could be Lisa Cheney, originally from Queensland and now a Melbourne resident; the identity of Smith could keep you occupied for hours – Rebecca? Margery? Sam? Bil? Kile? Gabriella? Wade? The solution is a typically Australian one: you’ll never never know if you never never go.

WINTER JOURNEY

Brenton Spiteri & Alex Raineri

Holy Trinity Hall, Fortitude Valley

Saturday October 29 at 6 pm

So what distinguishes this Winterreise from others? Spiteri is a pretty well-known quantity, thanks to his appearances in several local opera companies; a tenor with promise, although his European forays have led to pretty minor roles in slight Offenbach, slender Rossini and a significant Monteverdi (L’incoronazione). But I don’t know anything about his abilities in lieder. And that form doesn’t come more demanding than this collection of 24 Schubert songs that run the full gamut from depression to despair. Even an experienced hand (or two) like Raineri faces interpretative problems, as the music is so well-known. Added frissons will apparently emanate from Ben Hughes‘ lighting design, which you’d assume will be just that – a sort of Scriabinesque kaleidoscope of colours rather than scene-setting backdrops. The promise is that this lighting plan will be ‘immersive’; a tad worrying, but you can always shut your eyes and concentrate on the music.

Back, in great shape

IN THE SHADOW OF WAR

Selby & Friends

Australian Digital Concert Hall

Elder Conservatorium, Adelaide

Wednesday September 7, 2022

Sophie Rowell, Timo-Veikko Valve, Kathryn Selby

Back on internet viewing in these post-COVID days (ho ho), the Selby & Friends franchise re-boarded the Australian Digital Concert Hall armada for this broadcast from Adelaide’s Elder Hall – one of the regular venues on the organization’s interstate touring schedule. Violinist Grace Clifford was scheduled to appear in this round but was injured, so her place was taken very ably by co-concertmaster of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Sophie Rowell, revisiting her chamber music days when she led the Tankstream/Australian String Quartet. Valve has been an S&F regular cellist guest for some years now; just as reliable and informative here as he is at the principal desk of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

Two of the programmed works had direct reference to war. The Shostakovich E minor Piano Trio is a searing document decrying the evils of World War Two, with all the insight of a musician who partly lived through them by way of the siege of Leningrad. His use of Jewish-inflected melodies in the finale bore witness to the composer’s awareness of the Nazi obscenities revealed in the Allied armies’ march on Berlin. Matthew Hindson’s 1915 was written for the Benaud Trio in 2015 and refers to the state of mind of a young man who has enlisted, as well as depicting the loss and devastation that the Great War caused to so many. A different take, then, to the opening strophes in Peter Weir’s 1981 Gallipoli film where Mel Gibson and Mark Lee represented the popular vision that we have of this conflict by joining up with something approaching glee.

The program’s most lengthy work, Schubert’s E flat Piano Trio, was explained into bellicose context by several means. Two that stuck in my mind were the reminder that the composer lived in Napoleonic times. Yes, he did but it would seem that the conflict registered little on him; he was 12 when hostilities stopped and Austria partnered Napoleon during the invasion of Russia; after which, Francis I/II’s Empire was neutral until the French emperor was defeated and exiled. I’m not getting the picture of a young musician dodging rifle fire and/or conscription – or even having much consciousness of international or local conflict. The second proposition involved finding military suggestions in the trio’s Andante con moto. You might find a march there – a pretty slow one – but the suggestions to me across these pages are more aligned with the depressing trudge of the Winterreise narrator.

You can detect an earnest grief in Hindson’s short piece which commemorates the Gallipoli campaign from one aspect, one which has been adopted by this country as near-compulsory. The loss of close to 9,000 Australians in that Churchillian folly was – and is – a national disaster but one that should rouse more aggressive passions than sorrow, even viewed from this temporal distance. It may be that Hindson is speaking for the survivors, like Wacka in Seymour’s play The One Day of the Year, that character’s central soliloquy in turn speaking for those who fought on the Turkish peninsula through those soul-destroying days.

1915 is an elegy in C minor, not that distant in emotional colour from many other deplorations – neither as flashy as Britten, nor as depressing as Bloch. The composer has a fondness for using violin and cello in unison/at the octave and has constructed a well-shaped threnody that has a fullness of timbre alongside several relieving effects, like some quietly piercing violin harmonics, and the suggestion near the end of a bugle call hovering over the gloom. The piece occupies a clear-cut emotional territory, carrying out its mission of communicating the sorrow felt by families and any young man who blithely signed up only to face death and mutilation on all sides. In the end, as the historians tell us, it was a trade war in which Australia became senselessly if dutifully involved. Oh, well; now that the English Queen has died, any links with her fading royal house must surely dissipate, particularly when we’re faced with the absurdity of what will replace her.

Speaking of depression, the Russian composer’s trio is very well-known, particularly to those of us exposed to chamber music competitions where the work exercises a huge attraction to competitors, if not their audiences. Valve handled the opening harmonics solo well enough, although I wasn’t convinced by his octave leap in bar 5. Rowell displayed a fine firmness of attack at her high-pitched melodic outline 16 bars after the Moderato‘s opening. But the players all gave this section a fierce handling which proved most persuasive, thanks to its unanimity of purpose: the sense that the timbral fabric was of a piece, urged on by three consistent voices.

More ferocity blazed out across the Allegro con brio, Rowell setting a pace that proved exemplary; you were impressed by the prevailing level of energy but not swamped by a pell-mell rush. Selby followed a steady path, her note-chains positioned with care in a reading of feisty aggression – just as it should be, even given the trio-like relieving moments. In the following Largo, Selby gave the 8 dotted semibreves a considerable space in which to resonate, coming close to disconnectedness rather than portentousness. Rowell’s entry proved a relief for her warmth of colour in a lugubrious situation, excellently mirrored by Valve with both instruments close to a synchronised vibrato in the movement’s wrenching duets. The ensemble worked very hard to give full vent to the passion underpinning these pages, loosening intensity with fine discernment when realizing their two G Major bars leading into the finale.

I found the group’s handling of the Allegretto to be enthralling, particularly with those savage pizzicati before the piano’s arrival at bar 30 where the temperament changes from cute klezmer to vehement anger. Rowell’s use of rubato was consistent with Selby’s application of the same technique, offering variety to the regularity of pulse that typifies this segment’s opening. During these pages you became more aware of the excellent recording work carried out by ADCH technicians, each line clear and individual, even when Selby shifted into powerful top gear, throwing caution out the door and rarely faltering in her bravado. For once, we heard the conclusion in a proper context – without sentimentality or exemplifying frailty but loaded with strong despair and resignation. The effect was to bring the composer’s internal torment to the fore as he chafed against state restrictions and came to realize that his own country’s regime was of the same type which gave the world Treblinka and Majdanek.

There’s little to say of the big Schubert score’s treatment. It tired the performers, as you’d expect, but their balance and stamina carried them through, even across the work’s disappointing and lengthy final Allegro moderato. Fortunately, the players repeated the first movement’s exposition so that we could relish the delicacy of treatment given to the stretch from bar 48 to bar 90. Another telling extended passage came with Selby’s triplets and their sustained equanimity throughout the development. Later, Valve generated the shock of the performance at bar 298 with a remarkably gruff sustained G sharp. Slight section-interleaving pauses were employed, the emphasis on the work’s malleability (at least in this movement) with a suggestion of the composer’s Moments musicaux between bars 584 and 621, just before the main theme’s last statement.

As for the militarily suggestive Andante con moto, the players set up a stately march pace, the piece’s progress dotted with pleasures like a tender change to E flat Major in bar 41 and a further eloquent move to C Major proper at bar 129 with an ideally paced ritardando in operation across the last seven bars. The only flaw I encountered came at Rowell’s unhappy high E concluding bar 161, although the leap up to it is awkward. As for the canons at work in the Allegro moderato, you could not ask for a more mellifluous handling; later, you could superimpose a military flavour to the Trio‘s A flat waltz movement which broke through the gentle veneer of its surrounds with refined brutality.

Again, you heard moments of excellent craftsmanship in the finale. That trademark transference at the L’istesso tempo of bar 73 came across with illuminating lightness of attack; Selby’s repeated chords from bar 191 to bar 205 enjoyed a restrained resonance, yielding space to the strings’ octave melody; all executants contributed to a joyful Romantic surge across bars 264 to 273. But it was hard to maintain interest beyond bar 762 (!) when the main theme’s treatment smacked of filling in time; mind you, that’s just how that moment strikes me and there are plenty of others who see no fault in Schubert’s ‘heavenly length’.

Those of us unable to encounter Selby & Friends in live performance (the country’s north, west and extreme south) would have welcomed this broadcast, most importantly to hear that the body’s high achievement standards have not fallen off across the long interruption that has interfered with normal music transmission. Further, it is one of this ensemble’s splendid attractions that the Friends all fit so easily into Selby’s administrative and artistic frameworks.

