A double one-hander


Cook & Co.

Clifton Arts Precinct, Richmond

Tuesday July 25, 2017

                                                                                   Josephine Vains

All the connections in this slight playlet (which strangely included an interval) were conducted over the phone.   One of the entertainment’s two main forces, Leah Filley played a young cello-playing musician who talks with various acquaintances and family after her return from study overseas as she attempts to carve out a career in Australia.

Punctuating these generally one-sided phone conversations, Josephine Vains supplied a more physical connection on the set.   Her role was to provide interludes in the form of movements from each of the Bach Cello Suites – the Prelude to No. 1, Allemande to No. 2, all the way through to the Gigue concluding the final D Major opus.   Vains played from the organ loft above the Richmond Uniting Church’s altar wall; in an all-wood building, her projection was excellent, each note telling and vivid.   Pace Filley’s efforts, these musical breaks gave the evening most of its emotional colour and interest.

The trouble with Suite Life  –  second in a series of three productions in this Connections series  –  lies in its all-too-predictable dialogue/monologue.   The cello-playing musician wakes to a phone-call from her teacher in Spain, whose voice is amplified through the Clifton Centre’s sound system; she may be audible, but comprehensible?   I think I caught one word in four, possibly because of the thick Iberian-imitating accent adopted by the speaker.   Add to this the unremarkable nature of the text  –  elderly maternal know-all versus young, tolerant ingenue  –   and your tolerance was stretched to the point of something approaching discomfort.

In the next scene, the cellist talks with a clearly irritating friend (unheard by us) about their work, specifically our heroine’s preparation of the Borodin String Quartet No. 2.   She then rings one of her former professors, who has retired but still takes calls from importunate ex-students,  to ask him about a piece she is preparing for recital.   He feeds her a one-liner and that’s that.   So far, so superficial.   Yet you hold your horses, refraining from judgment because the situation depicted is possible: musicians are notoriously un-intellectual and monomaniacal, most of them incapable of sustaining a conversation that stretches beyond their own interests.

The Spanish teacher’s son, Jose, calls to inform our girl that her inspiring teacher has breathed her last  –  which leads to the remarkable claim by the former student that she’ll be there for the funeral; obviously, freelance instrumental work pays better than you’d thought.

Then comes a scene where the protagonist delivers some random observations  –  direct to the audience  –  on Bach. Yes, we’ve been hearing his music for some time throughout Suite Life and an observation or three would not be amiss.  But the address is packed with unconnected banalities – what sort of a dancer he would have been (judging by the cello suites, not so hot),  the size of his family – and its relationship to the musician herself is tenuous.   Finally, the cellist has a conversation of mind-numbing cliches with her mother before setting off to a gig, at which she will apparently play her teacher’s instrument and so release the music that is inside the cello itself.   Shades of Michaelangelo releasing the image from the marble.

I enjoyed Vains’ playing, chiefly the E flat Major suite’s Sarabande that ushered in the interval space.   Each sinuous melodic curve came down from the player’s lofty position with an unanticipated energy, the acoustic so responsive you could appreciate the hiss of bow on string and the player’s considered left-hand positioning.   For the more mobile dances, like the final C minor Gavotte and the portly Gigue, Vains went as far as any player should in observing a steady pulse, but the main impression I took away from this composite suite was of her instrument’s physicality and the labour involved in urging out Bach’s real and implied polyphony.

Sweet and low


Duo Blockstix

Move Records MCD 581

Despite the best intentions of its practitioners, the recorder doesn’t lend itself to contemporary sounds; that is, if you treat it fairly and don’t over-amplify it to a ludicrous degree.   Not only does it have a limited projection power, but also its mechanics make it hors de combat when considering harmonically complex instrumental fabric.   So it’s only to be expected that this CD doesn’t contain anything confrontational or challenging; indeed, a fair number of its twelve tracks make for very easy listening.   Even though the results sound pleasant enough, you come across a few patches where a sterner editorial hand might have been of service – moments where the fluency falters; not by much, but just enough to disturb a listener’s expectations.

Duo Blockstix comprises recorder player Alicia Crossley and percussionist Joshua Hill.  Both are Sydney musicians and, as far as I can tell, have not had much contact with Melbourne, except that Hill is a member of the Synergy Percussion group, so I must have seen him somewhere down the track.   Both are promoters of modern music but what they present on this CD is very comfortable listening and, it seems, just as comfortable playing.  The disc contains works by seven composers, most of whom are unfamiliar names to me. Daniel Rojas rings some tango-connected bells but nothing memorable.   I’ve looked at the catalogue of Peter McNamara‘s works and nothing springs out.   Julian Day is a well-known personality from ABC radio but his Five Easy Pieces are the first of his compositions that I’ve heard; very strange for a Bendigo-born writer with an impressive back-log of national and international appearances.

