December Diary

Thursday December 1


Arcadia Quintet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

A half-French, half-Australian program from an ensemble new to me, although it’s been going since 2013 and has been all around the country, performing in venues big and small. The Arcadias comprise flute Kiran Phatak, oboe David Reichelt, clarinet Lloyd van’t Hoff, bassoon Matthew Kneale, and horn Rachel Shaw – all of them ANAM musicians, so the cream of their particular crops.  The visiting piano is Peter de Jager, also an ANAM graduate.  The evening starts with Techno-parade from 2002 by Guillaume Connesson, a taxing five-minute romp for flute, clarinet and piano, the last-named played both ‘straight’ and with a bit of internal manipulation. Poulenc’s piquant oboe/bassoon/piano Trio celebrates to the full the composer’s wit and melodic resourcefulness.  De Jager is mounting one of his own compositions; details remain sketchy at the time of writing – no name, no instrumentation.   The program concludes with Brett Dean’s Polysomnograhy – ‘a multi-parametric test used in the study of sleep’, according to the composer who wrote this five-movement sextet nine years ago.


Thursday December 1


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

While Opera Australia is struggling with its Ring production for the second time (why?), Simone Young will front the MSO to show how Wagner should be done; an object lesson to the OA board on what a great talent left the building when it sacked her.  Not that she is laden with the fripperies and inanities of the tetralogy: her task is Parsifal, the least attractive of the whole Bayreuth oeuvre.   With tenor Stuart Skelton in the title role and veteran American mezzo Michelle de Young finishing off her year as Kundry, Young conducts part of Act 2 – possibly all of Scene 2 after the Flowermaidens have done their worst.   As a filler, Young also conducts the incomplete (although you’d never know it) Bruckner Symphony No. 9: a leviathan, not for the faint-hearted.

This program is repeated on Saturday December 3 at 8 pm


Monday December 5


Continuo Collective

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

Haven’t heard this duo – theorbo Samantha Cohen, guitar Geoffrey Morris – for some time; am assuming the work continues in much the same vein as before.  Tonight, the Collective expands to take in Marshall McGuire’s triple harp and some percussion titillation from either Dan Richardson (MRC website) or Matthew Horsley (MRC publication).  The music is all Santiago de Murcia: dances and tunes collected from European, African and American (South) sources – a toe-tappin’ hour of exuberant 18th century ‘world’ music.


Tuesday December 6



Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

Details about this recital  have been stuck in a time-warp for quite a while.  Doubtless, the musicians involved will include – or consist entirely of – violin Monica Curro, clarinet Philip Arkinstall and piano Stefan Cassomenos.  The musicians are playing five new works by Hue Blanes, Ross Irwin, Stephen Magnusson, James Mustafa and Niko Schauble; except the last, names that are new to me but that’s not unexpected – they all come from the worlds of jazz/indie pop/folk.   Oddly enough, they are all male, which probably has something to do with the event’s title.  So far as I can discover, the composers’ material is still nameless; not that it matters too much when the participating personnel remain an unknown quantity.


Wednesday December 7


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

A one-off event for Melbourne – welcome, of course, but I don’t know why it’s happening – this program features Richard Tognetti  and a select few of his bright-as-a-button band as soloists: violins Satu Vanska and Helena Rathbone, cello Timo-Veikko Valve, bass Maxime Bibeau, with recorder Genevieve Lacey coming in for good measure.  You’d have to assume that more of the ACO will attend to provide tutti components for Bach’s A minor Violin Concerto and the Orchestral Suite No. 2 (a great workout for Lacey), as well as Vivaldi’s Two Violins-and-Cello Concerto RV 565 and the Four-Violin Concerto RV 549.  For that gracious genuflection to the home-grown, Tognetti has programmed Elena Kats-Chernin’s Miniatures for Strings, about which I can find out nothing and so assume that this will be its premiere.