We’ve heard better

FLINDERS QUARTET & VATCHE JAMBAZIAN

Sydney Mozart Society/Australian Digital Concert Hall

Concourse Theatre, Chatswood

Tuesday August 23, 2022

Vatche Jambazian

A program of familiarities offering no surprises: Haydn, Mozart, Brahms – and played straight through without an interval. Which would have been testing for the concentration powers of any intellectually frolicsome members in the Sydney Mozart Society, which organization sponsored the event, bringing one of Melbourne’s favourite chamber ensembles to the North Shore, then allying them with one of the Harbour City’s bright-spark pianists. We heard the last of Haydn’s Op. 20 set, that in A Major; then an a quattro version of Mozart’s Piano Concerto K. 414, the earlier of the A Major couple; and the String Quartet No. 1 by Brahms in C minor (for a change of key). A most satisfying entertainment for the true musical conservatives among us – well, on paper.

But the reality was pretty rough and ready in its delivery style. Actually, that’s a bit too polite: a more proper estimation would be ‘scruffy’, with a cavalier regard for detail even as early as bars 8 to 10 in the first Allegro where Thibaud Pavlovic-Hobba‘s first violin semiquavers were smothered under some low-lying chord support. And it wasn’t much better the second time around, although by then both violins had roused discontent with some ragged intonational pairing further into the exposition. Throughout, the emphasis rested on a sort of rusticity with little polish or finesse applied, as in the aggressive opening to the recapitulation. For all that, I was disappointed that the movement’s larger second part wasn’t repeated.

It seems unfair to single out the first violin line but it is dominant in this work; so, when it falters, the performance’s ambience is weakened, as at the uncertain repeated E crotchets between bars 19 and 20 of the Adagio, and a poor assault on bar 21’s top F sharp. By about half way through, the reading’s aggressive style had taken over, become the norm and you reconciled with the Concourse’s lively acoustic. Second violin Wilma Smith‘s descending thirds starting at bar 65 proved uneasy in execution but Helen Ireland‘s viola striding arpeggios at bar 55 and onwards gave the work’s progress some welcome solidity. Something went awry with the first violin’s B sharp in the third last bar, marring an otherwise amiable resolution.

Once again, both violins were not sufficiently synchronised at a pivotal bar 8 of the Menuetto, although the repeat showed an improvement. In fact, this part of the work worked better than others because it could take some brisk handling, although I found the Trio‘s second half clumsily treated – a case of bucolic overkill. Fortunately, the final Fuga held some cerebral pleasure, mainly for its internal workings (even if these aren’t that strenuous), and for the moveable feast whereby the first subject’s four-semiquaver group enjoyed both regular and clipped handling.

When Jambazian joined in for the Mozart, errors still occurred, if not so prominently. The violin lines at the octave in bars 13 to 15 of the first movement sounded disjunct in tuning but the opening tutti as a whole showed improvement as the score moved forward. The pianist matched his quartet-orchestra in determination although he could pull out the lapidary stops as well, e.g. the 8 bar solo at bar 152, and the delicate figuration later beginning at bar 224.. Still, mistakes arose for no apparent reason with the B notes at bar 14 of the cadenza, and a mis-step further on at bar 32. Just as in the Haydn, the Allegro‘s closing bars came over as willing but ragged.

You could say that matters improved during the Andante; certainly, the violin duo worked to bracing effect in the unison bars 15 to 18, a passage that shone out for its singular eloquence, even if a repeat at bars 51 to 55 was less unified in pitching Jambazian observed a disciplined attack but the movement’s fluency was disturbed by a transmission blackout which had to be compensated for in a later viewing (the ADCH ticket purchase means you can review the whole performance for 72 hours after the initial transmission). I didn’t see what was gained by the arpeggiation of the E minor chord in bar 76: the melody restatement post-mini cadenza was proceeding amiably when this idiosyncrasy came up: slight but uncalled-for, I would have thought. Still, the post-major cadenza finishing-off was fairly clean.

Jambazian took a hearty approach to the Rondeau when he entered at bar 21, rising to hyper-metallic by bar 81. An odd error blunted the player’s output, e.g. bar 91, and the thistledown-light syncopations at bars 122-3 were over-emphatic. Mind you, the player sustained this style into his reading of Cadenza B which here prefigured Beethoven, although an inexplicable arpeggio flaw at bar 17 made the near-truculent flame flicker. Mozart’s light-stepping finale would have gained from less heavily-applied power from all participants; at the end, you wondered where the expected light and grace had gone.

A more suitable fit for the Flinders’ energy came with the Brahms C minor Quartet where flexing took over pretty early in the opening Allegro; luckily, the exposition repeat gave a better indication of the ensemble’s talents although that middle B in Smith’s bar 7 triple stop didn’t sit comfortably in the mesh. But, for all of the enthusiasm shown, the dynamic became overwhelmingly heavy, as at bar 52 and in the urgency of Brahms’ development which often bordered on hysterical. When the temperature cooled, strange things happened like a palpably wrong note in the violin 1/viola octave unison at bar 162. And moments that you anticipate with relish, like the wrenching violins’ duet between bars 178 and 181, misfired because of an absence of lyricism. Occasionally, Pavlovic-Hobba inserted a portamento that recalled a delivery style from a bygone age (he was alone, it seemed, in exercising this individuality), but he gave a splendid account of himself in the final burst of high-octane fervour across bars 231 to 239.

Not that you hadn’t noticed her until now, but Zoe Knighton‘s cello solo at bar 7 of the Poco adagio made for a welcome burst of moderately applied lushness. But the whole group came pretty close to fulfilling expectations right from the start of this romanze, notably in detailed work, like the alternating arpeggios across bars 61-63. Ireland’s viola emerged in fine voice during the following Allegretto molto; unusually effective in this busy, if not cluttered, environment. I admired the carefully shared switches between Pavlovic-Hobba and Ireland from bar 38, even if you might have asked for more vibrato on the sustained notes.

A firm and bold account of the finale’s opening statement – all two bars of it – prefaced the ensemble’s double-faceted interpretation which held some fine passages of play juxtaposed with others that were unsatisfactory because of faulty articulation and dynamics that held little common currency as the lines hurtled forwards. Still, that underlying impulse was maintained and a carefully outlined sweep from bar 219 to the concluding cadence made for a more impressive demonstration than might otherwise have been expected, given the push-through impetus that obtained for this movement’s more thickly-textured moments.

I’ve heard the Flinders at work for many years now – right from the start, in fact, when Erica Kennedy and Matthew Tomkins began the group in partnership with survivors Ireland and Knighton. Other changes to the violin personnel have come about over the years, although nothing nearly as drastic has taken place as it has with the Australian String Quartet where, in comparison, Nothing beside remains. We know that COVID has brought discontinuity to musicians on all sides and in all lands, but ample rehearsal preparation time has returned as a concomitant of public performance. Judging by this night’s display, the Flinders have quite a way to go before they reach the level of homogeneity that obtained in the group’s earlier years. This will be particularly important when the possibility/probability of programming transparencies like Haydn and Mozart arises, although it appears that the rest of the ensemble’s year is headed for a more meat-and-three-veg diet.

Reflections of our struggle

THE CROWD & I

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Monday August 15, 2022

I would have thought that putting this exercise into operation was pretty simple. For all that, the process seems to have taken a number of years before it grew into its current form. The construct’s realization came from three prime sources: the ACO’s artistic director Richard Tognetti, film and staging director Nigel Jamieson, cinematographer and editor Jon Frank. Of course, a cast of several assisted this creative trinity, but the actual composite whole boiled down to a sequence of film sequences for the eyes and a collation of musics for the ears.

I’ve seen one of these collaborations before, when Tognetti went into partnership with photographer Bill Henson for Luminous in 2005. I think the surf/water one came my way at some time but nothing remains in the memory about that; Mountain, from about five years ago, remains a personal terra incognita, if not quite nullius. You can find little to take exception to in The Crowd & I; visually, it’s occasionally gripping and at other times tedious; with its musical stratum, the success rate is just about the same. So, much of the presentation fell outside my competence level, and the ACO’s contribution was hard to assess as the body seemed to be amplified for part of the night and the corps had mixed success with some works; not so much with the notes’ production but in how they sounded.

Along with the organization’s 16 strings (one down on the usual number, I think), we heard a flute/piccolo, a clarinet/bass clarinet, a bassoon/contrabassoon, a trumpet, a trombone/bass trombone, two percussionists and pianist Konstantin Shamray. Supplying vocal sounds came six members of Sydney’s Song Company. I think that summary includes all on-stage performers but can’t be sure: for much of the night, the musicians were working in darkness, a black-as-pitch pit situation with some strange groupings being carried out. Further to this, certain moments had you wondering whether you should just give up and watch the films rather than trying to make logical sense out of what you were hearing. For instance, during Ives’ The Unanswered Question, I could have sworn I saw an extra (anonymous) flute taking part in the woodwind ejaculations. The night began with the first movement to Schubert’s B minor Symphony in a Tognetti arrangement where the 15 original winds were cut to five, the result being that both oboe and horn textures were sadly missed by those of us who are asinine enough to revere this splendid fragment.