Damien Barbeler has made some glancing appearances here but is, like all composers mentioned so far, a Sydney resident.   Mark Oliveiro, educated in Sydney, now appears to be resident in America.   Tim Hansen has also enjoyed similar associations with the United States but his main area of activity seems to be New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.  Tasmanian-born Paul Cutlan doesn’t fit the rest of the CD contributors’ mould in his origins but, like all of them, his career path has been – to put it mildly – adventurous.

The players open with  .  .  .  of magic and realism by Rojas.   The composer’s notes refer to Llosa and Marquez, as the title would suggest, and the piece itself is intended to reflect an occasional junction of the everyday and the supernatural.   To my regret, I found nothing of the kind in experiencing this track.  It sets up a Latin beat which rouses in this listener’s mind the unexpected but ever-welcome shade of Arthur Benjamin and his Jamaican Rumba; it stays with the same pulse and the recorder and marimba ring changes on an amiable sequence of motives.   In the piece’s second half, a bit after the 4 minute mark, the players show slight signs of uncertainty – not with each other, but the progress of their individual parts.   Still, the 7 minutes’ duration passes by agreeably enough with plenty of colourful tinctures.

McNamara’s Duo Generere requires a bass recorder, marimba (both struck and bowed) and suspended cymbal.   The composer begins with a sequence of soft low-lying textures, then moves into a quiet development of his initial material; the instrumental interplay impresses as pretty simple and any rhythmic novelties that arise hold no difficulties. In spite of its modestly inventive opening, the work is heavy on ostinati and the overlapping ascending scales leading to the muted final notes, even with some plosive recorder punctuation, wear out their welcome.

With Day’s pieces, we are taken into a world that is reassuringly contemporary and involved with sound manipulation. The first gives slow-moving single notes and repeated-note patterns to both recorder and marimba; this pattern obtains for most of the other sections as well, with an occasional overblow or semi-tonal wavering to spice up the sparse Webernian atmosphere.   Like some of the master’s products, the dynamic level rarely rises above piano and the five elements take five minutes to negotiate.   Day’s creation presents as ultra-controlled, emotionally calm and –  as the title has it  – easy.

Hill’s marimba is rested for Barbeler’s Resonant Voice, but plenty of other percussion instruments are employed – gongs and cymbals  – and this complex follows a similar path to that of Crossley’s bass recorder.  The composer has given a poem (intentionally unidentified) to the performers to ‘read’; their interpretation constitutes the score, as far as I can tell.   The recorder line suggests folk-tunes; the percussion spends some time mirroring the wind instrument but enjoys an exposed cadenza near the performance’s ending.

Some of the writers comment on the odd combination they are working with but the general solution is to give the recorder prime position.   Barbeler restrains his percussion part – or Hill does – so that this sudden solo strikes you as remarkably aggressive, coming after Day’s pastel shades and – up to this point – courteous support for the recorder.

Oliveiro also employs the bass recorder/marimba combination for his Auto Dafe Suite.   The composer has produced four movements that call on various traditions or influences: medieval European modes, Malaysian kompang rhythms, Japanese sho clusters.   The title’s reference to Inquisition torments and the impact of Catholic missionaries and military forces on older civilizations is deliberate.   Sesquialtera Ritual summons up images of an organ rank although the actual sound is more primitive than European.   Rentak Silat Ritual refers to rhythm and martial arts, possibly Malay, and the effects are occasionally suggestive of a gamelan.   Iteration Ritual follows a repeated pattern, of course: a rising third, followed by two staccato explosions; Oliveiro offers variants but the basic path follows these two elements with a keen sense of suspense.   Finally, Reflection Ritual sets up a repeated note ostinato, then recorder and marimba follow the same melodic path under that relentless treble pecking.  The pattern is broken just at the end.

It’s an intriguing experiment and the combination of cultures works well enough.   One thing I missed was the composer’s reference to the ‘violent effect’ of Europe on Asian culture.   If anything, this piece sounded as though those cultures were doing quite well.   But it is heartening to see that the fascination of Eastern music still finds a response in at least one young Australian composer, all these years after Dreyfus, Meale and Sculthorpe were writing seminal scores – Clouds now and then, From within, looking out, Sun Music III – that revealed a welcome preoccupation with our place in Asia.

Three Pencils is Hansen’s suite for recorder and marimba where the spirit of Les Six is alive and well, as well as the Nino Rota of Fellini film scores.   The Cartoon Philosopher refers to Michael Leunig and is a very appropriate jaunt, quietly syncopated but as innocent as a landscape populated by Mr Curly, Vasco Pyjama and a multiplicity of ducks.   Five Year Arrival celebrates Shaun Tan’s famous book that occupied the artist for five years; a long-note melody curves over a continuous odd-notes arpeggio marimba figure, the result a fusion of action and musing.   Finally, Self Portrait in HB is a slow bluesy amble that suggests a personality along the lines of C J. Dennis’s Sentimental Bloke.