Saturday December 10


Benaud Trio

Melbourne Recital Centre at 3 pm

The program will be repeated at 6 pm

The Bramble brothers – violinist Lachlan, cellist Ewen – are visiting from their duties with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and pianist Amir Farid is back from the US for a rare Melbourne appearance; only three times this year whereas the group used to turn up around many a corner.  Tonight is a short Salon event featuring two piano trios: Mozart in C K 548 and the Schumann No. 1.  It’s not so much an evolution of the form as a juxtaposition.  Still, these players are always welcome for their robust approach and the individual character of their communal sound . . . which has probably changed, given the wear and tear of settled professional life and expanded horizons.


Saturday December 10


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 5 pm

This will, once again, not be a night for the purists.  Yes, you get a lot of indisputable Christmas music: Once in Royal David’s City, O Little Town of Bethlehem, the Coventry Carol, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, Adam’s O Holy Night, Silent Night, and O Come, All Ye Faithful – a pretty exhaustive list of carols there, lyrics that have been part of the season’s celebrations for yonks.  Then you get a few tenuously related items, like Amazing Grace, Nicolai’s arrangement of Wachet auf, Caccini/Vavilov’s Ave Maria, Eriks Esenvalds’ O salutaris hostia and Norwegian writer Ola Gjeilo’s Kyrie setting, The Spheres for a cappella choir dividing and contracting in multiple lines.  On top of all this, Paul Dyer will air some inexplicables like Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Trumpets, The Luckiest by Ben Folds, the villancico Con que la lavare by Luys de Narvaez and a Ciaconna (which one? by the 17th century Moravian musician Philipp Jakob Rittler.  The ABO, in other words, ticks all the seasonal boxes but fleshes things out with music that will please patrons through its celebratory or sentimental character.  The Brandenburgers’ guest will be Madison Nonoa, a young soprano from New Zealand.

This program will be repeated at 7:30 pm.


Saturday December 10 


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7 pm

Pretty much the MSO’s last work for the year and still a fairly popular event, although I seem to remember the days when this great oratorio ran to three performances in a row.  The conductor is Paul Goodwin, recently here in July to lead the MSO in one of its Melbourne Recital Centre nights, notable on that occasion for some excellent Haydn.  His principals are: our own Emma Matthews for the soprano solos;  mezzo Luciana Mancini making what I think is her first appearance in this country following the budding of her career in Europe and the United States; British tenor Charles Daniels who is very experienced and popular enough to have his own fan club/ society; Christopher Richardson from Sydney the night’s bass and he has impressed on his few showings here.  The MSO Chorus will be prepared by Warren Trevelyan-Jones who directs the Consort of Melbourne and St. James Church in Sydney’s King St.

This program is repeated on Sunday December 12 at 5 pm.


Saturday December 10


Ensemble Gombert

Xavier College at 8 pm

You could be flippant and say that John O’Donnell and his excellent choir are bringing out the usual Gallic Renaissance suspects for the season: Ockeghem, Mouton, Desprez, and Compere as well as a newcomer to me in Johannes Prioris.   Serving Charles VII and Louis XI, Ockeghem is represented by his Marian motet, Alma redemptoris mater.  Four works – Nesciens mater, Noe, noe, Quaeramus cum pastoribus, and Illuminare, illuminare, Jerusalem speak for Jean Mouton, who wrote for Louis XII and Francois 1.  The Gomberts sing two Josquin motets – his setting of the first 14 verses of St. John’s Gospel, In principio erat verbum, and the lactation celebration  O admirabile commercium, from a composer who might have known Louis XI but certainly knew Louis XII.   Compere worked for Charles VIII and tonight his Hodie nobis de virgine Introit from a substitution mass/motet cycle brings the program to an end.   But not before another In principio setting by Prioris who was for a time maitre de chapelle for Louis XII.  So a great swag of court music from a richly productive musical era in French music.


Sunday December 11


Australian Boys Choir

Melbourne Recital Centre at 3 pm

Always a pleasure to hear these singers, prepared to the nth degree by Noel Ancell.  At the core of this year’s program sits Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols – a gratifying evocation of the Christian feast, if essentially English in its ambient ethos, and an always challenging series of hurdles for its choir of trebles and accompanying harp.  The ABC has a number of offshoots, all of whom enjoy exposure on these nights.   And, in the all-in-together participation carols, the parents and friends come into their own, raising the Recital Centre roof and singing the well-known arrangements in parts as only a well-disciplined and musically educated audience can.