But some readings succeeded well enough, like the Slow Waltz section of Morton Feldman’s Three Voices that accompanied images of refugee camps and their dispiriting mixture of desolation and overcrowding. A Shostakovich polka supported shots of football crowds in all their natural repulsive mindlessness. The sickening images of the Cronulla riots in 2005 made a fine melding with Tognetti’s own rabid Mosh Maggot, which title is an apt descriptor for each one of those who initiated (from a gutless distance) or took part in this national celebration. Also, the final sequence of a Japanese fast train speeding through a seemingly endless, self-perpetuating cityscape while Chopin’s Op. 27 C sharp minor Nocturne forged along its troubled, unhappy path made for a conclusion to the evening that transcended much of the program’s main body, colourful though this was in many parts.

In the end, you’re left with an old-fashioned entertainment which, in fact, has no pretensions to grandeur or wide range of thought; more, it’s a look at the multitude and the individual in different contexts: the crowd or I. As expected, the visual component(s) stole most of the thunder and it often required a wrench to give proper focus to what Tognetti and his cohorts were about. I never thought that I’d be distracted from the Molto adagio of Beethoven’s Op. 132 but Michael Wolf’s images of individual faces among a crushed host of Japanese commuters were among the most arresting sequences in this night’s work; as were the succeeding prospects of Hong Kong housing that resembled computer strips straight out of the Matrix films.

It’s clear (to me, at least) that Tognetti, Jamieson and Frank are content to face you with their combined vision and leave open whatever you choose to make of it. (Well, there’s nothing original in that observation: most of today’s arts avoid audience direction.) Certainly, there are crowds galore, some of them obviously Australian (not just the Cronulla sub-normals), some of them close to being in extremis like the refugees coming to land on Samos or Lesbos, others a mass of individual colours that somehow cancel out individuality as in the millions that gather on the banks of the Ganges. Juxtaposed or interspersed with these come single units, like an elder walking into the landscape of the Tanami while the camera pans back until his figure is just a fleck in the spinifex; or like the football fan captured by Dragan Aleksic whose creased face reflects his team’s fortunes from minute to minute but might just as well be witnessing yet another mind-numbing spectacle in today’s Ukraine.

Look, for me, Augustus’ pet put it best: Odi profanum volgus et arceo. It’s clearly a sign of social decrepitude but these days I can’t imagine anything worse than sitting in a packed football stadium – and this from somebody who stood from 8:30 am to the final whistle at the 1970 Collingwood-Carlton grand final and who, at the same ground, watched with muted involvement as South Melbourne won their 2005 premiership cup. Despite the much-vaunted bonhomie of sports crowds, any generosity of spirit, tolerance and fellowship can disappear in a split second with an unintentional jostle, just as it can in a bar. What this night made me consider was the essential – for better or worse – isolation that pervades our society.

In the filmed imagery, you saw little sign of benevolence. No, it wasn’t all horror stories but the final message was a contradiction of the dean’s dictum: every man is an island, entire of itself. You may live in one of those Hong Kong pigeon coops, as a tour leader in that city described her home to me, but, just because you are thrust daily into a variety of social complexes, what follows isn’t membership of a philanthropic multitude. For assured social connection, you might have your family; all too often, that’s it. As a counterweight to this gloom, our aboriginal peoples are determined to speak individually of belonging to a ‘mob’; but I suppose that concept is vital if you are part of an all-too-easily dismissed minority.

But the majority of us have no such right of relationship. Friends? Sure, but, as you age, they become ships that disappear into the night. A multiplicity of associations give you a semblance of being part of the main, but all such clannish continents are built on sand; ask any politician. For my part, The Crowd & I impressed as a 15-part kaleidoscope of sombre sadness, bordering on depression; the world’s peoples are varied but rarely are you attracted to join in, even when faced with bland celebrations of the spectacularly little, like Ekka or Moomba. But I admired the probity of the ACO’s construct which persevered in its unflattering vision of humanity as, in line with the Schubert overture piece, unfinished.

You’d like to be optimistic about our future, as proposed in the night’s opening shot of the earth as a vital, beautiful object in space, before the camera zooms in on the globe’s details. As it was presented, our world is – from a distance – a breathtaking objet trouve. But then comes the rot: while you may hope for the dearest freshness deep down things, you rarely find it. Strangely enough, on this night, while recognizing several truncations and arrangements, a sort of buoyancy of spirit emerged, even out of the program’s more tenebrous music, bearing witness to Tognetti’s (assisted?) catholicity of vision.

September 2022 Diary

ORAVA QUARTET

Brisbane Festival

South Bank Piazza, 410 Stanley Street

Sunday September 4 at 2 pm

The city’s own quartet – brothers Daniel (violin) and Karol (cello) Kowalik, Thomas Chawner (viola), David Dalseno (violin) – is contributing to the festival’s serious music component with this 60-minute recital in a part of South Bank/South Brisbane that I haven’t come across yet. The action is taking place in the Bank of Queensland Festival Garden, which could be interesting acoustically, although the players won’t have to compete with any opposing night music from nearby coffee bars and nightclubs. As currently scheduled, the event lasts 60 minutes and the group will play a world premiere in the form of a new piece by Elena Kats-Chernin which revolves around Greek folk song, strong women, and family ties across four generations . I understand how you’d use the first source (a big hello, Maurice) but struggle to see how the personality/relationships facets will be expressed. You’d hope that the musicians will be playing something else as well: I admire Kats-Chernin’s industry but an hour-long string quartet is a big ask – from her and from us.

PIANO POWER

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Friday September 9 at 11:30 pm

Here’s something to please those of us with a weakness for old-fashioned symphony orchestra programs. Under Asher Fisch, the QSO treats itself to the Brahms Symphony No. 3, distinguished for its striding power and conciseness of utterance. Before this, patrons can revel in Rachmaninov’s C minor Piano Concerto, the work that broke the composer’s compositional/psychological impasse in 1900/01. This is a powerful, instantly recognizable masterpiece: the harbinger of a plethora of Hollywood scores that celebrate angst and the moody side of romance. Soloist will be Behzod Abduraimov, a player I heard several years ago in Melbourne and a very impressive talent in a crowded field. For an overture we are offered Lachlan Skipworth’s Hinterland which Fisch premiered with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra in 2018; this morning, it receives its first Queensland performance. I don’t know anything worth writing about this Australian work, let alone how long it lasts; the Perth critics liked it but supplied no information beyond inane generalisations. All I can report with certainty is that Skipworth’s vision is probably more elemental than and environmentally different to what we on the Gold Coast call ‘hinterland’.

This program will be repeated on Saturday September 10 at 7:30 pm

HEART CRY

Brisbane Chorale

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Sunday September 11 at 11:30 am

For this event, the focal work is Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’ Stabat Mater of 2008. This is something of an organizational nightmare as the Near Eastern colours that Jenkins requires need the help of a duduk (Armenian reed instrument) and at least four non-Western percussion. As well as the choral forces, a mezzo soloist is a sine qua non; in this case, Shirin Majd. The guest conductor is definitely Stefanie Smith who will direct the Chorale and Brisbane Symphony Orchestra in this work that you could wait a long time to hear again, I should think. Much of the singing element is set in your normal Latin, but it changes along the way several times into Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek, Arabic as well as a few English texts by the composer and his wife. In 12 movements, Stabat Mater is substantial – over an hour long – and, in the best Bach tradition, Jenkins has recycled parts of his previous compositions. For prefatory matter, the orchestra plays Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Milhaud’s brief Meurtre d’un chef d’etat of 1963 which commemorated President Kennedy’s assassination, and Sculthorpe’s 1986 Earth Cry that requires a didjeridu performer – or does it? I recall William Barton coming on stage for a Melbourne Concert Hall performance but can’t find his instrument entered in a score sample. Still, the composer did publish an arrangement for string quartet and didjeridu; perhaps we’ll be hearing that version – and (with a bit of luck) the quartet original of the Barber work.

