Selby & Friends
Deakin Edge, Federation Square
Tuesday November 8
Finishing the year in style, Kathryn Selby and her guests – violin Daniel Dodds, cello Julian Smiles – gave a rich, broad airing to the Brahms Piano Trio No. 1, if more heavy-footed in the Scherzo that usual – not over-molto in this Allegro – and I believe without a repeat of the first movement’s exposition. But what you gained from this interpretation was an awareness of the score’s linear strength and the warm humanity of its expressiveness which avoids any trace of the sentimentality that cloys some of the composer’s most popular bagatelles.
Smiles is a well-known quantity – not just from his appearance at the last Selby & Friends all-Beethoven recital, but also through years of Goldner Quartet, Australia Ensemble and Musica Viva appearances. Once again, he brought his quietly assertive strength into play from bar 4 on, later most eloquently at that rare moment of lyrical exposure in the Adagio with the change to G sharp minor (sort of): the only moment in that inspired alternation of chorale and complex harmonic meshing where a string instrument speaks alone.
Dodds, currently artistic director of the Festival Strings Lucerne, made a remarkable contribution to the work’s success. He is not a barnstorming force, carving up the melodic soars and swoops, but more penetratingly fine in output than most players achieve in negotiating this work. His first entry – that delayed powerfully fine theme restatement with the cello in sixths – made a deep impression for its controlled supremacy of line; but the finesse of his detail impressed just as much, like the rapidly accomplished triplets throughout the finale and his moderate dynamic at those few points where the violin in that movement actually gets to enjoy the limelight unopposed or unyoked to the cello line.
Tuesday began with a brief Schubert piece, the D.28 Sonatensatz. A youthful single movement, this hardly stretched these performers although Selby was kept occupied with dollops of doubling and plenty of underpinning passage-work. Just as rare, Liszt’s Tristia, a late arrangement of his own La vallee d’Obermann, the longest work in the Swiss book of the Annees de pelerinage, impressed for its restraint, especially the muffled string output at the piece’s opening, so that the eventual explosion into dramatic hyperbole for all three performers came over with emphatic power.
A close-to-full Deakin Edge auditorium greeted the Brahms trio interpretation with considerable acclaim; with this audience you can’t go wrong with the tried-and-true Romantic. A similar reaction greeted the Liszt rarity; for all its inbuilt depression and mournful meanderings, the work is framed in familiar 19th century terms. Not so happy was the reception given to Gerard Brophy’s Sheer Nylon Dances, a piano trio work in four movements with the piano ‘fetishised’, i.e. slightly prepared in the Cagean sense.
Most of the Australian composer’s suite titles suggest atmospheres or settings, although the intent is surely comic. An initial cakewalk avec carillons lointains begins with bell-suggestions from a slow-moving piano before the strings liven up the action; the start of the voiles tunisiennes is string patterns just disjunct enough to suggest minimalism before the piano enters; a more placid la gymnopedie engloutie precedes a rhythmically disjunct danse d’extase. These Debussyan/Satiesque titles (with a dash of Scriabin) give you no preparation for what follows, particularly as the movements’ texture is subtly dominated by the clanks and thuds of the piano. A good deal of the piece is a test of synchronicity, the danse something of a trial for the executants who have to do a fair bit of counting eleven to the bar.
This Brophy score from 2000 puzzled the patrons – and me, simply because it was out of context although you can see that it was programmed in comfortable surroundings to give it an airing, rather than to draw parallels with adolescent Schubert and venerable Liszt. But the true tenor of this audience came from a question without notice after Selby’s opening talk/explanation when a lady asked when the organization would be programming Clara Schumann’s Piano Trio of 1846. That’s the sort of curiosity that this splendidly accomplished pianist’s Melbourne patrons seem to want . . . more’s the pity.
Well, the diet in 2017 is light on rarely-heard names but long on interesting products from the familiar ranks. March brings Beethoven, Saint-Saens and Dvorak’s Dumky. May is all arrangements: Haydn’s Miracle Symphony, Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, and Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. Elena Kats-Chernin’s The Spirit and the Maiden will begin July’s program, with a Dvorak and Ravel to follow. September is another all-Beethoven night, including the composer’s own arrangement of his Symphony No. 2. And the end of the year offers the only break in the piano trio mould with Turina, Mozart and Dvorak piano quartets. Nothing to fret about here, not even Kats-Chernin’s quarter-hour construct, thanks to the composer’s penchant for repeated patterns and traditional harmony. What you will get across every night is excellent chamber music-making with a lot of familiar faces rotating at the string desks.