April Diary

Sunday April 3  

Composers’ Concert, St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Richmond, 2 pm

To my shame, not one of the five writers featured on this program is known to me; nor are most of the performers – the Briar String Quartet, Nimbus Trio, Melbourne Composers’ Orchestra (although I’m very familiar with the work of this body’s conductor, Andrew Wailes).   It’s an afternoon of many premiere performances: Carol Dixon’s String Quartet No. 1 and first Piano Trio, as well as her Ocean Oasis from the Nimbus group; Kitty Xiao, central figure in the Nimbus ensemble, is represented by trio works, including the first hearing of her Emei; pianist/composer Hana Zreikat plays her own Elan, Soldier’s Suite and interprets Sarah Elise Thompson’s Riven; Benjamin Bates’ Symphony No. 3 enjoys its first performance under Wailes; and Thompson’s First String Quartet rounds out the event’s premieres.  For $15/$10 (kids under 12 free), it’s a large dose of new music  – 11 works in all – and, with so many composers contributing, variety is pretty well guaranteed.


Friday April 8

Camilla Tilling, Melbourne Recital Centre, 7:30 pm

Familiar to aficionados as a versatile opera singer, this Swedish soprano in mid-career is here showing her abilities on a more demanding platform, appearing in the MRC’s Great Performers series.   At the time of writing, her program comprises Berlioz’s Nuits d’ete, Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -Leben, and Berg’s Seven Early Songs . . . which is all great music, if a touch underwhelming in terms of length; perhaps there’ll be a hefty swag of encores.  Still, all three cycles are proper recital fare, even if we generally hear the Berlioz in the orchestral form that the composer eventually gave them.  And the young Berg also put his late Romantic settings into orchestral garb 20 years after the originals were produced, not adding much in the process except to smooth out any innate chromatic edges.  As far as I can tell, this is Tilling’s only recital, after which she goes to Sydney to sing the Berg lieder with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.  Her associate on this night is Leigh Harrold, a dab pair of hands in this role as evidenced by his being singled out as most outstanding pianist in the 2014 Mietta Song Competition.


Sunday April 10

Australian Chamber Orchestra, Hamer Hall, 2:30 pm

This program, as usual, will be repeated the following day at 7:30 pm.   For this tour, the ACO is in partnership with another Sydney ensemble, Synergy Percussion;  it seems odd, but I can’t recollect a previous performance here from this latter group since a Myer Bowl event during the 2006 Commonwealth Games Arts Festival.   As you’d expect, the program is contemporary in flavour, from the soporific to the hard-hitting.   The senior moment is Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, 80 years old this year.  Film music gets a decent representation with Bernard Herrmann’s 1960 score for Psycho, from which a string suite has been constructed; and Thomas Newman’s percussion-heavy accompaniment to 1999’s American Beauty gives the Synergy players a right of reply.  As for more taxing listening, the forces offer two gripping, grating constructs by Xenakis – Voile (1995) for 20 strings (does the ACO have that many?). and the 1975 graphically-notated Psappha percussion solo.  To complement these almost blasts-from-yesteryear products, some of them approaching the venerable,  the program offers a new work for both sets of musicians by Timothy Constable, Synergy’s artistic director.


Tuesday April 12

Lucia di Lammermoor, Her Majesty’s Theatre, 7:30 pm

Victorian Opera moves back to traditional fare with Donizetti’s masterpiece, very popular in this country thanks to Dame Joan Sutherland’s association with it, including her first recording of the Mad Scene – still the finest interpretation on disc.  So Jessica Pratt has her work cut out, even if she has sung the title role in La Scala.  For the company’s five performances, ending on April 21,  artistic director, Richard Mills conducts and the cast includes Carlos E. Barcenas (Edgardo), Jose Carbo (Enrico), and Michael Petruccelli (Arturo).   Cameron Menzies directs a production which comes from West Australian Opera,  Mills’ old stamping ground.  So far, information suggests that the work is being taken at face value, rather than transplanted to a contemporary setting in Cottesloe Beach with the heroine transforming into a white pointer.  Pratt has enjoyed VO successes in the last two years and, pace her colleagues, is the focus of attention in this airing of a true bel canto classic.