EXTASE

Voxalis

St. Andrew’s Uniting Church, 299 Ann Street

Sunday September 17 at 7 pm

Now that we’ve re-buddied up with our cher ami Manny, three members of the Voxalis group are leading an artistic rapprochement by presenting this excursion into French 19th/20th century song. I don’t believe I’ve heard any of the participants at work but that’s clearly because of my lack of familiarity with Queensland’s opera scene. Soprano Annie Lower will collaborate with tenor Mattias Lower (a relation?), both supported by pianist Mark Connors. As to what’s on offer, that’s rather opaque. For certain, patrons will hear Duparc’s Baudelaire setting, L’invitation au voyage and the earlier Op. 2 Serenade. And they will hear some unspecified Faure songs; in this latter area, the possibilities are vast. Because of the singers’ repertoire and experience, the program offers excerpts from Gounod’s most popular operas: Faust and Romeo et Juliette. Well, you can let your imagination run riot while anticipating this: Ah ! je ris de me voir, Salut, demeure, Laisse-moi contempler, Oui. c’est toi. Or, Je veux vivre, Ah! leve-toi, soleil, Ange adorable, O nuit divine, Salut, tombeau. Perhaps all of the above? Probably not, because the event is meant to last 70 minutes only. Although, if they get a move on . . .

MENDELSSOHN’S ELIJAH

The Queensland Choir

Brisbane City Hall

Sunday September 18 at 3 pm

For many years, this oratorio was almost as popular as Handel’s Messiah in English-speaking countries. Apparently am ongoing general consensus determined that one annual religious concert observance per year was enough and Elijah became de trop for any conscientious Anglican. I’ve experienced its joys only once – from the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic in its stodgier days; not a trace of that performance remains in the memory. Proving that not everything I write has a basis in truth, The Queensland Choir is performing Mendelssohn’s masterpiece today and is mounting Messiah exactly three months later; well, they do things differently here as the Bjelke-Petersen era proved It’s hard to track down details about this Elijah except that the organization is presenting it ‘complete’, and the orchestra is that of Ensemble Q – a surprise in all senses as I thought the Qers were a chamber ensemble and incapable of stretching to the woodwind pairs, horn quartet, pair of trumpets trombone trio and ophicleide/tuba, as well as timpanist, organist and formidable body of strings that the composer’s large-scale construct requires. A choir that can stretch to 8 parts? Fair enough. Will there be the designated octet of soloists, or will conductor Kevin Power (I assume ’tis he) revert to the usual practice of having only four? For all those reservations, the only one of the work’s 42 numbers that I know is O rest in the Lord which sums up powerfully the composer’s four-square, unexceptionable standard of inspiration for this representative Victorian-era composition.

STUDIO SESSIONS 4

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Queensland Symphony Orchestra Studio

Sunday September 25 at 3 pm

Here is a contemporary program that rivals most of what I’ve heard since moving north in terms of challenging an audience. Well, it looks that way on paper. The QSO is touting this chamber music recital as giving an audition to female and Australian composers. But is this exactly true? First up will be Holly Harrison’s Balderdash of 2017, an entertainment for string quartet which was given multiple outings at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition of 2018. Then there’s Caroline Shaw’s Entr’acte of 2011; well, I’m assuming it will be in its original string quartet version. Shaw is certainly a woman composer, but she’s American. Not (as they say in Seinfeld) that there’s anything wrong with that, and it spreads the net somewhat wider: you don’t have to be both a woman and Australian to get a hearing this afternoon. Both works will be performed by violinists Sonia Wilson and Nicholas Thin, viola Nicole Greentree and cello Matthew Kinmont. Another entrant in these programmatic lists is Melbourne-born Harry Sdraulig, whose Meridian won the Arcadia Winds Composition Prize of 2020, and who is also qualified to be here as he’s Australian, if a man. For a mystery contributor, we have another wind quintet by ‘Green’ This could be Christina Green, who is based in Melbourne. It may be Thomas Green, a well-known presence in Brisbane. It might even refer to Brooke Green, although her interests lie more in strings than in wind composition. Whoever it turns out to be, his/her score and Meridian will be presented by flute Alison Mitchell, clarinet Irit Silver, bass clarinet Nicholas Harmsen, bassoon Nicole Tait, and horn Lauren Manuel. Which line-up leaves one rather major problem unsolved: we don’t know about the Green piece, but who from the QSO ranks will play the oboe line for Sdraulig? Huw Jones? Sarah Meagher? Alexa Murray? Or perhaps Vivienne Brooke indulging in some extra-cor anglais moonlighting?

SCHUBERT’S TROUT

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Monday September 26 at 7 pm

Central to this small-sized recital is the presence of pianist/composer Olli Mustonen, a musician who can delight and debilitate in turn. He’s become a regular visitor to this country over the last two decades and he has proved to be an asset in live performances on this scale, more so than in orchestral events; that’s been my experience, so far. He is part of an ACO-extracted ensemble that mounts the Schubert gem: one of the more delectable ways I can think of to spend a lazy 40 minutes or so. The other contributors are either Satu Vanska or Liisa Pallandi on violin, viola Stefanie Farrands, cello Timo-Veikko Valve, and double bass Maxime Bibeau. Before interval, a Bibeau-less ensemble will present Milhaud’s jazz-saturated La creation du monde ballet in the composer’s arrangement for piano and string quartet. Following this quarter-hour of cross-fertilization, Mustonen presents his own Piano Quintet of 2015 – the Milhaud format, rather than the Schubert idiosyncrasy. He’s a very competent composer and his three movements’ titles indicate his emotional tendencies: Drammatico e passionato; Quasi una passacaglia (Andantino); Finale (Misterioso). I heard this work some years ago and a repeated encounter convinces me that its language is hyper-emotional in a post-Romantic manner, on a par with the brilliantly contrived, skin-deep intellectual plunges of Britten.

MEDITERRANEAN

Avi Avital & Giovanni Sollima

Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University

Tuesday September 27

You’d have to assume that this partnership came about through the players themselves, rather than an ad hoc something initiated by sponsors Musica Viva Australia. Let’s be brutally honest: the repertoire of original works for mandolin and cello is slim. What exactly can you perform when both instruments present as an unadorned duo? Lots of arrangements, of course: transcriptions, transpositions, transformations, transpondences for all I know. Our musical couple has roamed around the inland sea and come up with some folk-music to amplify their material: two traditional Sephardic melodies, one from Turkey, another from Macedonia, and one from Italy’s Salento region. As another source, publicity material mentions Bulgaria which these days is not strictly Mediterranean. The rest comprise a Scarlatti sonata, another one by Castello, a Frescobaldi canzone, and a slew of pieces by Sollima himself, along with a piano solo from 1939 by his father Eliodoro: Tarantella orientale. The cellist gives us an improvisation and the first movement, Federico II, of his string quartet Il viaggio in Italia; then, the second movement – Alep (pesce) – from his Il bestiario di Leonardo that was originally written for guitar quartet. Your projected experience involves a fair amount of mind-opening, particularly if you’re used to regular Musica Viva operations, but a reassuring factor for any agnostic comes through the virtuosity of both musicians involved.

Honest and resolute

BACH PIANO I

Judith Lambden

Move Records MCD 631

Lambden has already produced two Bach albums for Move: the English Suites in 2011 and the French Suites in 2013. Earlier, in 2009, she recorded the Partitas for Divine Art Recordings Now, after an interval of almost ten years, comes another collection which includes two major solo keyboard works: the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, and the Italian Concerto. As a distinguishing feature to the CD, she begins with four of the seven toccatas for keyboard: BWV 911 in C minor, BWV 912 in D Major, BWV 913 in D minor and BWV 914 in E minor. These last-mentioned tracks are the more interesting components in this offering, works that don’t get much exposure, except for the BWV 912 which, in my experience, is one of the more manageable of the set.

I don’t know this artist at all, neither through live performance nor through broadcasts or recordings. This is unsurprising as well as unusual: Lambden spent many years in the UK and Europe, becoming a presence at the Victorian College of the Arts and other tertiary institutions on her return home, from which ambiences her name/presence should have struck my attention. But somehow it didn’t. Apart from a foray into Schubert’s last sonata, her recording activity has been confined to Bach where she is in distinguished company, to say the least.

The results are up and down, although not too much of the latter. Every so often, you are reminded of fallibility where a note is missed and so a line loses continuity, or the speed moves around rubato-like, in contrast to the metrical inflexibility that reigns these days as a reaction to the-alignments generated by Brahms, Busoni and even through Schoenberg’s chorale-prelude orchestrations In the toccatas, for instance, you won’t find majestic flourishes or moments of spontaneity, even if you think that you can see them in the music. Lambden’s approach is thoroughly workmanlike and her technical control is efficient; the results satisfy but they don’t show much spirit.

You won’t find any of the gallant Canadian humanism of Angela Hewitt, for example. Nor will you be confronted with the shibboleth-shattering re-toolings of Ton Koopman. Orthodoxy obtains all the way here and it’s somehow reassuring, even for my generation raised on Glenn Gould’s combination of purity and intransigence. The opening gestures post-dating Buxtehude in the C minor toccata are treated with metrical regularity and clarity; no sudden dashes, least of all in the strange layout of bar 11 leading to the Adagio, although Lambden inserts some individuality in that section’s flashy conclusion. It’s all gentle motion with entries pointed by the slightest of pauses.

