August Diary

Monday August 1

Strauss & Lavish Opulence

Kristian Chong & Friends

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

Hosting the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Natsuko Yoshimoto, talented pianist Chong presents a program just varied enough to stand out from the ruck.  The pair open with Brahms in A, the middle and most contentedly happy of the three violin sonatas.  And they end with the Richard Strauss in E flat, a welter of melodic lushness from the 24-year-old.   As a makeweight comes Australian composer Arthur Benjamin’s 1924 Sonatine in three movements, a substantial piece written over a decade before Benjamin made it big with his Jamaican Rumba, a popular hit, so much so that after his death the rest of his substantial body of work was ignored.


Thursday August 4

Time’s Arrow

Flinders Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

With a title to send a chill down the spines of those of us who can feel the avalanche of advancing age, the Flinders ensemble are playing three quartets in their latest subscription series.   Britten’s No. 2 in C sets them off, that wonderfully apposite celebration of the 250th anniversary of Purcell’s death, ending with a lyrically forceful Chacony.  The Beethoven Harp in E flat will serve to revive our memories in the process of reviewing the group’s interpretation of this work in their extended cycle of the complete set some years ago.  The first of Stuart Greenbaum’s six quartets gives the night its title; composed in 1991, the composer has spoken of its indebtedness to the Britten No. 2.   We’ll see.



Thursday August 4

Elgar, Bach, Puccini & Dvorak

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 8 pm

Canadian violinist James Ehnes is back to direct and play solo in a pleasant enough set of works.  The Elgar Introduction and Allegro offers an easy Edwardian sweep of melodic warmth for a willing string body.   Ehnes takes front-of-stage for the Bach Concerto No. 2 in E Major, probably the composer’s most well-known string concerto after the Double in D minor (and ignoring those Brandenburgs ).   Filling in time, Puccini’s Crisantemi is outed; it featured as a gap-filler/encore in Australian Chamber Orchestra concerts many years ago and is charming large-salon music.   At the end, Ehnes leads his forces in the Dvorak String Serenade.   I have a suspicion that he has played/directed some of this program on previous visits; whatever the case, he’s one of the finest violinists operating today and we are fortunate that he keeps on returning to Melbourne.

The program will be repeated on Friday August 5 in Costa Hall, Geelong at 8 pm and on Saturday August 6 at 6:30 pm in Hamer Hall.


Saturday August 6

Traversing the Passage of Time

Endeavour Trio

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Clarinet Paul Dean, cellist Trish O’Brien and pianist Stephen Emmerson have also put together a program that veers just far enough off the beaten track to avoid conservative discomfort.   Their recital opens with the Debussy Cello Sonata, the first of the composer’s projected cycle of six; it always strikes me as unfinished, stopping before it deserves to, but by the end the string player’s bowing strength and projection have been severely tried. All three musicians come together for the Brahms Trio in A minor, the first of the four masterworks involving the woodwind instrument; thanks once again, Richard Muhlfeld. At the centre of the evening stands a new work by Dean which gives this night its title; well, pretty new – it receives its premiere at the Queensland Conservatorium on July 28 before emerging again in an Accompanists’ Guild of South Australia Festival at the end of this month, so it should be well played-in by the time we hear it.


Sunday August 7

Enchanting Woodwinds

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Iwaki Auditorium Southbank at 11 am

Next in the series of very well-attended chamber music recitals peopled by MSO members, this one features braces of flutes, oboes, bassoons and horns as well as Philip Arkinstall’s clarinet and the piano of Louisa Breen.   Giovanni Batista Riccio’s Sonata a 4 – one of them – has been arranged by contrabassoonist extraordinaire Brock Imison for winds (obviously, considering Riccio was a dab hand at using recorders).   A more challenging arrangement comes in Jonathan Russell’s 2010 version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, here in an abridged format for wind quintet.   After that, the rest of the morning settles into a relatively orthodox pattern with Jean Francaix’s oboe/bassoon/piano Trio and the Poulenc Sextet, a work that troubled the writer into years of reconstruction.


Tuesday August 9

Here Will Be My Ending

Hamer Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

This group has reformed after some time away from the chamber music front-line. Original members Rebecca Chan (violin), Stephanie Farrands (viola) and Michael Dahlenburg (cello) have invited some guests to help them out; on this night, it’s the turn of Sydney musician Doretta Balkizas.   The event takes its impetus from Schubert’s last words, asking on his deathbed for a performance of Beethoven’s C sharp minor Quartet: one of those final engrossing products that still challenge executants, no matter how experienced.   Speaking of Schubert, his nervous Quartettsatz opens the group’s account, which then moves to Richard Meale’s Cantilena Pacifica, the final movement of his String Quartet No. 2 which for me represents the nadir of the Australian composer’s accomplishment; aimless and sugary.   It has become one of the writer’s most loved and performed pieces, so what do I know?