The Duo leave the longest work to the final track.   Cutlan’s Affirmations, originally written for amplified bass recorder, cello with electronic effects and didjeridu, starts placidly with a phrase-sentence for bass recorder and forward motion gathers speed as the marimba enters.   Then everything stops for a flute cadenza which circles around the same notes. The marimba returns and you become conscious of Cutlan’s plan of opening his main theme by degrees, as the marimba performs a cadenza also.

When the two musicians are working in tandem, the rhythmic patterns are regular, but the work’s interest comes in these interstitial solos.   With the concerted passages – even in the final melody revelation – the writing is unexceptional, despite some supple syncopations and the surprise of the recorder’s last gesture.   For a good deal of time, you have the impression of note-spinning: the duo could go on for quite a long time manipulating a limited suitcase of notes without necessarily getting anywhere new..

For sure, this duo combination is an exceptional one in its composition and the confidence of its members.   Crossley and Hill are to be applauded for their enterprise in working closely with pretty well all of the seven composers and getting music out of them.   Four of these works come from this current year – Rojas, Day, Oliveiro, Barbeler – while the other three date from 2014.    All works were premiered (Cutlan’s piece in this format) during a recital by Duo Blockstix on June 15 this year at the Wesley Music Centre, Canberra.    If you are after about 52 minutes of generally soothing, breathy music that makes no demands but just nibbles at your consciousness, this CD fits the bill.

August Diary

Saturday August 5


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Seems like a bit of a cliche to refer to a violin as ‘singing’, but it’s better than ‘screeching’, I suppose.   Which is probably not the kindest thing to be talking about in reference to Sinkovsky who, as well as being a violin virtuoso, is also a countertenor.  His program is not just confined to Vivaldi and Locatelli, as some of the promotional material suggests, but also includes violin concertos by Leclair and Telemann and a chaconne by Aubert (presumably Jacques; not his son, Louis).  You’d have to assume that Sinkovsky will be directing as pretty much everything – apart from a two-horns concerto by Vivaldi – features violin.  What isn’t obvious is where the singing business comes in, although one of the Locatelli scores is a concerto grosso subtitled Il Pianto d’Arianna and so emotionally indebted to Monteverdi’s lyric; whether Sinkovsky intends to sing this piece as informative background is anyone’s guess.

This program will be repeated on Sunday August 6 at 5 pm.


Saturday August 5


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7 pm

Here is another of the MSO’s film-with-live-soundtrack efforts.  It’s hard to know why this particular cinematic construct was chosen, especially as the organisation is content to have one screening only, possibly aware that the film turns up on free-to-air TV quite regularly.  While boasting an original score by British rock musician Jonny Greenwood, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film is notable above all for an extraordinary central performance by Daniel Day-Lewis.  Still, the whole point of these exercises – for me, at least – is hearing what the orchestra makes of the music which, in Greenwood’s case, involves some previously-composed material and a few snatches from the Brahms Violin Concerto and that bottomless mine of dejection, Arvo Part’s Fratres:  a work somehow suitable for this story of land- and soul-grabbers.


Sunday August 6


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

Something along the lines of Richard Tognetti’s The Reef compendium, this exercise is basically a film comprising images of various ranges and peaks with appropriate music as a substitute for an Attenborough commentary.  But not entirely so: there is a script by Robert Macfarlane that is read by William Dafoe.  As with the MSO’s film soundtrack exercises, this holds interest for me chiefly for the musical content rather than the inspiring shots of snow-covered peaks and cloud-piercing summits.  In fact, the works played by the ACO are a dog’s breakfast: two slow movements by Beethoven (Violin and Emperor Concertos), three Vivaldis (the B minor Concerto for four violins, the start of Winter and the end of Summer), two pieces by Sculthorpe (Djilile and the First String Quartet’s Chorale bars), Chopin’s D flat Nocturne, another piano piece in Arvo Part’s Fur Alina, the galloping Praeludium to Grieg’s Holberg Suite, and an original composition by Tognetti.  That pretty much covers the gamut from Everest to Kosciuszko.

This program will be repeated on Monday August 7 at 7:30 pm.