You become aware of stiltedness in the following fugue, places where the expected dexterity doesn’t so much falter but is clearly tested, as in the arrival of the third voice. Still, the counterpoint is clear and the mid-flow cadenza enjoys some idiosyncratic negotiation. When the web becomes thick, e.g. from bar 100 to about bar 108, the texture is penetrable but Lambden’s articulation turns awkward, as later across bars 144-5 where Bach sticks to the middle of the keyboard. Still, the last adagio-to-presto is an unflustered flash of bar-busting insouciance.

Nothing disturbs the equanimity of the D Major work’s opening and its five rising scales and pendant power-accruing chords are buoyant if sober. The following gavotte-suggestive Allegro begins sturdily enough although, as matters move one, the pianist allows herself a fair amount of wriggle room, breaking the movement up into two- and four-bar stretches rather than aiming for smooth linkages. Well, it’s her choice, even if the effect is to change the action into something of a study.

At the bar 68 Adagio, we seem to have moved into the sound-world of Beethoven sonata slow movements, particularly at bar 71. The following andante-paced pages showed sympathetic expressiveness in a carefully applied Romantic manner which would have succeeded even better if the ornamentation had been more easily fused into the movement’s flow. Everything from the con discrezione direction on is open slather but here not wild enough to move out of Lambden’s pre-established context, although I would have preferred more of an expansiveness at bar 125 leading up to the gigue/fugue.

With this, Lamden’s approach proved light, which is more than acceptable, given the requisite mobility and the writing’s register. Something happened around bar 167 where a bar or two were omitted, according to my score; but with Bach, all things are possible. Though not quite a few notes that went missing, either through the pianist’s semi-staccato attack or simply because they didn’t sound – or possibly through the edition employed, although I can’t see the composer just letting his lines stop. My real problem came with the double-time acceleration that starts at bar 265 where Bach moves into demi-semiquaver land until the final two bars. To my mind, you have to stick to your last and play this section at double speed, not just offer a slight quickening; the splayed right-hand arpeggios are not hard to negotiate and should make for a crackling bravura explosion.

The smallest of the four toccatas on this CD, the E minor, is given a comparatively percussive treatment when you consider the approach taken in its predecessors. Each line is clearly delineated in the four voice allegro and again throughout the three-voice fugue at the conclusion. A few notes disappear, and in this situation you can tell that they simply don’t sound – because they do in a next-bar repetition of the same pattern. And again, half of the ornaments stick out like unhappy encrustations rather than as passing glances. Still, the emphatic attack works exceptionally well in the brittle two-page central adagio where abrupt outbursts contrast with predictable cadences and sequences.

And so to the longest in this set, that in D minor, which gets off to a fine, attention-grabbing start before the theatrics give way to a slow meditation at bar 15 from which point Lambden heaps on more incidentals than is comfortable, as well as revisiting her rubato approach in a slow meander up to bar 28 and a touch of presto. This toccata’s first fugue is a bit puzzling: at moments, a model of clear plain-speaking, then a bar that sounds clumsy in execution, followed by immediate recovery, an inexplicable acceleration at bar 100/101, later speeding up again at bar 111 where the repeated pattern’s insistence is mitigated by a flurry of temperament..

In the slow segment that follows, an instance of inconsistent touch comes with the last left-hand B flat in bar 127 which simply doesn’t sound and breaks a too-well-established pattern; it’s a small detail but hard to ignore. Actually, I find this one of the more yawn-inducing parts of the seven toccatas and Lambden unfortunately gives it full indulgence with a Romantic, tender approach that makes her breaking-out in the last 4 1/2 bars almost explosive in its impact. The final fugue finds the pianist in robust shape again with a steady pulse, a few moments of clumsiness, and an emphatic greeting of the subject whenever and wherever it emerges. But I liked the understated final two bars – a sort of withdrawal of drive in favour of an echo.

The two major works that Lambden presents will be familiar to most music-lovers and – even more than the toccatas – put the Australian pianist into a field populated by mighty names: Kempff, Brendel, Gilels, Arrau, Schiff, Landowska, Gould, Tureck, Nikolayeva, and the rest of the gang. For the Chromatic Fantasia, this artist carves an attractively fitful path, if it does slow down considerably at the end – a dying fall brought into play at about bar 74 – and the last chord’s top D is another non-sounder (or non-carrier). Apart from a few (and I mean about two) awkward-sounding bars where the inexorability slightly falters, Lambden outlines the fugue’s complex with admirable lucidity, bringing specific force to entries, reminding you of the plot when the composer’s love for leanly populated episodes takes over. Perhaps a bit too sturdy? Maybe, but you know exactly where the performance is leading in a performance of high conviction.

When it comes to the Italian Concerto, Lambden’s reading goes to prove the venerable saw: you can find something new in every performance of an old warhorse. I didn’t appreciate, even after 60+ years’ intimate knowledge of this score, how mock-melancholy are those decorated turns in bars 91, 93, 95 and later in bars 147, 149, 151; or how buoyant you can make the first theme’s restatement at bar 164 by a touch of speed; or how elated is the prevailing atmosphere that underpins this opening movement. A fellow student those many years ago who was also preparing this concerto for an exam told me that she found the most difficult bars to negotiate were bars 135-8, which thenceforward made this passage one of dread for me; even Lambden doesn’t come out of the displacement quite intact/assured.

Her approach to the middle movement is, as expected, sober and focused on highlighting the right-hand meandering above all else, including the repeated bass notes that many a pianist turns into something more than I think Bach intended; these pages enshrine a lengthy lyrical soprano line which plays top fiddle to the lugubrious left hand work which all too often moves into Beethoven Op. 31 D minor country. Again, the executant’s approach to the movement is individual, shaping the line and following its progress with a fine sensibility. Then, the final Presto is deftly carried off, even if a few notes fail to carry unless your amplification is maximal. It makes a jaunty ending to this worthy program; Lambden mightn’t have the mercurial brilliance of today’s young Bach interpreters but her readings have a reassuring probity and communicate a sense that an informed musical personality is at work.

Movement at the station, going . . . ?

AUSTRALIAN FESTIVAL OF CHAMBER MUSIC: JAMES COOK UNIVERSITY OPENING NIGHT CONCERT

NEW BEGINNINGS

Australian Digital Concert Hall

Townsville Civic Theatre

Friday July 29, 2022

Peteris Vasks

I’ve been to the Townsville Chamber Music week, way back in the days when newspaper had money – and so did festivals. It must have been in the earlier manifestations; as it’s been going for 30 years, that would put it back in the middle 1990s, I suppose. The place struck me as rough and ready, and not just because of the off-duty military looking for a Saturday night fight in the centre of town. It was a laid-back sort of place; so much so, that I found myself walking in a land rights demonstration because I was labouring under the misapprehension that everybody walked in the middle of the road.. Was it held in July/August in those times? I just remember the weather being stinking hot so that walking around in search of venues was a major effort.

As for music, I recall a master class being given by a cranky Charmian Gadd, dissatisfied (and showing it) at the poor preparation of some participants. A major concert in the Civic Centre escapes into the dim recesses of the memory, but a reading of the Brahms Horn Trio in a church on Sunday morning was a valuable introduction to a work that I’d never heard till then.

For this year’s opening night concert, an impressive number turned up, even if (as with so many chamber music events these days) the patrons were mainly elderly. What they heard was varied in quality and very long. Pace Jack Liebeck and his administrative team, this initial program was a farrago in standard of works and standard of execution. As for us spectators-from-afar, the event proved to be slippery: even with the program notes, you didn’t know what was coming next, or – more importantly – why.

Artistic director Liebeck came on stage after the inevitable voice-over salute to First Nations peoples and gave a speech that might have been better prepared instead of the stumble that it turned out to be. He told us that the first piece, Nginda Ngarrini Bi Ngya by Deborah Cheetham, would/could not be performed because the composer/soprano was ill. OK; not the best of openings but bearable. He also told us that a visiting artist, Turkish cellist Jamal Aliyev, was also unavailable but his place would be taken by Michael Goldschlager, one-time member of the Macquarie Trio before that university took away its patronage of the ensemble. Actually, this change would have passed unnoticed by most because Goldschlager’s name led one published list of personnel for this opening night schedule.

So we started with the original second piece: Milhaud’s ballet La creation du monde, in the version for piano and string quartet minus the viola which is replaced by a saxophone – or not: this reading found Daniel de Borah on keyboard with violinists Elizabeth Layton and Natsuko Yoshimoto, cellist Trish Dean, and Paul Dean on clarinet. One recording with Previn as pianist uses a standard string quartet; some others go in for the clarinet-for-viola substitute. Whatever the reality, this version made for agreeable listening. testifying to the composer’s discovery of jazz and use of it to his fullest. No surprises besides some cuts to the original chamber orchestra score and, of course, the interest in seeing how Milhaud dealt out his gifts to this limited number of executants.