Thursday August 11

Our Space

Syzygy Ensemble

Melbourne Recital Centre 6 pm

The contemporary music group offers a tour of current or near-current Australian composition, starting with pianist Peter de Jager’s Mosaic, one of three works on this five-segment program that is enjoying its world premiere.  May Lyon’s Ode (as opposed to Road)  to Damascus suggests too many options to even guess at.  Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh contributes Contemplations, which has Messiaenic overtones.  Kate Neal’s Piano Trio No. 1 has apparently been performed elsewhere, although I can’t find out where and by whom. And Mary Finsterer’s quintet Circadian Tale 7.1 for cor anglais, alto sax, piano, violin and cello enjoys its first performance in four years and, as far as superficial research can detect, is the ‘oldest’ (2009) music on this program.  A lot of music to pack into an hour but the performers are experts in this field.


 Thursday August 11

Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

James Ehnes puts in a second appearance, this time under conductor Sir Andrew Davis.  He puts his talents to work on the Richard Strauss Violin Concerto, a rarely heard part of the violin virtuoso repertoire and a work that the Canadian musician hasn’t recorded – yet. Mind you, I’d be happy listening to Ehnes playing pretty much anything from hoary Bruch in G minor to Barber.   Sir Andrew begins with Elgar – his In the South (Alassio) extended overture, a favourite with English audiences although it hasn’t travelled as well as the Enigma Variations; but then, neither has Falstaff.   As a balance to the English work, Mendelssohn’s fine symphony proposes images of an old-time Italy, seen through rose-tinted glasses but, at worst,  a great sound-track for a tourism-promoting video, and at best, an exhilarating half-hour (well, 27 minutes) of rattlingly persuasive enthusiasm.

The program will be repeated on Friday August 12 and Saturday August 13 in Hamer Hall at 8 pm.


 Saturday August 13

Laughter and Tears

Victorian Opera

Palais Theatre St. Kilda at 7:30 pm.

The aim here is to juxtapose the fun of a real circus (Circus Oz) with the tragic tale of Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci,  which actually concerns a theatre troupe but the parallels stand up.   In the night’s first part, VO singers will perform works appropriate to 17th and 18th century theatre  – arie antiche by Vecchi, Banchieri and others – while the Circus Oz people do their various things with a commedia dell’arte framework.   Nothing wrong with that: the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra has shown the way through its collaborations last year with the Circa company, and the MSO has just completed a set of concerts with the Cirque de la Symphonie gymnasts from the US.   As for the one-act opera, its cast includes Elvira Fatykhova as Nedda, Rosario La Spina singing Canio, baritone James Clayton as Tonio.  The company’s artistic director Richard Mills conducts.

The production will also be presented on Tuesday August 16 and Thursday August 18, both nights at 7:30 pm.


Sunday August 14

Mozart’s Piano

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm

With William Hennessy at the controls, this enthusiastic band is performing four Mozart works, including two piano concertos with New York-based Australian musician David Fung as soloist.  The orchestra brackets the afternoon’s work with the delectable Serenata Notturna and the Symphony in A No. 29 – one of the more effortlessly expressive, simple-looking scores that the adolescent composer produced.   Fung fronts No. 11 in F with its unusual first movement in 3/4 time, and the No. 14 in E flat – another one of the three concertos with a 3/4 opening.   Although the later of these is valued as opening the formidable concerto output that leads up to the final B flat triumph, you rarely hear either of these works live.   Both have wind parts but they provide little interest with practically no substantial contributions, apart from expanding the sonic fabric at isolated moments, so Hennessy will probably omit them.

This program is also being performed on Friday August 12 at 7:30 pm at the Deakin Edge, Federation Square.


Monday August 15

East to West

Inventi Ensemble

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

I still haven’t heard this ensemble or its co-directors, flute Melissa Doecke and oboe Ben Opie.   For this program, they host Marshall McGuire and his harp, as well as percussionists Peter Neville and Thea Rossen.   The offerings are contemporary, sort-of. Takemitsu’s 1971 trio Eucalypts No. 2 for flute, oboe and harp sounds aggressive for a nature-celebrating piece, so perhaps it’s not.   Tan Dun seems to appear in front of the MSO with a wildly disparate program every year, but the noted film composer/conductor is here represented by In Distance, another trio, this time for piccolo, harp and bass drum written in 1987 when the composer first came to New York.   The wildest child of the post-Webern school, Iannis Xenakis, wrote Dmaathen in 1976 for oboe and percussion – both drums and the keyed vibraphone and marimba.  Thanks to the ANAM musicians, we have heard more Morton Feldman in the past five years than at any other time since the composer’s death in 1987.   Instruments III for flute(s), oboe (alternating cor anglais) and percussion comes from the year after Xenakis’ composition; the night’s major offering, its sound-world is dominated by the timbre of suspended cymbals.  With idiosyncratic quiescence, it completes this near-Back-To-The-70s collation.


