March Diary

Wednesday March 1


Seraphim Trio

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

It’s been quite a while – well, a year –  since I heard this piano trio in action.  To their credit, the musicians persist in presenting recital series despite their involvement in full-time careers: pianist Anna Goldsworthy at the Elder Conservatorium, cellist Timothy Nankervis among the Sydney Symphony Orchestra cellos, and violist Helen Ayres doing guest duties with the London Philharmonic.   For this Salon appearance, the program is mainstream: Beethoven’s Ghost and Mendelssohn in D minor.  Fine, although the musicians are falling back on repertoire that is all-too-familiar to them and to their audience, works that the trio has been playing throughout its 23-year-long career.  This is the second of a four-part series in which each recital holds two masterpieces;  I suppose dealing with old friends saves on rehearsal time.


Thursday March 2


Adam Simmons

fortyfive downstairs at  7:30 pm

You’d think that a toy band was just that – something like the extraneous instruments in that popular symphony by Leopold Mozart/Michael Haydn/Anybody Else.  But no: the name refers to an all-embracing Creative Music Ensemble headed by Adam Simmons who attempts in this time-honoured form to fuse the worlds of jazz and serious music, as well as melding a few other juxtapositions of what could be regarded as opposites.   The composition is to last an hour but the implications are that Busoni/Alkan-style concentration is not part of the experience.  The soloist will be Michael Kieran Harvey, one of this country’s more expert apologists for challenging musical experiences.

This program is repeated on Friday March 3 and Saturday March 4 at 7:30 pm, and on Sunday March 5 at 3 pm.


Thursday March 2


Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm

Starting off with a modified bang, the MCO hosts Li-Wei Qin, a fine cellist who is always a pleasure to hear in live performance.  The players are being conducted by Michael Dahlenburg, himself a graduate from the organization’s cello desks.  Li-Wei takes on the Variations on a Rococo Theme by Tchaikovsky: a killer of a piece that tests technique and interpretative skill pretty sorely, to the point that successful performances are rare.  Also programmed is C. P. E. Bach’s Concerto in A, although whether the major or minor one is unclear from my source.   For relief, the MCO plays the Idomeneo Overture and Chaconne/Pas seul by Mozart, and Haydn’s Letter V Symphony No. 88 in G.

This program will be repeated in the Melbourne Recital Centre on Sunday March 5 at 2:30 pm.


Friday March 3


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Last year, the final film/live-soundtrack MSO events made a big deal of promoting the first 2017 experience in the same mould: Spielberg’s first Jurassic Park adventure.  It’s possible that I saw this epic the whole way through; if so, I’ve forgotten the most important plot element – who gets killed.   Slightly less significant, I can’t recall anything of John Williams’score – not even the main title, which is the composer’s finest achievement in many another blockbuster.   Still, the orchestra can always rely on success with these music-fore-fronting occasions as Melbourne’s public regularly packs out each session.   A boost for the coffers and, of course, the chance to be associated with a familiar eye-catching poster.   But the best thing I find in these performances  –  so different to the theatre experience  –  is that nobody talks and the Arts Centre ushers (most of them) keep a sharp eye out for idiots with iPhones who want to take pictures of – the pictures!

This program will be repeated on Saturday March 4 at 1 pm and 7:30 pm.


Saturday March 4


Australian National Academy of Music Orchestra

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

Into the second year of his stint as chief conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Nicholas Carter is visiting ANAM to direct an all-English program that features two favourites and a couple of rarities.   Clearly, the night’s apex comes in Elgar’s sterling sequence of variations, the composer’s first international success.   For a bit more retrospective entertainment, Carter will take the Academy’s strings through Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis which should resonate to pleasurable effect in the Town Hall’s wooden environment.   A tad more contemporary, Britten’s 1940 Sinfonia da Requiem, a memorial to the composer’s parents, is rarely heard live, even though it is Britten’s major purely orchestral composition.  The evening begins with Thomas Ades’s Three Studies from Couperin: Les amusemens, Les tours de passe-passe, and L’ame-en-peine – all concluding pieces from the 7th, 13th and 22nd ordres of the Pieces de clavecin, and all finely honed arrangements to challenge their young interpreters.