It’s of its time – 1923 – and to contemporary ears sounds rather dated, with lots of Gershwin-type flourishes and similarities, like the ghost of the Prelude No. 2 arising in the Romance. But the rhythmic blurts and syncopations present no problems for players of this calibre and the score is repetitious enough for you to feel unchallenged as it follows its comfortable, slightly swinging path through a slightly elliptical fugue to the precise vigour of the Final‘s fast episodes. For an ad hoc group, these players generated a fair interpretation.

Next came the Gran Sestetto Concertante, an anonymous arrangement for string sextet of Mozart’s magnificently assured Sinfonia concertante for violin and viola of 1779. Well, that was what the program promised but Liebeck forgot to say in his initial address, that the entertainment would feature only the middle Andante movement – so the Gran bit disappeared. For this oddity, Liebeck and Corey Cerovsek played the violin lines, Simon Oswell and Benjamin Roskams the violas, Elina Faskhi and Julian Smiles the dual cellos. This C minor gem was seen through with diligence and a tendency to hard-hitting, notably in those passages where not much is happening melodically and everyone is marking time (for example, bars 53 to 57, bar 126 up to the cadenza accompagnata).

Apart from these to chugging bursts, the only other faults to be heard came from Liebeck himself with a pair of squeaks: one in bar 27, the other at bar 112. It’s a fair arrangement, no matter who put it together: everybody gets a guernsey at some stage, particularly Faskhi whose first cello part enjoyed the initial violin solo and engaged with other gifts along the way. The absent orchestral parts – pairs of horns and oboes – provide chords and reinforcements mainly, with only a few points where either set breaks out into something else; so the loss in timbre seems minimal. Still, the colours are there in the original’s background and, if you know and love the sinfonia, you feel the lack.

A complete change of pace followed when mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean sang two numbers with pianist Kristian Chong giving her the blandest of supports: Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine, and The Inchworm from Frank Loesser’s music for the King Vidor film Hans Christian Andersen. For the first, Betts-Dean’s voice held a plummy richness which worked against the seductiveness of the song itself, as did the all-stops power of the climactic So don’t let them begin the beguine. However, it was a pleasurable change to hear a real voice giving this song an airing, after nearly 90 years of scungy, slovenly readings from every Thomasina, Dick and Harry. Similarly, in the Danny Kaye song, this singer made the leaps accurately, the song very flattering to her production technique and her expressive ability. Nice to hear, but stretching the definition of chamber music.

A festival minor specialty followed in Berio’s Opus Number Zoo, a wind quintet that asks its performers to speak the text as well as play the score. In four movements, the work carries its heavier messages lightly, here performed by flute Alison Mitchell, oboe Emmanuel Cassimatis, clarinet Dean, bassoon David Mitchell, and horn Peter Luff. As the music originally comes from Berio’s younger days, you look in vain for anything resembling the chamber music for which his name resonated as an innovator – Circles, the Sequenze, Thema (Omaggio a Joyce), Recital I. Much of it sounded uncomplicated, with the possible exception of The Fawn movement where the despair at man’s inhumanity to man is more stringently expressed.

But it’s very quick and full of action as the musicians shared the spoken lines, rather than having one player laden with textual responsibility. By and large, the necessary legerdemain (in the odd-numbered movements) was maintained, and the work held some surprises; for instance, it took me a while to realise that Mitchell was playing an alto during the last Tom Cats piece. I suppose the work appeared as a precursor to the evening’s finale, although Rhoda Levine’s libretto/poems were superior to pretty much everything spoken during the Saint-Saens.

After an extended interval (meant to be 20 minutes, according to the transmitted communication, but stretching out for at least half-an hour while the Townsvilleans re-discovered their seats/the building), we heard the night’s best music-making when the Goldner Quartet performed Peteris Vasks’ String Quartet No. 3. Right from the start, you were aware of the ensemble’s security, even in the linear balance that obtained in the short hymn-like chord chains above or below a drone that framed the score’s discussion. As the initial Moderato progressed, the Goldners’ settled personality reassured, their mutual confidence a gift to the music itself.

This reliability came into higher focus in the following Allegro energico where rough open fifths and dislocated rhythmic pulses demonstrated these musicians’ preparation and integrity of interpretation, even turning the two folksy interludes into something more impressive than bucolic dross or fiedel whining. Speaking of twos, the group generated a pair of powerful highpoints in the threnody-like Adagio. Even more telling skill came across in this movement’s polyphonic webs: tough writing where material is packed together with weight that approaches suffocation.

In his finale, Vasks brings in bird imitations – simple trills and susurrations that meld with the opening movement’s hymn chains. A burst of folk-music stamping, then back to the hymn+trills; some more Latvian hoedown before a hohepunkt, and the work fades into silence through its opening material. Vasks suggests that his work is linked to the twin concepts of Christmas and peace; his vision is a personal one in that this feast-day is pretty fraught, and his prospects for a universal armistice remain open-ended. So, while affecting in its emotional language, the quartet is unsettling, despite its luminous final bars, disrupted by a ridiculously prominent cough from a patron during the second-last bar (where do they dig these people up?)

We came, at last, to the Carnival of the Animals. The two pianists whose work is central to the score were Chong and Daniel Grimwood. Mitchell and Dean returned as woodwind soloists; the string quintet comprised violins Layton and Brigid Coleridge, viola Oswell, cello Goldschlager, and double bass Phoebe Russell. In charge of the percussion, Jacob Enoka played xylophone and possibly a glockenspiel for the original’s glass harmonica; to be honest, I was looking at the score for the entire performance. Damien Beaumont provided the prefatory verses to each movement, and I wish he hadn’t; I don’t know who wrote them but the effort was misplaced because of a lack of wit, rhyme, and self-restraint (a few of them were longer than the music they preceded).

This wasn’t the cleanest of renditions, but I suppose you’d have to expect that with necessarily insufficient rehearsal time to prepare this deceptive work. Something odd happened in the contrary-motion glissandi in bar 11 – or was it simple clumsiness? Nothing disturbed the Lion’s March or the Hens and Roosters. The Wild Asses piano duet only came apart at one obvious point; then Chong supplied a deftly graduated support of triplets for Russell in the Tortoises pages. Elephant and Kangaroos passed painlessly.

Aquarium proved delicate although someone had problems settling into the first bar’s rhythmic mesh. Personages with long ears is marked ad lib; both violinists took full advantage. In the pretty simple Cuckoo in the deep woods, the pianos were out of sync at about bar 8/9 and the last chord failed to impress as a united effort. Mitchell skittered through Aviary without dropping a note, as far as I could tell. Chong and Grimwood went for broad humour in Pianists, deliberately hitting wrong notes and getting out of time with each other; for me, the fun lies in the executants’ ability to become automata.

Fossils brought Enoka’s xylophone into the sound-world, even though that instrument’s part is repetitive and simple. Then Goldschlager played a sensitive, restrained The Swan, although some stretches to the line’s top notes were achieved with effort, like the top D just before Figure I in the Durand edition. And the Finale bounced along with no apparent flaws, apart from a disjunction six or seven bars before Figure 7. The night ended at 10:45 pm, leaving me satiated, but not in a totally satisfied way.

As I say, this program was a mash-up, not helped by a lack of determination in certain pieces, especially the final offering. It was hard to avoid the impression that this program lacked any cohesion; it was as though pieces were being given on spec, to see how they would go. Somehow, the whole exercise struck me as provincial, rudderless, pitched at an unnecessarily low level (typified by Beaumont’s twee commentary). You have to hope that later events prove more coherent in their essentials; we’re all celebrating that we’ve been allowed out of detention, but that shouldn’t mean that, as a fine entertainer once said to us, anything goes.

******************************

The above was written before I looked at upcoming programs in the festival. Now that I’ve seen what’s on offer, I’ve been too harsh: those over this weekend also have an everybody-in ambience, as though available participants dictate the events – which is as strange as Liebeck’s request for patrons to vote on their favourite piece of chamber music, with an aim of programming the most acclaimed works at the next festival. My money’s on the over-familiar like the Archduke and the Trout – anything with a nickname – the American, Dumky, Spring, Kreutzer. I’m almost prepared to lay money that Hindemith, Bartok, Schoenberg, Stravinsky will not get nominated. In fact, my gamble would probably extend to any living composer.

