March Diary 2016

Tuesday March 1

Ensemble Gombert, Melbourne Recital Centre, 6pm

Hard to tell how this excellent choir will cope with the dry acoustic of the Salon.  John O’Donnell directs his formidable singers in the opening program to a two-part series: Music of Great Renaissance Chapels.  First up is the Sistine,  and the main work illustrating its pre-eminence will be that fundamental of Catholic church music, Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli.  Companions are motets by Desprez and Morales which could conceivably have been performed in that celebrated chamber.  Frankly, I’d like a bit more space and elbow-room.

Victorian Opera, Playhouse, Ats Centre Melbourne, 7:30 pm

This sounds like a Gen Y delight.  Four friends are having their annual restaurant meal; this time round, each tells the others a deep secret.  Which probably explains the title: Banquet of Secrets.  Not so much an opera as a musical, its text comes from Steve Vizard, music by Paul Grabowsky.  Roger Hodgman directs singers Antoinette Halloran, Kanen Breen, Dimity Shepherd and David Rogers-Smith.  The last Grabowsky vehicle of this nature that I can recall was a collaboration with Joanna Murray-Smith, Love in the Age of Therapy,  an entertainment of which little substantial remains in the memory except the participation of Breen (taking it all off for art) and Shepherd – both are optimistically back for more.

Runs till March 5.


Wednesday March 2

Dejan Lazic, Melbourne Recital Centre, 7:30 pm

Zagreb-born piano wunderkind – well, not so much of the kind: he’s 28/29 years old – is playing an esoteric program of ‘selected sonatas and fantasias’ by C.P.E. Bach, ‘selected sonatas’ by Scarlatti (plenty to pick from), Britten’s early Holiday Diary suite of four pieces, and a welcome helping of Bartok: the Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm that conclude the mighty Mikrokosmos books, Three Rondos on Slovak Folk Tunes, and the composer’s arrangement of the Funeral March from his symphonic poem Kossuth that few people I know have experienced live.  This breaks the established mould of the piano recital, but with a clear purpose: all four composers wrote unusually idiomatically for the keyboard. This recital begins the Recital Centre’s Great Performers series for the year; here’s hoping. In 2014, Lazic took exception to a critique published in The Washington Post four years previously, endeavouring to have it removed from the internet by means of the European Union’s ‘right to be forgotten’ law; apparently, every time you entered his name, the review came up.  As criticism, it strikes me as fair and reasoned; oh, it’s still extant.


Thursday March 3

Luisa Morales, Melbourne Recital Centre, 6 pm

Spanish harpsichordist Morales was a student of the brilliant Rafael Puyana and the breathtaking Ton Koopman.  She appears in the Salon Solo series sponsored by the Recital Centre.  Her program promises Rameau and Scarlatti in a kind of juxtaposition exercise, highlighting the two composers’ approach to the fandango; well, it’s a great dance, even in the hands of Gilbert and Sullivan.  Her Scarlatti sonatas have been nominated; the Rameau remain under the generic heading of Pieces de clavecin.  As usual, the recital lasts an hour but we get the all-too-rare chance to hear a visiting harpsichord expert and scholar.

Australian String Quartet, Melbourne Recital Centre, 7 pm

Running swiftly, you might manage to get from Morales in the Salon to the ASQ in the Murdoch Hall.  Perhaps for a while the ensemble’s personnel will stay constant; it has been a chameleonic body over the last few years.  At last sighting, the violinists were Dale Barltrop and Francesca Hiew; Stephen King continues in the viola chair and Sharon Draper maintains the cello position.  Guest artist is Sydney percussionist Claire Edwards who is down here to participate in a new work by Matthew Hindson (at the time of writing still unidentified) and some extracts from John’s Book of Alleged Dances by John Adams which – last time I looked – asked for a string quartet and a prepared piano; in this arrangement by Edwardes we are offered hand percussion . . . which doesn’t narrow things down much.  Bookends are the last of the Beethoven Op. 18 and Schumann No. 1.