Thursday March 9


Selby & Friends

Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm

Three works by relatively youthful writers begin Kathryn Selby’s recital series.  They don’t come much younger than Beethoven’s E flat Piano Trio Op. 1 No. 1, dating from when the composer was about 23 and here sustaining an untroubled aural landscape.  The F Major Piano Trio Op. 18 by Saint-Saens is attractively rustic in its inner movements and comes from the composer’s 28th year; young for a man who lived to be 86.  And the figure of an Old Reliable lurches forward in Dvorak’s Dumky, coming from the composer’s 49th year and based on dance, if not exactly youthful (he died aged 62).   Selby’s partners/friends for these three scores are violinist Grace Clifford, back for a while from the US, and American cellist Clancy Newman who has become a Selby regular.


Thursday March 9


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

Beavering enthusiastically through his cycle, Sir Andrew Davis is drawing close to an end with this one, the last of the central set of non-vocal symphonies.  With its two Nachtmusik movements and a powerful central nightmare, this score presents a musical imagist’s paradise, although the outer movements push against this with firmly argued declamation.   But the sounds of mandolin, guitar, cowbells and that oddity, the Tenorhorn, support the claims for this work being of more than usually high orchestrational, travelogue-coloured interest.  As well,  the MSO Chorus puts in an appearance for David Stanhope’s 1999 The Heavens Declare, a setting of part of Psalm 19 and probably – in its text, at least – more suitable as a prelude to the next symphony in Davis’ Mahler pilgrimage.

This program will be repeated on Friday March 10 in Costa Hall, Geelong at 7:30 pm minus Stanhope’s The Heavens Declare, and back in Hamer Hall on Saturday March 11 at 2 pm with the Stanhope score restored.


Saturday March 11


Victorian Opera

Playhouse, Melbourne Arts Centre at 7:30 pm

The production is being presented at 7:30 pm on Tuesday March 14, Wednesday March 15, Friday March 17, and at 1 pm on Saturday March 18.

This is an opera: La bella dormente nel bosco, written by Respighi and premiered in 1922. Composed for a marionette company, the work calls primarily for puppets, as well as for singers – a large slew of them – and an orchestra light on wind.   The composer revised it for a ‘normal’ production (children instead of marionettes) 12 years later, and a further revision followed Respighi’s death, that one overseen by his widow.   The VO is clearly mounting the original with puppets constructed by Joe Blanck, while the vocalists and instrumentalists are intended to be off-stage or in the pit which in the Playhouse is better suited to something like Into the Woods  .  .  .  still, the original scoring is pretty light. Phoebe Briggs, the company’s Head of Music, conducts.   As a novelty, they don’t come more refreshing than this work.  The cast includes Carlos E. Barcenas, Kirilie Blythman, Liane Keegan, Jacqueline Porter and Timothy Reynolds.


Sunday March 12


Hoang Pham Productions

Melbourne Recital Centre at 5 pm

I’m all for the enterprising artist who takes his career into his own hands and have admiration for pianist Hoang Pham who has set up his own company, as well as taking on work from other quarters.  To begin his operations for this year at the MRC, he has acquired the services of veteran violinist William Hennessy and another young entrepreneur on the Melbourne scene, cellist Christopher Howlett.   The trio is taking on three cornerstones of the repertoire, without any apparent detours into distracting byways.   Rachmaninov’s G minor, the Elegiaque in one movement, is followed by another G minor gem, Smetana’s Op. 15 written as a memorial to his daughter Bedriska who had died recently from scarlet fever.   Finally,  we enjoy that acme of trios, Beethoven’s warm-heartedly aristocratic Archduke in B flat where equable performers like these can hardly go wrong.


Tuesday March 14

Daniil Trifonov

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Starting this year’s Great Performers series sponsored by the Recital Centre itself, Trifonov is known (well, to me) for competition wins: First Prize at the Rubinstein in 2011 , Gold Medal and Grand Prix at the Tchaikovsky in the same year.   Since then, he’s been busy enough recording and touring; this night’s appearance comes nine days after his 26th birthday,and follows a pretty tight schedule of appearances in Sydney and Perth as recitalist and concerto soloist, so he isn’t wasting any time.  Tonight he plays a Schumann group – the Kinderszenen and Kreisleriana with the hefty Op. 7 Toccata in the middle.   Then comes a selection from the 24 Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich, and the Three Movements from Petrushka, which Stravinsky organised for Arthur Rubinstein although the redoubtable pianist never actually sat down and recorded them properly.   Trifonov is setting out to show his gifts across the spectrum, from the deceptively simple Schumann scenes to the dexterous leaps and scrappy brouhaha of the great ballet.