August 2022 Diary

RAY CHEN

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Thursday August 11 at 8 pm

The young Taiwanese/Australian violinist has special ties with Brisbane where he carried all before him as an extraordinarily talented pre-teen. His career since leaving the Sydney Conservatorium has been remarkable, distinguished by winning the 2008 Yehudi Menuhin Competition and the 2009 Queen Elisabeth, named for one of the few worthwhile European royals of the last century. It was a tedious struggle but I eventually found out what Chen is performing, with the support of Melbourne pianist Timothy Young. The duo will work through Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 8 in G, the one that precedes the Kreutzer and which is welcome for its extended, sunny disposition. Also, patrons will hear Stravinsky’s Divertimento of 1934, wheedled out of his The Fairy’s Kiss ballet for Samuel Dushkin. Bach’s solo E Major Partita, last in the set, stands out for that non-stop Preludio that appealed so much to Robert Moog; Chen plays all six (seven) movements. He also works through two of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances in arrangements by Joachim (No. 7) and Kreisler (No. 17), before taking on Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs – a piece I heard him play some years ago with brilliant effectiveness. I fear this event may be sold out; the one stalls seat I found was going for $250. I like both players, but not at that price.

FOUR LAST SONGS

Brisbane Music Festival

Loyal Hope of the Valley Lodge, Fortitude Valley

Friday August 12 at 6:30 pm

No, Alex Raineri hasn’t managed to cobble together the large orchestra that Strauss called into being for this farewell to arms. Indeed, I’m going on the assumption that soprano Rebecca Cassidy will have pianist Raineri’s backing only, although another guest on this program – violinist Courtenay Cleary – may come in to bat for the central violin solo in Beim Schlafengehen. This is a big ask for Raineri who has to suggest a world of warmth and orchestral detail; but then, he made a pretty fair fist of the transcribed Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome which he performed last year. Showing us more of his talents, Raineri also plays Bach’s transcription for organ of Vivaldi’s RV 565, for which D minor Concerto the pedal line is mercifully not too taxing. The only other artist mentioned as contributing is Drew Gilchrist who will take front spot for Margaret Sutherland’s 1949 Sonata for clarinet and piano in two movements. Cleary’s also performing a chamber work in Arthur Benjamin’s heart-on-sleeve Sonatina for violin and piano of 1924. All respect to Cassidy for taking on those long lyrical arches but I’d be anticipating with more interest the Australian pieces which attract much fewer public performances.

DEFIANT WOMEN

Brisbane Music Festival

Loyal Hope of the Valley Lodge, Fortitude Valley

Saturday August 13 at 6:30 pm

It could be part of the Me Too movement’s attempts to find valuable avatars; this recital focuses on female composers of the Baroque. The details of exactly what is being sung or played have not been made clear but the roll-call is impressive. Naturally enough, the list is headed by Barbara Strozzi, one of the most published composers of her time who lived a life that is half open-book, half innuendo. Less sensational was Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, a Louis XIV musician who also enjoyed considerable success in her lifetime. Her countrywoman Mlle Guedon de Presles was primarily a singer but also wrote the first book of airs written and published by a woman. Lady Mary Dering’s output survives, thanks to its publication by Lawes, but it comprises only three pieces, all songs: the first music by a woman published in England. Mlle Bocquet, a lutenist, composed music for her instrument; I can’t find anything else in her output. Rosa Giacinta Badalla had a book of solo motets published in her lifetime, as well as two cantatas. Providing a bit of balance to an almost-all Italian/French program comes Countess Amalia Katharina von Waldeck-Eisenberg who published Pietist poems and songs in 1692. All very well, but I don’t know how defiant any/all of these women were; the music will tell us, undoubtedly. Performing these rarities are soprano Bethany Shepherd, guitarist Jeremy Stafford, cellist Katherine Philp, and harpsichordist (who else?) Alex Raineri.

ORCHESTRAL ADVENTURES

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Saturday August 13 at 7:30 pm

Newly-ordained associate conductor for the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Elena Schwarz is here to direct this one-night, one-off program which features Jack Liebeck, who takes over as the new controller of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music, while maintaining a high activity level in a wide-ranging solo career. He’s here to play the middle one of the canonic Mozart violin concertos, No. 3 in G. It’s one of the quirky joyful discoveries of this craft to know that the composer wrote the whole set by the time he was 19; yes, he didn’t have time to waste but this rate of focused production still dumbfounds me. Schwarz conducts the Shostakovich E flat Symphony No. 9, written after World War II and a disappointment to some of that conflict’s winners because of its lack of heroic blather. Mind you, these are the same people who misinterpreted the Symphony No. 5 for decades. This five-movement score only lasts for about 25 minutes which (so far as I can judge) will suit the QSO patrons to a T. As a prelude to the swelling scene, Schwarz leads her players in the Australian premiere of Piece 43 for Now, written in 2020 by Brisbane-born Cathy Milliken. This chamber orchestra-sized piece takes its inspiration from three sources: the COVID-19 lockdown of March 2020; the August 2020 police shooting of Jakob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin; and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 43 – When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see. Well, that’s plenty to be going on with, especially seven orchestral explosions representing the shots that crippled Blake for life. But you have to ask yourself: in a state that has produced intellectual debris like Palmer, Hanson and Katter, do black lives matter?

THE CROWD & I

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Monday August 15 at 7 pm

This, by my count, is the fourth of Richard Tognetti‘s documentary films with musical accompaniment, following a path set by Mountain (2017), The Reef (2013) and Luminous (2005). Only the first-born of these has come my way as a reviewer, the other two experienced partially, in fragments. You get lots of suggestive film/photography – in this instance, showing massed humanity in all its goriness – and a selection of whole pieces (sometimes) and extracts (more often) from scores that the creators find appropriate. Speaking of the onlie begetters, they are Tognetti, director Nigel Jamieson, and cinematographer Jon Frank. To be honest, I can take or leave the film component of exercises like this, being able to find only the most superficial relationships between the seen and the heard. So, for the latter, we are promised that the ACO will be airing music by Chopin, Ives, Shostakovich, Sibelius and Tognetti himself – although I think that listing may be partial only. Yes, the purpose is admirable: to give us snapshots of humanity and show us that we are part of the main. Will we learn much more than this? Let’s wait and see.

ICONIC CLASSICS

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Queensland Symphony Orchestra Studio, Southbank

Wednesday August 17 at 10 am

They’re scraps of classics, the pieces on this program; there is only one discrete score. A good many events from the QSO belong to this bitty genre and they lead you to think that the administration finds benefit in offering Reader’s Digest-type entertainments; possibly, there’s a tapping-in to a different audience to the one that is prepared to sit through the Mahler Symphony No. 3 later in this month. It’s sort of working on the same premise that spoon-feeds the classics to children, popular wisdom being that kids can’t concentrate for extended periods. Maybe so: for me, it all depends on the presentation as mediocre playing leads to impatience when you’re 7 or when you reach 70. Guy Noble serves the dual role of conductor and host for this concert; an ideal choice for these circumstances. Setting the bar low from the start comes The Toreadors, the concluding movement from Guiraud’s Suite No. 1 from Bizet’s Carmen. Move to a scrap from John Williams’ score for E.T., then Morricone’s well-known Gabriel’s Oboe from Roland Joffe’s film The Mission – a delight for any delusional Jesuit. Later, Noble leads his forces in music from Babe, a film which, as I recall, features strongly the fourth movement to Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3, complete with four-hands piano and organ (do they have one in the Studio?). A bow in the direction of Vienna with the Radetzky March from Strauss Vater will probably lead to mass-clapping, like it does at those predictable New Year’s concerts; what the Austrians call audience participation. But this is the complete piece mentioned above. Some masterworks are truncated: Beethoven’s C minor Symphony, first movement only; Eine kleine Nachtmusik, the opening Allegro only. And finally, two ballet score extracts: the second movement from Elena Kats-Chernin’s Wild Swans Suite, Eliza aria; and the finale to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake which should send everyone home feeling appropriately apotheosized.

The performance will be repeated on August 18 at 10 am and 11:30 am.

SUBITO

Brisbane Music Festival

Opera Queensland Studio, Southbank

Wednesday August 17 at 6:30 pm

British violinist Victoria Sayles makes her only Australian recital appearance here. Accompanied by Festival director Alex Raineri, she plays a pretty orthodox program that starts with Mozart: the two-movement Sonata in E Minor K. 304, written about the time of the death of Mozart’s mother, and his only work in this particular key. Sayles wraps up her demonstration with Elgar’s Violin Sonata, also in E minor and coming from the last active burst in the composer’s life. You hear it rarely in live performance but its manifold merits argue for it against criticism of Elgar’s later years’ introspection. In the evening’s middle comes Lutoslawski’s Subito, a duet written in 1992. As its title suggests, it’s abrupt, compressed (less than 5 minutes), and takes no prisoners. As a companion relief, Sayles and Raineri give an outing to Takemitsu’s Distance de fee of 1951 where the Japanese composer extends the line running from Debussy through to Messiaen, his teacher. A well-hinged program, pivoting on two substantial sonatas with a soft centre comprising two samples of 20th century fare by writers with individual voices.