Wednesday April 13

Songmakers Australia, Melbourne Recital Centre, 6 pm

Three famous composers; three unfamiliar works.  This adventurous organization is giving a rare airing to Mozart’s Six Notturni; well, that’s if they are by Mozart.  The composer’s wife said the first five weren’t and, despite what you see in Amadeus, she was in her husband’s confidence.   The last one of the vocal trios, Piu non si trovano, is definitely Mozart, so the scholars say.   Their accompaniment is either for three basset horns or two clarinets with a basset horn; you’d assume that Andrea Katz will replace them with her all-embracing piano.   No worries about the Beethoven; An die ferne Geliebte, a sequence of six songs, is often referred to as the original song-cycle leading to Schubert, Schumann et al.   Speaking of Schumann, he is represented here by his Spanisches Liederspiel: ten songs, half of them duets, three solos, and two for vocal quartet.  Tonight’s singers are Songmaker regulars: soprano Merlyn Quaife, mezzo Sally-Anne Russell, tenor Andrew Goodwin, bass-baritone Nicholas Dinopoulos.  These recitals stand out for the participants’ professionalism and welcome splashes of personality.


Selby & Friends, Deakin Edge, Federation Square, 7:30 pm

Selby’s recitals get better as the years go past; somehow, the changing personnel is yielding extraordinary performances, both in trio and duet formats.  For this program, the artists perform an impressive bank of four trios: Brahms No. 2 in C and Mendelssohn No. 2 with its glowing Lutheran finale, and the Shostakovich No. 1 – not the famous E minor but a student work in one long movement of which the last 16 bars were left by the composer for a pupil, Boris Tishchenko, to finish.   Copland’s Vitebsk, study on a Jewish theme, has been gaining enthusiasts for some years, although it’s a strident, challenging twelve minutes’ worth where the composer, for the only time, uses a tune taken from his own heritage to give images in music of life in a shtetl.   This time around, Kathryn Selby has enlisted the services of Australian New-York based violinist Susie Park, formerly of the glamorous Eroica Trio as well as many other bodies in the USA, and American cellist/composer Clancy Newman who has been a Selby & Friends collaborator in several previous seasons.


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Hamer Hall, 7:30 pm

Sir Andrew Davis has long been associated with the BBC Proms, a series of concerts best known for its Last Night but, at this stage of its history, swollen to a vast program of over 100 events spreading outside the regular Royal Albert Hall venue.  As far as I can tell, Davis is restricting his Melbourne venture (this year) to two concerts, including a Last Night that follows the traditional path.  This opening night is not particularly unusual – unless they take the Hamer Hall stalls out for people to stand.   A fresh Nigel Westlake work, Dream of Flying, will be heard for the first time.   Laura van der Heijden, BBC Young Musician Competition winner in 2012, takes centre-stage for the Saint-Saens Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, a former audience-pleaser that seems to have fallen out of favour.   Then the orchestra whips up that fine festal feeling with the Berlioz Symphonie fantastique, always surprising and fresh and a particular show-pony for the MSO.   In fact, the night follows a rather old-fashioned sequence –  overture, concerto, symphony.   Not that every Prom has to break new ground at every turn . . . far from it.


Friday April 15

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, Deakin Edge, Federation Square, 7:30 pm

This program will be repeated on Sunday April 17 in the Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm.   Guest director, Rebecca Chan,  is a familiar face from a variety of roles with orchestras, chamber groups and as a soloist, although we’ve seen less of her in this last role over recent years, more’s the pity.   The program is headed The Gypsy Palace and it takes in a wide field: Telemann’s La musette suite, two Vivaldi concertos, a C.P.E. Bach string symphony, Haydn’s G Major Violin Concerto.   From out of nowhere come Josquin’s Ave Maria in a string orchestra arrangement; ditto for Gesualdo’s O dolce mio tesoro madrigal; the finale of Carl Vine’s Smith’s Alchemy, his own string orchestra arrangement of the String Quartet No. 3; and selections from the Uhrovska Collection, compiled in 1730 and containing about 350 works – well, violin lines – from Polish, Hungarian and Slovakian sources.  The thesis put forward by some musicologists and musicians is that the Uhrovska melodies have resonances in the compositions of the time, viz. some of those on this program.   From a very limited exposure to the Collection, I can see merit in the proposed influence/connection, especially when the arrangements pile on the Gypsy tropes.   For this occasion, the MCO and Chan have gone in wholeheartedly for variety, their scope of action tonight stretching across more than five centuries.