Friday March 17


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

Speaking of Daniil Trifonov, here he is in concerto-fronting guise, the MSO under Sir Andrew Davis supporting him in Rachmaninov No. 1, a work you rarely hear live these days.   Still, Trifonov will have performed it three times with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (and played there the same solo recital program outlined above), as well as performing the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1 in Perth, before he hits Melbourne.   Davis brackets this voluble effusion with Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel and the Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony No. 6, which offers you a range from brilliantly scored buffoonery to wrenching depression, all in the space of two hours.  A sad state when a not-exactly-unknown concerto offers the only glimmers of originality on this menu.

This program is to be repeated on Saturday March 18 at 8 pm and on Monday March 20 at 6:30 pm.


Friday March 24


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

The last part of this occasion doesn’t need spelling out.  Sir Andrew Davis will direct –  as he did for many years in London – the usual Proms rabble-rousing roster of Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs, Arne’s Rule Britannia (with an as yet unnamed soprano and the MSO Chorus), Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 interrupted by the non-obligatory chorus, and probably a run-through of Parry’s Jerusalem, possibly followed up with an all-in You’ll Never Walk Alone.   There’s a bit of home-grown nationalism on display in Grainger’s Irish Tune from County Derry and Country Gardens (English).   A rousing opening to the night comes through Berlioz’s Le Corsaire Overture (as misplaced here as the Roman Carnival was at the otherwise all-Russian program that started this year’s free Myer Bowl concerts).   But the interesting content arrives with the superb Song of Summer tone poem by Delius, some Facade scraps by Walton, and a completely out-of-the-box resurrection of John Ireland’s Piano Concerto of 1930 which I, along with many another spectator, will be hearing live for the first time.

This program will be repeated on Saturday March 25 at 8 pm.


Saturday March 25


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

Having a formidable Messiaen expert in residence has caused the ANAM authorities to dedicate a night to the Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jesus.  It’s not clear exactly what is going to happen because the participants will include Hill himself, but also an unknown quantity of ANAM pianists.   Fair enough: the work, in its proper form, lasts for two hours and, although we’ve seen some pianists carry out the whole task by themselves, it speaks volumes for Hill’s pedagogy that he is sharing this labour with his charges.  There’s no denying that the Vingt regards can induce transcendent illumination and mental delight, but it can irritate to breaking-point many listeners who find it impossible to enter the dense and clangorous sound-world of this remarkable composer.  No, not easy listening but well worth the effort.


Thursday March 30


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 8 pm

Since the first violin of the Australian String Quartet is Dale Barltrop, who is also one of the MSO’s concertmasters, it’s not surprising to see the chamber music ensemble appearing as guests in this program.  The problem comes in finding a work for string quartet and orchestra; there are less than you’d expect but Barltrop & Co. have revived Matthew Hindson’s 15-year-old The Rave and the Nightingale, which takes its fanciful flight from Schubert’s final G Major String Quartet and suggests what Schubert could have been writing if he were our contemporary.   Apparently, he might have chosen the path of popular music because he wrote so many songs  –  a finding that suggests an imaginative vault I find hard to negotiate.  Still, to each his own fantasy and Hindson follows the implied Granados’ avian scene-stealer with some coloristic solo violin work  .  .  .  and the piece is 15 minutes long.   Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks Concerto in E flat for five winds and ten strings would seem to be the sole program component that ventures outside the night’s dominant instrumental format and it lasts about as long as Hindson’s piece.  The evening’s major work is real Schubert, his Death and the Maiden String Quartet No. 14   –   the predecessor to the work that Hindson’s Rave/Nightingale employs.  This scorching D minor masterpiece will be offered in orchestral guise, which I assume implies strings only in the well-ploughed Australian Chamber Orchestra pattern.

The program will be repeated in Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University on Friday March 31 at 8 pm.