MOONDRUNK

Brisbane Music Festival

Opera Queensland Studio, Southbank

Thursday August 18 at 7 pm

Any festival that gives you Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire is doing right by its patrons. The epoch-shredding melodrama of 1912 remains one of the corner-stones of 20th century composition, at the apex of modernism and a thorny test for its executants. Speaking of which, the original personnel number has been expanded here; from the original sextet, this performance boasts seven participants. That dilation comes about because the violin/viola part has been divided between Courtenay Cleary and Nicole Greentree. For the rest, Jonathan Henderson has charge of the flute/piccolo lines, Drew Gilchrist is undertaking the clarinet in A/clarinet in B flat/bass clarinet trio, Trish Dean will play the cello part, and festival director Alex Raineri presides at the all-important piano. Our Sprechstimme expert is Tabatha McFadyen, no stranger to Brisbane as a director, and an authority on the vocal part of Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2. It will be a great pleasure to hear this taxing vocal/speaking part in capable hands (so to speak) for once. Not complaining, mind you, but this will be a pretty focused night: the work lasts about 40 minutes. And it will be sung/chanted in English, which I think is in line with the composer’s preference for the vernacular wherever Pierrot is performed.

HOMEGROWN

Brisbane Music Festival

Opera Queensland Studio, Southbank

Friday August 19 at 7 am

And who better to embody this title than a collection of Australian female composers? Soprano Rebecca Cassidy, having negotiated the Four Last Songs of Strauss a week ago, now has the joy of singing a program of local bon-bons, accompanied by festival director Alex Raineri. No details are available of what is being presented; just a list of names from recent historical reaches, including a world premiere by Deborah Cheetham who was the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s composer in residence for 2020. There will be blasts from the recent past by Margaret Sutherland, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Dulcie Holland, Miriam Hyde, Queensland’s own Betty Beath, and American-born Mary Mageau. Also, we hear from some senior composers who are still with us – Helen Gifford, Elena Kats-Chernin and Linda Kouvaras, as well as a younger voice in yet another Queensland-born writer, Lisa Cheney. That’s a fine collection; as varied in number of contributors as a Joan Sutherland recital program, but with somewhat more focus on sources than what looks good on me.

75TH BIRTHDAY CONCERT

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Friday August 19 at 7:30 pm

How do you celebrate achieving 75 years of existence? If you’re sensible, you let the occasion pass without drawing attention to yourself; it’s an achievement of sorts, but not that extraordinary. Longevity starts at 100, I think; the lead-up is unremarkable these days. Still, the QSO is obviously happy to have come of age in the sense of graduating into an exclusive set; or it may be just happy to have lasted, given the hurdles put in place for any symphony orchestra’s continued existence. To observe this underwhelming feat, the organization is bringing in two conductors: Johannes Fritzsch, who has been associated with the QSO officially since 2008 and has recently returned as chief conductor; and Guy Noble, one of the country’s most well-known musical personalities and all-rounders. Fritzsch rounds off the occasion with Respighi’s Pines of Rome, which will showcase the QSO, in a way: all colour, no substance. He also directs percussionist Chantel Chen, the QSO’s 2022 Young Instrumentalist prize-winner, in Keiko Abe’s Prism Rhapsody for Marimba and Orchestra. Well, sort of: we won’t hear the full thing, but excerpts – in keeping with the administration’s penchant for fragmentation. Noble has charge of Sean O’Boyle’s 2001 Concerto for Didgeridoo, with soloist Chris Williams. Again, sort of: we will hear only the last of the work’s four movements – Fire. And Noble also repeats his interpretation of the Swan Lake Finale, resuscitated from the Iconic Classics program of two days previous. Not sure who has the job of re-animating Strauss’s Radetzky March – also from the collation of August 17 – and you’d have to assume that the Fanfare for the Seventy-Fifth Birthday of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra will play itself if it’s an all-brass/timpani undertaking in the best Copland manner. The composer of this last is Craig Allister Young, one of the more active (extra-QSO) members of the organization’s cello septet.

SUPERFAMOUS

Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Saturday August 20 at 7:30 pm

Here’s Guy Noble back to head a program that is half a repeat of the Iconic Classics menu of August 17/18. Kats-Chernin’s Eliza Aria from the Wild Swans ballet suite, Morricone’s Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission film, the final pages of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet, John Williams’ Adventures on Earth from the E.T. soundtrack, and the opening Allegro to Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik serenade all re-appear. True, there are some novelties: Rossini’s The Barber of Seville Overture, Debussy’s Clair de lune as orchestrated by Stokowski, the second movement to Beethoven’s A Major Symphony, the Nimrod dirge from Elgar’s Enigma Variations and – most impressive of all – Michael Giacchino’s Full Mayhem from the soundtrack to The Incredibles computer-animated film. Now, the promoters are pushing this event as ‘For all those people new to classical music that think, “I just want to hear the really famous pieces” – this concert is for you.’ Good luck with that. Do you think your one-time first-go patrons will come back, given the extracts to be aired? That Mozart piece has been bastardized beyond belief; God knows what a newcomer will make of Kats-Chernin’s segment; and why play the Beethoven Allegretto when you could have energized the audience with the symphony’s final Allegro con brio? Still, the powers-that-be must know what they’re doing.

MAHLER 3

Brisbane Chorale

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Saturday August 27 at 7 pm

I’ve heard a few performances live of this mammoth symphony. Markus Stenz worked through it as part of his cycle of the complete symphonies. Sir Andrew Davis also gave it to us when he was attempting to mount the same series. And I heard it again from Stenz when the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra visited Sydney in the Olympics year as part of a concomitant cultural festival. I don’t understand what it is about this composer’s large-scale constructs that proves so attractive to officials in charge of celebrations. For example, to mark the centenary of Federation, we endured No. 8 in the Exhibition Building; I’m still struggling to see how No. 3 relates to competitive sport. And as for using No. 2 as a demonstration of the improved acoustics in Sydney’s Opera House Concert Hall, the mind boggles. What were they demonstrating, exactly? How a massive orchestral fabric has improved in sound quality because the suspended reflectors have been replaced? If the hall did its job properly, you wouldn’t need them. Ditto the box fronts’ panels. A better indication of acoustic quality would have come from a Gabrieli canzone, Webern’s Symphonie, Penderecki’s Threnody, Ionisation, the Gran Partita, and the Janacek Sinfonietta for a clear big sound – not Mahler’s waffling. All that content would give you some precise ideas on how the ‘new’ acoustic works. Anyway, here comes Brisbane’s home-grown Mahler, the often teeth-on-edge No. 3 in D minor. Not all the Chorale is needed; only the women appear, having to wait around (just like the unfortunate choir in the Resurrection Symphony), in this case for the second-last movement. So does the children’s choir, in this case that of the Queensland Youth Orchestra who will be put to work by Simon Hewett, the QYO’s spanking new Music Director. Mezzo Deborah Humble, who came in as a last-minute replacement for Michelle DeYoung at Sydney’s extravaganza on July 22, will have the pleasure of giving us Mahler’s fourth movement setting of Nietzsche’s O Mensch! Gib acht! verses.

KREUTZER

Brisbane Music Festival

St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Kangaroo Point

Sunday August 28 at 3 pm

Put to further use in the initial flurries of this festival, Courtenay Cleary is performing one of the violin repertoire’s cornerstones: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 9 in A Major, yclept Kreutzer following its re-dedication to a violinist who never played it. The more fool he, as it is one of the most exhilarating duos to work through, even for mediocre performers. At this stage, it probably doesn’t need noting, but I will anyway: the accompanist is festival director and factotum Alex Raineri. After this sonata’s exuberant finale, both artists will be joined by violinist Miriam Niessl and cellist Daniel Shearer for a work that I’ve never heard: Korngold’s Suite Op. 23. This quartet is in five movements and is constructed on a broad canvas, although the piano part is for left hand alone; the work was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein for his own use. You’ll get your money’s worth at this event: both works last well over half-an-hour each.

ITALIAN SONGBOOK

Brisbane Music Festival

St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Kangaroo Point

Sunday August 28 at 6:30 pm

Here’s another special, the sort of thing you expect to hear at a festival. Soprano Alexandra Flood and baritone Alexander York are accompanied by festival guru Alex (three of them!) Raineri in the two volumes of Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch. There are a lot to get through: 22 in the first book, 24 in the second. The practice has been that two singers alternate in their performance, the whole thing taking between 75 and 80 minutes. The composer has had wonderful interpreters, both male and female, but you can go some years without coming across any Wolf lieder on a recital program; indeed, the only Wolf I’ve heard in the last decade has been the Italian Serenade, a quick-witted exhibition piece for string quartet. On this night, the musicians take a break between the books, during which interval complimentary cannoli and wine will be served. Flood, originally from Victoria, is a well-travelled artist, a good part of her time spent in German opera houses and concert halls; Wisconsin-born York is similarly internationalist, with a recent accent on France. He and Flood sang this Wolf cycle in Munich on July 7 this year, so they should arrive here pretty well-prepared.