Saturday April 16

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Hamer Hall, 7:30 pm

This is already sold out but I fear that, although it follows the usual pattern, it will be a pale imitation of its London original.   Sir Andrew finishes the night with the patriotic quartet – Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs, the Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 with A.C. Benson’s ludicrously jingoistic words for the trio section, Arne’s Rule, Britannia! which is even worse in its self-congratulatory back-slapping, and Parry’s Jerusalem to satisfy any soccer hoons in the hall: the unspeakable singing the incomprehensible.  As opener, we get Beethoven’s weighty Egmont Overture, followed by Liane Keegan singing Elgar’s Sea Pictures as a complement to the night’s concluding bracket.   Percy Grainger’s four-movement In a Nutshell suite with its extraordinarily adventurous Pastoral is preceded by three of the Slavonic Dances of Dvorak.   It’s inevitable that enthusiasts will dress for the occasion and plenty of flag-waving will happen at the traditional points; obviously, the enthusiasm is there but I can’t help thinking that it’s sad to be aping such a locally-specific celebration.


Sunday April 17

Team of Pianists, Rippon Lea, 6:30 pm

A constant presence in Melbourne’s chamber music world, the Team maintains its presence at the National Trust mansion on six Sunday nights across the year, this the first of them.   In the house’s ballroom, Aura Go will perform Mozart – the earliest of the three  B flat Major sonatas and the emphatic C minor, as well as the Fantasia K. 475.   Brahms also features: his Liebeslieder Waltzes – well, those 18 in the Op. 52 set.   In fact, one of the few performances of these lilting gems with rock-solid foundations came from the Team, so long ago only a shadowy memory remains.   Soprano Kate Amos, mezzo Karen van Spall, tenor Michael Petrucelli and baritone Daniel Carson – all young voices, just what you need for this cycle –  will be supported by the Team’s founder Max Cooke and senior partner Darryl Coote playing one piano four-hands.   While it’s true that the piano rules at these events, guest artists come from across a wide range and this quartet of career-burgeoning singers adds to an impressive list of visiting artists.


Tuesday April 19

Stephen Hough, Melbourne Recital Centre, 7 pm

The polymath (The Economist and Intelligent Life honour him so) British  pianist  is back for another Musica Viva tour.  He combines the well-trodden track with a byway that many of us will never visit again, I suspect.   Re-running a program he gave last October at the Barbican, Hough starts (presumably) with Schubert’s A minor Sonata, D. 784, the last one in the oeuvre that has only three movements and revealing the composer at his most gloomy, even in the middle Andante whose gentle melodic calm is continually punctuated by muted rumblings.   Then, Franck’s Prelude, Choral and Fugue tribute to Bach which amalgamates chromatic 19th century pianism with a hectic but consistently observed Baroque discipline (if you can refer to such a characteristic without peals of laughter), complete with an interpolated cadenza/toccata.   Hough winds up his 19th century tour with the first two of Liszt’s four Valses oubliees from the early 1880s.   Most of us know (or will recognize) the first of these; taking us further into the collection is giving fine service, if only to demonstrate why the remaining waltzes have been left to wither.   At the recital’s centre, the pianist turns composer, performing his Sonata No. 3 with the potentially illuminating title Trinitas, written to celebrate the 175th birthday of The Tablet, that quizzically Catholic British magazine to which Hough has been an enthusiastic contributor.   The new sonata is in three movements and, like the musician’s playing, combines athleticism with intellectual rigour.