Friday March 4

Grigoryan and Tawadros Brothers, Melbourne Recital Centre, 7:30 pm

The title is Band of Brothers, which gets marks for appropriate if obvious Shakespeareanism.  The four have collaborated before at this venue and clearly enjoyed that occasion.  As you’d expect, the music ranges over a wide spectrum; that is, as far as you can go with two guitars, an Arabian lute and tambourine.  All are experts and the place should be packed out with a highly appreciative band of followers. Every so often, a moment of brilliance breaks through the frenetic rhythmic interplay and tropes that are becoming very familiar as the years wear on.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Town Hall, 7:30 pm

An old-fashioned overture/concerto/symphony program format brings back memories of past concert series as the MSO gives its Prom patrons what they want.  Benjamin Northey, the happiest conductor in the country, directs the Sibelius chestnut, Finlandia, breathing nationalistic fire in the face of Russian intrusiveness – which shows how little has changed in 117 years.  Daniel de Borah will play the solo part in the most famous of Romantic piano concertos, the A minor by Grieg.  Found it hard to take this piece seriously after learning that Liszt, while praising it, played it at sight.  After interval, the MSO will once again negotiate Dvorak’s final symphony, the New World, after striking away from the rutted path by giving the No. 7 at a Myer Bowl free concert some weeks ago. A night packed with golden memories and cosy consolations.


Saturday March 5

ANAM Orchestra, South Melbourne Town Hall, 7 pm

Speaking of Sibelius, the ANAM musicians open their year with the rousing, popular Symphony No. 2 under Antonio Mendez, a 31-year-old Majorcan who has an active schedule ahead and already a wealth of experience behind him.  One of the night’s soloists is Kaylie Melville, an ANAM alumnus, who will be the focus of Per Norgard’s 1983 Percussion Concerto No. 1, a four-movement construct taking its impetus from the I-Ching/Book of Changes, that fertile source of inspiration for John Cage and his followers.  Paul Dean, recently retired ANAM Director, is represented by a new work, as yet title-less, which may employ the services of new director, Nick Deutsch, on his oboe.


Sunday March 6

MSO Chamber Series, Iwaki Auditorium Southbank, 11 am

A Sounds of France morning opens this usually packed-to-the-doors series.  Ravel’s Piano Trio is well-known to chamber music aficionados, in the repertoire of every ensemble of this nature.  Much less well-known is the Chausson Concert for violin, piano and string quartet, one of the composer’s first successes and full of delightful touches.  It lasts for about 40 minutes but you wouldn’t know it.  Kristian Chong is the fortunate pianist, Sophie Rowell (probably) the solo violin, assisted by Matthew Tomkins and Phillipa West on violins, Lauren Brigden’s viola, and cellist Rachael Tobin.  The groupings for these recitals are necessarily ad hoc but the results can be refreshingly coherent.

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, Melbourne Recital Centre, 2:30 pm

First up for the year, the MCO presents a varied but full-bodied menu, complete works with no scraps or isolated movements in evidence.  Mozart is represented by two masterpieces: the G minor Symphony No. 40 and the Clarinet Concerto with the estimable David Griffiths as soloist.  As preface to both come French works.  First, Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet – a model of lucidity, over all too quickly.  More attention is paid to Melina van Leeuwen’s harp in Debussy’s Danses sacree et profane, one of each and strikingly exhaustive of the solo instrument’s potentialities.

The program will be repeated on Friday March 11 in the Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm.


Monday March 7

Australian Baroque Brass, Melbourne Recital Centre, 6 pm

Founded in 2003, this ensemble is fresh territory for me.  It seems to be a mobile set of experts in a tricky field, well-versed in collaborations, resident at St. James’ Church in the city of Sydney.  For this hour-long recital, the group under John Foster will play a Beauty & the Brass program of Heinrich, Marini, Erbach, Handel, Daniel Purcell and Monteverdi with soprano Anna Sandstrom providing the beauty and taking centre-stage for Let the bright Seraphim, Lascia ch’io pianga and Lamento della ninfa among others.  The web-site shows nine brass players, with David Drury supplying organ support; should be a real test of control, up close and personal in the Salon.


Wednesday March 9

Melissa Doecke and Mark Isaacs, Melbourne Recital Centre, 6 pm

An agglomeration of flute-and-piano works by French and Australian writers.  The local products come from Ross Edwards and pianist Isaacs (two pieces each), while the Gallic content comprises Poulenc’s amiable Flute Sonata and the 1943 Sonatine by Dutilleux, that difficult writer’s most commonly-heard work.  In the middle, these performers are offering three improvisations, reflecting Isaacs’ strong involvement in jazz.  Seems to be packing a good deal into the allocated time-span but you can’t say you won’t get value for your dollar.


Thursday March 10

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Hamer Hall, 8 pm

Sir Andrew Davis is back for one of his extended visits and leaps into cataclysmic action with An Alpine Symphony of Richard Strauss, the bloated orchestral forces inflated by wind and thunder machines for the inbuilt storm/tempest and prospective avalanche.  A long time in the making, this work lasts for close to an hour but maintains interest as one of the great final gasps of Romanticism.  Ray Chen is soloist in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.  You’d think that would be enough for the night but, honouring the conductor’s heritage, the playing starts with Vaughan Williams’ delectable Serenade to Music, a setting of words from Act V of The Merchant of Venice for 16 solo voices (or, in this case, the MSO Chorus) and orchestra – one of the composer’s most opulently textured constructs.

