July Diary

Wednesday July 5


Seraphim Trio

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

For some reason best known to themselves, the members of this piano trio are mounting two of their three annual subscription series recitals in one week.  Tonight, their review of the music written for their specific format focuses on two pillars of the repertoire: Brahms No. 1 in B and Dvorak’s Dumky No. 4.  Most of us who know the Seraphims’ work will have heard them perform these two scores at least once over the years (getting on for 24 of them) since they began collaborating;  what keeps your interest level afloat is hearing how their experiences as professionals have influenced what they find in this well-known music.  They play in the Salon and without an interval – a real study in concentration. And, while the Nationalist label sits comfortably with Dvorak, especially in this score, it’s not so easy to find much local colour in the moving broad strophes of the Brahms work.


Friday July 7


Seraphim Trio

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Two days on from their last recital, this ensemble moves into new territory with some modern compositions for the piano trio.  Well, the descriptor is a generous one: the Shostakovich E minor Trio dates from 1944, Ravel’s A minor masterpiece was written over a century ago, and Sculthorpe’s Irkanda III is now 56 years old.  Once again, the players are heading for the heights with the Russian and French works, indispensable elements in any trio’s knapsack and – again – Seraphim patrons will have heard both from the group several times before.  The Sculthorpe inclusion is intriguing; it’s not a long piece, lasting about 6 minutes, but it rarely enjoys an airing.  Let’s hope it stands up for itself in this distinguished company.


Saturday July 8

Sitkovetsky Trio

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Last time this group visited under the Musica Viva aegis in 2014, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and his pianist wife Wu Qian were in company with cellist Leonard Elschenbroich, who seems to have been with the group since the trio’s inauguration. From July last year, the family duo also enjoyed the services of Danjulo Ishizaka for recitals in London, Cheltenham, the Rheingau Music Festival, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Wimbledon and Leeds.  Somewhere along the line, Ishizaka has been replaced and this time round, Sitkovetsky and Wu Qian’s collaborator is Bartholomew Lafollette; the relationship seems to be very fresh.  The musicians play Rachmaninov’s first Trio Elegiaque (the one with only a single movement), Mendelssohn  in D minor, Shostakovich in E minor a day after the Seraphims have performed it, and young Australian composer Lachlan Skipworth’s Piano Trio, commissioned by Julian Burnside for Musica Viva and, as far as I can find out, not heard since its premiere in 2015 at Verbrugghen Hall.

This program will be repeated on Tuesday July 18.


Friday July 14


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

This program kicks off a Mozart festival with an emphasis on the composer’s more well-known scores.   Yes, tonight features yet another run-through of the famous serenade, conducted by British keyboard performer/conductor Richard Eggar, last seen here two years ago with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.  I’d assume that Eggar will personally begin with the promised harpsichord piece from K. 1, then moving with the MSO into the three-movement  Symphony No. 1 in E flat.  Soprano Jacqueline Porter takes the solo line in that joyously elegant motet Exsultate, jubilate, before concertmaster Eoin Andersen stands up for the Adagio in E Major for Violin and Orchestra K. 261.  Eggar finishes with the Paris Symphony No. 31.  So this first instalment gives us works written between the composer’s 5th year and his 31st; we’re told to expect the unexpected – I can’t wait.


Saturday July 15


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

Night Two of the Mozart Festival and Richard Eggar is still conducting.  The guest soloist is fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout who has appeared almost three weeks before this in a Mozart/Schumann program for the Australian Chamber Orchestra (small-scale) at the Recital Centre.  Tonight, he is playing your old-fashioned piano in the Concerto No. 23 in A Major.  The program begins with the Chaconne from Idomeneo and  the great G minor Symphony is preceded by the Masonic Funeral Music of 1785.  In fact, all of this music stretches across the 1780s decade, all of it with sombre echoes, even in the mellifluous concerto’s F sharp minor Adagio/Andante.


Sunday July 16


Team of Pianists

Rippon Lea at 6:30 pm

This program features musicians unknown to me: flautist Chie Haur Foo, principal with the Malaysian National Symphony Orchestra; bassoonist Teng Aik Lim, principal with the Penang Philharmonic Orchestra and Selangor Symphony Orchestra; and Penang-based pianist Zhang Chi, a one-time student of the Team’s Darryl Coote.  As whenever two or more woodwind players are gathered together, the music for this night tends towards the eclectic.  I’ve never heard Saint-Saens Bassoon Sonata, one of the composer’s last works, and will probably never hear it again.  On the other hand, Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata Op. 94 is very familiar.   Zhang Chi holds the Team’s banner high for a taxing solo with Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, and all three artists come together for Three miniatures Song, Dialogue in the dark, Journey –  by German-American composer Tim Jansa; not a music with any great pretensions but well-constructed for the required forces.