This program will be repeated on Saturday April 30 at 7 pm.


Friday April 22

Australian  National Academy of Music, South Melbourne Town Hall, 7 pm

This month, the brass get their day in the sun at the National Academy.   Under the heading Interstellar Call, American trumpeter Edward Carroll directs the ANAM brass and percussion members in a feast of mainly 20th century works.  The recital begins with the title work, one of the centrepieces to Messiaen’s Des canyons aux etoiles . . . and a supremely difficult solo for horn; the composer didn’t want it played separately from the major work, which is odd as he originally wrote it as a discrete item several years previously. Hindemith’s Konzertmusik Op. 49, the one for brass, two harps and piano from 1930, shows a less strident development in the great writer’s voice, complete with a folk-song quotation.   American composer David Lang’s Are You Experienced? of 1987, a set of variants on Jimi Hendrix’s famous song, features an electric tuba in place of the original guitar.  Silvestre Revueltas’ 1938 masterpiece of Mexican colour and movement, Sensemaya, came to Melbourne’s attention at one of the Myer Free concerts from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra when Diego Matheuz first hit the Principal Guest Conductor seat; you’d expect a brass/percussion arrangement for this airing.   There’s also The Devil Inside by (not Hugo) Wolf, about which I know nothing except that, in my world, it’s a book and a film.  Of course, it could turn out to be that sample of pop-bumf by the Bring the Wolf group, but I’m hoping not.   Also along the way comes the program’s most contemporary piece (unless the lupine product turns out to take the up-to-date honours).   Canadian-Estonian composer Riho Esko Maimets will be represented by an arrangement of his motet from 2012 for six voices, Media vita, which, in its original form at a little over fifteen minutes, sounds like a progression from Gregorian chant to Middle Renaissance polyphony; euphonious, slow-moving, reminiscent of a lot of Baltic religious music of the last half-century.


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

Putting patrons in the mood for winter, the latest MSO Proms (old-fashioned Town Hall variety) offers a quietist experience, culminating in the Faure Requiem, an idiosyncratic version of the Catholic Mass for the Dead as it was observed pre-Vatican II.   The French composer’s emotional language is of a quiet grief coupled to an almost stoic melancholy, punctuated by some gloriously soaring pages in the Sanctus and In Paradisum.   Naturally, the MSO Chorus will carry the score’s main vocal burden, with soloists soprano Jacqueline Porter and bass James Clayton.   Prior to this,  Benjamin Northey will take his forces through Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, a world of tragedy and resignation in two majestic, masterful movements.   The real novelty comes at the night’s start with an exceptional and welcome rarity: Schubert’s Gesang der Gesiter uber den Wassern.  This setting of a Goethe poem asks for eight male voice lines supported by violas, cellos and double basses, and its effect is as consolatory as the major scores that follow it.  Whoever put this program together had a definite vision, even if the experience won’t send the audience home in high spirits.


Wednesday April 27

Ensemble Liaison, Melbourne Recital Centre, 7 pm

Hard to believe this group has been active for ten years; a well deserved happy birthday, then, to David Griffiths, Svetlana Bogosavljevic and Timothy Young.   To start the celebrations, the trio welcomes four guests: violins Sophie Rowell and Elizabeth Sellars, viola Christopher Moore, horn Roman Ponomariov.   The night opens with Bloch’s Three Nocturnes of 1924 for piano trio, which in the last segment stretches the usual definition of nocturne.  Dohnanyi’s Sextet for Piano, Clarinet, Horn and String Trio dates from 1935, has four action-packed movements and, because of its personnel requirements, is never heard outside establishments like conservatoria.  What adds further interest is that it’s the composer’s last major chamber music score, even though he lived another 25 years. Later, the Liaison again indulge their enthusiasm for Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov; his The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, inspired by the teachings of a medieval Provencal rabbi,  requires a clarinet/bass clarinet (played in the Klezmer style) and string quartet.   Its format consists of a prelude, three substantial movements, and a postlude; its language is easy to imbibe, both woodwind and string parts packed with incident and the whole a half-hour essay in melodic simplicity with an underpinning of dissonance.