The program is repeated on Friday March 11 and Saturday March 12 in Hamer Hall at 8 pm


Friday March 18

ANAM Musicians, South Melbourne Town Hall, 7 pm

Two wind serenades feature in this second ANAM offering for the year.  Director Nick Deutsch again takes up his oboe to lead Mozart No. 11 for pairs of clarinets, horns, bassoons and – oboes.  Dvorak’s Wind Serenade ups the ante to this combination by adding a third horn, as well as cello and double bass to give the bottom line extra oomph. Finally, a bigger ensemble takes on Brahms’ Serenade No. 2 in A which adds violas, cellos, double basses and a pair of flutes (with a piccolo for added frisson at the end) to the mix. The word usually associated with this piece and its companion in D is ‘genial’; can’t say fairer than that and here’s hoping the ANAM people bring out its bounce as well as its brio.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Robert Blackwood Hall, 8 pm

Are we sick of Mahler yet?  Well, I’m not over-eager to hear No. 4 again; in fact, could give the first three a rest for some years.  This is the mid-way point in Sir Andrew’s review of the complete set of symphonies: No 5 which starts out in C sharp minor but doesn’t stay there.  The work is best known for its simple, expressive Adagietto for strings and harp, linked forever with Aschenbach/Dirk Bogarde’s progress up the lagoon at the start of the film Death in Venice; Visconti has a lot to answer for.  Because the symphony lasts a bit over an hour, the program is fleshed out with Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, featuring guest Pierre-Laurent Aimard; a score more sombre and passionate than most in the composer’s oeuvre and, to be fair, not just a fill-in but an intriguing prelude to its sprawling companion.

This program is repeated on Saturday March 19 at 2 pm and on Monday March 21 at 6:30 pm, both performances in Hamer Hall.


Saturday March 19

La Compania, Deakin Edge at Federation Square, 6 pm

One of my favourite period music groups has moved from the Melbourne Recital Centre to the more central Deakin Edge.  This program is called El fuego and proposes a musical salad from the master of the ensalada, Mateo Flecha.  I believe the program will comprise salads for 4 and 5 voices and possibly some villancicos by the Aragonese composer as well as pieces by his contemporaries and successors in this vibrant, catchy field of work.  Can’t praise this group highly enough; where you might expect dry scholarship and dust, you get spirited playing with a continual shift in textures and an infectious rhythmic buoyancy.


Sunday March 20

Melbourne Musicians, St.John’s Southgate, 3 pm

Frank Pam and his core body of strings will be amplified for this concert with a healthy dollop of wind players.  The program is pretty focused, the earliest offering Haydn’s Symphony No. 49, La passione, of 1768 which, not too surprisingly, has no real connection to Christ’s suffering or to overwhelming fits of rage.  The bulk of the afternoon is dedicated to Pam’s beloved Mozart.  The 1775 Violin Concerto No. 5 in A with its ‘Turkish’ finale elements remains a challenge for any soloist, in this case Anne Harvey-Nagl, concertmaster of the Vienna Volksoper.  As a pendant, Harvey-Nagl performs the Adagio in E which Mozart wrote a year later as a substitute slow movement for this concerto, his original soloist not happy with the first one.  Soprano soloist Sarah Lobegeiger de Rodriguez sings three arias, including L’amero, saro costante from Il re pastore, written in the same year as the program’s violin concerto.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Melbourne Recital Centre, 5 pm

Part of the Recital Centre’s Great Performers series.  I’ve heard Messiaen’s mammoth Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jesus live only 2 1/2 times; one performance took place improbably late in the evening and the effort of staying even minimally focused was doing the work and the performer no service.  However, the experience, for the well-rested, can be illuminating, especially if the listener takes pains to enter the composer’s sound-world with an accepting mind.  Aimard studied these Twenty Contemplations with Messiaen’s wife, Yvonne Loriod, so you can expect an ultra-informed interpretation.  But it’s a big ask; for the half-performance mentioned above, the audience at interval was well below 50.


Monday March 21

Mary Finsterer, Melbourne Recital Centre, 6 pm

Co-sponsored by the Recital Centre and the Australian National Academy of Music, the Australian Voices series has served as both an introduction to present-day composers as well as a reminder of voices from the past, both still living and departed.  To begin this year’s sequence (and I can’t find details of further events under this heading), Sydney saxophonist Christina Leonard is curating a program of works by Mary Finsterer, currently a professor in composition at Monash University and a creative presence in Melbourne for many years.  Also scheduled are works by Finsterer’s teachers, Louis Andriessen and Brenton Broadstock.  The performers are, of course, the young ANAM musicians whose dedication to these recitals is beyond praise.