Friday July 21


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

Getting towards the end of this festival,  Richard Eggar conducts the myth-status unfinished Mass with a clutch of top-rank local soloists: soprano Sara Macliver, mezzo Fiona Campbell, tenor Andrew Goodwin, bass Christopher Richardson  –  almost the same group that sang in the MSO’s October 2015 performance of this work under Benjamin Northey, when the tenor was Henry Choo.   The orchestra’s principal, David Thomas, will front the unparalleled Clarinet Concerto and the evening begins with the Overture to La clemenza di Tito.  All of these were written in the last months of the composer’s life, from September to December 1791; as a programmatic job-lot, they offer a riveting musical portrait of this flawed man and faultless musician.


Saturday July 22


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7 pm.

To end its Mozart Festival, the MSO will play the soundtrack to Milos Forman’s celebrated film.   Benjamin Northey will conduct.   It’s hard to know how this will go.   Certainly, there are passages that will work well enough where the music is used as instrumental backdrop.   But what of scenes like Kostanze’s aria at the premiere of Il seraglio? And later, how will the musicians negotiate the excerpts from The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni?  The Two-Pianos Concerto extract?  Or will everybody just sit back and let the film soundtrack play?  The MSO Chorus will be on-site for the final scenes where the Requiem is laboured over by the dying composer and his predatory colleague.  I’ve got no brief for the film itself (or Shaffer’s play, for that matter) but the American actors impress for the obvious relish they take in the action’s posturing and sentiment.  While there’s no denying the truth of Mozart’s crude side, the film gives you no explanation of the genius who wrote the masterpieces we have enjoyed in the preceding concerts of this festival.

This program will be repeated on Sunday July 23 at 1 pm.


Thursday July 20


Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm

MCO director William Hennessy and his players host pianist Lucinda Collins, Senior Lecturer at the Elder Conservatorium in Adelaide.   She is soloist in Mozart’s Concerto No. 17 in G, notable for an uncharacteristically cramped middle movement and a rollicking finale in variation form.  Hennessy ends with the Beethoven Symphony No. 1, mirroring the good humour found in the concerto.  As a built-in encore, Collins will also play the Adagio in E Major from Mendelssohn’s A minor Piano Concerto, dating from the composer’s 13th year.  And the night opens with some unspecified Debussy Book 1 Preludes arranged by Goran W. Nilson, the Swedish conductor/pianist.  I can trace four of them in Nilson’s catalogue: Les sons et parfums tournent dans l’air du soir, La serenade interrompue, La fille aux cheveux de lin and Minstrels – so I assume these are the ones we’ll be enjoying.  An odd selection but intriguing to hear how they work in transcription.

This program will also be performed on Sunday July 23 in the Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm.


Thursday July 27


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

Getting used to the MSO’s quiet pursuit of the cult of personality: Benjamin Northey Conducts . . . . , Nicholas Carter Conducts . . . , Sir Andrew Davis Conducts . . . . as if they’d do anything else.   Tonight,  Northey conducts Elgar’s evergreen Variations as a solid wind-up.   Just before, though, he takes the players (some of them) through the composer’s brief Sospiri, a pre-World War One adagio for strings, harp and organ.  The all-French first half starts with Bizet’s Carmen Suite No. 1, organised by Guiraud which takes us from the Act 1 Prelude up to the Toreadors’ Entry in Act IV.   Kristian Chong will be soloist in Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor which opens up with a Lisztian cadenza and rarely lets the pianist off the hook; an exhilarating ride for us all, if a demanding marathon for Chong.

This program will be repeated on Friday July 28.


Saturday July 29


Australian World Orchestra and the Australian National Academy of Music

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

A gala occasion as the World comes to town: an ad hoc orchestra of professional Australians from the nation’s capital city orchestras and other musicians who are now working overseas – all coming to Melbourne for a big night out.  In this case, the conductor is Simone Young; one of the better-known names from Australia at work in foreign climes.  There is only one work: Messiaen’s massive symphony, for which the younger set from ANAM will help swell the forces to reach the numbers required.  A phenomenally difficult piano part will be taken on by ANAM veteran Timothy Young and the Ondes Martenot – the composer’s aural depiction of orgasm – will be in and under the hands of another one-time ANAM musician: keyboardist/composer Jacob Abela.  You rarely hear this work live; in my time, I’ve heard it only twice.  Mind you, the first time I saw/heard it, an elderly gentleman sitting diagonally opposite on the aisle was following his score with avid interest throughout the performance, shuffling back and forth through its pages as though he’d forgotten to remember something important.  At the end, he went up onto the Hamer Hall stage.  It was, of course, Messiaen on his solitary Australian visit.