Thursday April 28

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Hamer Hall, 8 pm

Guest conductor Paul Goodwin, an expert in Baroque performance, is visiting to lead the MSO in a pair of Haydn symphonies, encasing a brace of Bach orchestral suites.  The Rediscover Haydn movement has never quite taken off here, although those of us with fair memories can recall the preference expressed by Markus Stenz, when he was first installed in the MSO’s chief conductor role, for programming lots of the symphonies; I can recall two being played during his tenure, although a few more might have slipped  through to the archival keeper.   But these days it seems that our Haydn experience (apart from the ubiquitous Cello Concerto No. 1) comes from bodies like the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Frank Pam’s Melbourne Musicians, or the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra. Goodwin begins with the Symphony No. 49, La Passione, which has nothing to do with Easter, and winds up with No. 82, the Oxford.   Not exactly breaking new ground, is it? There must be about 80 other symphonies, most of them without nicknames, that would have expanded our live Haydn exposure.   At any rate, they bookend the Orchestral Suites Nos. 2 and 3.   The first of these is close to a flute concerto, bringing the skill of principal Prudence Davis to front-of-stage; the other is noted for the Air on the G String, which is nothing of the kind.

This program will be repeated in Geelong’s Costa Hall on Friday April 29 at 8 pm, and again in Hamer Hall on Saturday April 30 at 2 pm


Friday April 29

Duo Chamber Melange, Melbourne Recital Centre, 6:30 pm

A piano/violin partnership, this duo makes a solid European sound with the standard repertoire at the core of its exerpertise, although the choices made by the performers are not what you’d necessarily expect.  Pianist Tamara Smolyar and violinist Ivana Tomaskova both teach at Monash University and what I’ve heard of their interpretative approach shows both forthright enthusiasm and calm mastery.  Their chief focus on this night is Brahms – the first Violin Sonata in G, and the most vernal of the three – and Janacek’s solitary exercise in the duo sonata format from 1914, an informative illustration throughout its four movements of the Czech composer’s idiosyncratic vocabulary and melodic power.   As far as I can recall, I’ve never heard it in live performance.   As well, the artists are playing the Scherzo in C minor by Brahms, his splendid contribution to the F-A-E Sonata, a compendium in honour of the great violinist Joseph Joachim consisting of two movements by Schumann, one by his student Albert Dietrich, and this exhilarating piece.  The recital’s real novelty emerges in a piano solo by Smolyar, the world premiere of Enceladus by Romanian composer Livia Teodorescu-Ciocanea, a significant creative voice and academic in the serious music world of her own country who did post-doctoral studies at Monash in 2008 and whose music has been recorded here on the Move label.   As for her new work’s title, it may refer to one of Saturn’s moons, or to the Giant from Greek mythology who fought Athene, although how you give either a musical character will be intriguing.


Saturday April 30

Ensemble Gombert, Xavier College Chapel, 5:30 pm

Starting its suburban series for 2016, John O’Donnell’s fine chamber choir presents works of the Capilla Flamenca, or Flemish Chapel – a body of singers (and instrumentalists)  in the service of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Philip II of Spain.  The works come from the Franco-Flemish school (another of those wide-ranging shorthand terms that covers vast differences), those represented being Alexander Agricola, Pierre de la Rue, Antoine Brumel, Thomas Crecquillon and Nicolas Gombert himself whose Missa Quam pulchra es caps the evening’s work.   Agricola’s motet Salve, regina and Brumel’s Laudate Dominum contrast close contemporaries, the restrained with the daring.   From de la Rue, the Gomberts will perform one Magnificat from the composer’s eight for six voices.   But for me, the most interesting are two . . . well, motets of praise is not too ripe . . . by Thomas Crecquillon, both praising the Emperor Charles in the sense that one apostrophises him as being greater than his predecessor Charlemagne, the other more or less telling him off in the most laudatory terms for his great mercy in forgiving his enemies – all couched in precise and elegant polyphony as only the best Renaissance compliments were.