Tuesday March 22

Hamer Quartet, Melbourne Recital Centre, 6 pm

This group disappeared about five years ago as its members took on positions in other cities or other countries.  Now, three of the original members – violin Rebecca Chan, viola Stefanie Farrands, cello Michael Dahlenburg – are re-grouping and will be collaborating with a number of violinists as the year goes by.  Tonight’s lucky winner is Zoe Black who participates in Janacek’s No. 2, Intimate Letters, and the middle Brahms, No. 2 in A minor. As a warm-up, the quartet offers a selection of Monteverdi madrigals; nice, although the best ones (the ones I know) are in five parts.  Still, it will be an intriguing exercise to see how the players sound after several years apart and with a new voice in the mix.


Wednesday March 23

Kristian Chong, Melbourne Recital Centre, 6 pm

Another one in the Salon Solo series, popular pianist Chong presents an all-Schubert recital featuring some of the late works: the 1827 Impromptus D. 935 and the final sonata in B flat, emerging in the last months of the composer’s life.  All are exacting pieces, the four impromptus restrained and liberal-handed in turns, notably in the B flat third one, distinctive for its pliant variations.  The sonata, with strong echoes of Beethoven’s insistence and rumbling bass content throughout a wide-ranging first movement and also distinguished for the stirring beauty of its slow movement’s modulations, asks for real interpretative depth; hearing it in live performance can be an intensely moving experience.


Friday March 25

Melbourne Bach Choirs and Orchestras, Melbourne Recital Centre, 2:30 pm

The ultimate in Good Friday observances, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion takes its audience/congregation right into the heart of the Easter mystery.  For this one-off airing, Rick Prakhoff conducts his Melbourne Bach Choirs and Orchestras (a nice touch: you do need two of both) as well as the Choir of St. Michael’s Grammar school, presumably for those chorales floating above the welter in the opening Kommt, ihr Tochter and the first half’s concluding O Mensch, bewein) fronted by ten – count them – soloists.  Andrew Goodwin takes on the exhausting responsibilities of the Evangelist; Warwick Fyfe recapitulates his Christus, the part he sang for this organization’s first Matthaus-Passion a decade ago; Lorina Gore and Jacqueline Porter share soprano duties; ditto Sally-Anne Russell and Belinda Patterson with the mezzo pages; Henry Choo and Michael Petrucelli split the tenor arias between them; and Andre Collis and Jeremy Kleeman alternate in the bass work.  An all-star cast but the work sinks or swims by its choral forces’ input and their avoidance of a relentless chugging delivery mode.  In any case, a brave enterprise.


Wednesday March 30

Latitude 37, Melbourne Recital Centre, 6 pm

This trio of period music experts – violin Julie Fredersdorff, viola da gamba Laura Vaughan, harpsichord Donald Nicholson – performs a Bach & his Ancestors program.  As centrepiece, the group works with bass baritone Nicholas Dinopoulos in Johann Sebastian’s Ich habe genug cantata which is accompanied by oboe, two violins, viola, organ and continuo.  The scheduled woodwind soloist is Kirsten Barry; the other personnel remain unspecified at the time of writing.  Further pieces are Johan Christoph (JS’s first cousin once removed) Bach’s Lament Wie bist du denn, O Gott with a rich solo violin line complementing the bass soloist; a five-line suite by Dietrich (presumably Sixt); and Franz Tunder’s O Jesu dulcissime for bass and two violins that runs from the funereal by way of some vocal gymnastics to a modestly jubilant Alleluia.  An ensemble whose work is always well-informed and balanced.


Thursday March 31

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Hamer Hall, 7 pm

Branching out into films of gravity, the MSO plays Nino Rota’s soundtrack score for Francis Ford Coppola’s grim The Godfather.   Justin Freer conducts, having carried out the same process over 2014-15 with orchestras in London, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sydney; in other words, after all those out-of-town try-outs, you’d expect him to be a dab hand at this exercise.  Definite crowd-pleasers, these film-supporting concerts are invariably eye-opening, although more often than not the musical content gets subsumed in the visual action.   But, for the interested, every composer’s scoring impresses as more clear-speaking in this live environment – with the added benefit that the dialogue has to be put in subtitles, so strong is the musical input.  And it’s a memorable score, especially if you have a penchant for minor keys.

Program repeated on Friday April 1 at 7 pm in Hamer Hall.