Friday August 19

Gala Concert

Australian National Academy of Music Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Simone Young must have a soft sport for the National Academy.  She brings her considerable expertise to its doors on a regular basis and her gala concerts are highlights in ANAM’s performance history.   On this night she is giving the young string Academicians a strong workout with Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night sextet in its orchestra format.   She directs the full orchestra in support of Lisa Gasteen for Mahler’s five Ruckert-Lieder with its contrasting inner poles of Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen and Um Mitternacht representing the white and black facets of the composer’s emotional landscape.   Young ends with Schoenberg’s splendid orchestration of the substantial symphony-length Brahms Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, a revision that does great service to the original.  It’s a fine program but the lasting pleasure will come in watching young musicians respond to a first-class conductor.


Friday August 19

Tognetti and The Lark Ascending

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Robert Blackwood Hall at 8 pm

Sir Andrew Davis gives us some more of the Best of British tonight.  His guest is Richard Tognetti, long-time artistic director of the estimable Australian Chamber Orchestra who is soloist in two works.   First, Lutoslawski’s Partita in five movements takes its starting point from the collection-of-movements format familiar from Bach’s catalogue, the influence stronger especially in Lutoslawski’s odd-numbered movements.  Still, this old-time reference serves only as a springboard for a bracing experience from a composer in whom the spirit of Bartok seemed to survive.    As a chaser for his patrons, Davis has then programmed Vaughan Williams’ always-moving pastoral romance that Tognetti has played before in this hall with exceptional success.   More of the right stuff comes with the Four Sea Interludes from Britten’s Peter Grimes, although I always feel a tad cheated when the pendant Passacaglia is omitted.   To end, Davis conducts Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, the composer’s final work with which the orchestra has enjoyed continual success in the last half-century.

This program is being repeated in Hamer Hall on Saturday August 20 at 2 pm and on Monday August 22 at 6:30 pm.


 Sunday August 21

Ludwig, With Strings Attached

Team of Pianists

Rippon Lea at 6:30 pm

They couldn’t have made it any simpler.   The youngest of the Team’s governing quartet, Rohan Murray, partners Miki Tsunoda in the first three violin sonatas by Beethoven. This Op. 12 was dedicated to Salieri, Mozart’s rival, and each sonata is about 20 minutes in length with lashings of athletic action, especially in the No. 3 in  E flat, which has a first movement as packed with brio as anything else the composer was writing at the time – the first symphony and piano concerto, the popular Septet, the Pathetique Sonata (easy stuff, compared to some of this piano writing).   Tsunoda, once very familiar from her partnership with Caroline Almonte in Duo Sol, is principal second violin with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic these days and has a finely-rounded projection that has made many a slow movement more memorable than anticipated.


Tuesday August 23

Inner Worlds

Baiba Skride

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Appearing in the Recital Centre’s Great Performers series, Skride is yet another of those violinists fortunate enough to play a Stradivarius: the 1734 ‘Ex Baron Feilitzsch’, a Gidon Kremer gift which follows her previous Stradivari experiences on the 1725 ‘Wilhelmj’ instrument.   Some artists strike it lucky, but twice?   Anyway, she is accompanied on this night by the estimable Daniel de Borah in Mozart’s Sonata No. 21, a two-movement E minor construct written at the time of his mother’s death, the Shostakovich Sonata, and two oddities I can’t explain.   The Sonata in E flat by Brahms was originally for clarinet with the viola an alternative.  Likewise, Schumann’s Three Fantasy Pieces call for clarinet, although the composer also allowed for viola or cello as substitutes.   Perhaps Skride will change instruments, or possibly she has arrangements of these tenor-voiced works for her historically remarkable instrument’s range.   At all  events, we’ll be waiting to see how she interprets the Shostakovich, a late creation notable for its 12-tone experimentation, as well as its bleak final Largo where the gloom is almost palpable.


Friday August 26

Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

I can recall only one previous performance of this extraordinary work in Melbourne.  At the 1994 Arts Festival, one of those curated by Leo Schofield, conductor Marcello Viotti directed the Melbourne Chorale and the Tasmanian Symphony in a performance enriched by four excellent soloists.   Now Sir Andrew Davis is trying his hand at the Mass for the first time.  The MSO is tested, yes, but the MSO Chorus has a greater strain placed on its members with some extended passages that hold no consideration for singers of moderate abilities.   Davis’ soloists are soprano Emily Birsan, who will be singing Bliss’s The Beatitudes next year with him at the Barbican, poor girl; mezzo Michele Loisier sang Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliette under Davis in January, also at the Barbican; British tenor Andrew Staples has a big repertoire for a young artist, but no Beethoven besides Jacquino in Fidelio; and American bass Christian van Horn is a regular at the Chicago Lyric Opera, one of Davis’ stamping grounds.   Not exactly at peace with his faith, Beethoven grapples with the Ordinary of the Mass, at times generating a heaven-challenging ferment as at the conclusion to the Gloria, pages which make Berlioz and Verdi sound like also-rans at driving power of expression.  The work runs for 90 minutes, given here without a break – quite right.

This performance is repeated on Saturday August 27 at 8 pm.