Thursday August 10


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

Guest conductor for this program is Jakub Hrusa, a very welcome visitor, not least for introducing us to Suk’s Asrael Symphony last September – a vivid, memorable night.  Here he escorts Ilina Ibragimova through Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2; she should have it well under her belt, having performed it three times in Sydney, once in Auckland and again in Hobart before she hits Hamer Hall.  It’s a demanding score but always a revelation because of the composer’s invention and command of texture.  As for the great symphony, the commentators and their revisions have left many of us marooned on an island of knowing and not-knowing: is it a daring anti-Stalinist manifesto, a nationalistic celebration, a graph of the composer’s emotional turmoil?  Interpretations are multiform, particularly with regard to the last movement; that strange book Testimony threw so many spanners into the works that whatever observations you make can be contradicted all too easily.  So you can end up thinking you have been inspired or depressed – or both.  One thing is certain: Hrusa will give the interpretation everything he’s got.

This program will be repeated on Saturday August 12 at 2 pm.


Saturday August 12

Takacs Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm.

Back they come, welcome as always.  For their first night, the group plays Haydn in F Major, the second of the Op. 77 and the last work in this form that the master completed; having set up the form over his life-time, the composer here shakes it around and isn’t concerned with applying any superficial gloss.  A neat balance comes in Beethoven’s Op. 127 where you can contrast the two writers’ slow movements and their treatment of variations at this late stage in their careers.  In the middle, the Takacs give the premiere of Carl Vine’s String Quartet No. 6, which carries the reassuring sub-title of Child’s Play.

On Tuesday August 22 at 7 pm, the musicians will present their Program II, starting with Haydn in D from the Op. 76.  It’s a bit confusing because, according to the publicity, I’m inferring that they are playing this work’s Largo only – or are they giving this whole work a nickname based on its second movement’s marking?  After this, they revisit the Carl Vine work from Program I, and finish with Dvorak No. 14: his last one and a work that you hear very rarely.


Saturday August 12


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7 pm

If you are constrained to have dealings with the world of rock, you could do much, much worse than treat with Frank Zappa who distinguished himself in a turgid universe of inanity by having a consciousness of history, being a true and trained musician, and remaining unafraid to exercise a working brain.  Australia’s finest pianist, Michael Kieran Harvey, is juxtaposing Zappa’s music with that of a true revolutionary, John Cage, in a night’s work that also includes the National Academy’s unfailingly able resident pianist, Timothy Young, the ne plus ultra of percussionists, Peter Neville, and assorted ANAM musicians.   On this program’s first half, we hear selections from the Sonatas and Interludes by Cage, written for prepared piano and one of the keyboard repertoire’s seminal contemporary masterpieces.   Also,  Neville comes into the mix with Cage’s four-movement Amores.  Then it’s all Zappa, or Zappa-derived.  Some pieces for harpsichord and virginal (but played on those instruments? I think not) by Francesco Zappa (1717-1803, and no relation) are followed by the half-difficult The Black Page Parts 1 and 2, all three minutes of  The Girl in the Magnesium Dress, the slightly-longer G-Spot Tornado, and the don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it Sofa,   Fleshing out the proceedings will be more selections, this time from Harvey’s own 48 Fugues for Frank – actually 10 pieces inspired by a swag of Zappa works.


Wednesday August 16


Peter Wispelwey

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Here begins the first of three recitals, under the Recital Centre’s own Great Performers banner, which have the formidable Dutch cellist working through pillars of his instrument’s repertoire in association with pianist Caroline Almonte.  These are lengthy events, and this first one is made even more so by the addition of pieces that are original but a bit of a come-down from the main works.  Wispelwey works through all five of Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas, as well as three sets of variations: the 12 on Mozart’s Ein Madchen oder Weibchen, then 7 on the same opera’s Papageno/Pamina duet Bei Mannern, and another 12 on Handel’s See, the conqu’ring hero comes. This certainly gives value for money and, as far as I can tell, comprises all the composer’s cello/piano output.


Thursday August 17


Peter Wispelwey

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Not a trace of extraneous material tonight.  Wispelwey has the stage to himself as he works in order through the six suites for solo cello.   It will take him a while – three hours, including two intervals – but we (and he, probably) will need the breaks to experience these works with the attention and respect that they deserve.  It’s not as though this sort of marathon hasn’t been presented before; I seem to remember Alfred Hornung doing a Bach marathon many years ago, although that might have been stretched out across a few nights.  But, from what I can remember of Wispelwey’s Bach playing, we’re in for some spectacular and idiosyncratic readings.


Friday August 18


Peter Wispelwey

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

This is the third and most orthodox of the formidable cellist’s programs.  Almonte accompanies him through both the canonic sonatas in E minor and F Major, and also through Paul Klengel’s arrangement of the Violin Sonata No. 1, transposed from G to D.  Well, I suppose it’s a sort of semi-authorised work and, without it, the performers would have under an hour’s worth of material with which to entertain us.  Yet, of all three concerts, this is the one that I find most attractive in that it isn’t a three-hour marathon, however well-intentioned, and the sonatas are works to come back to time and again to re-acquaint yourself with the composer’s expressive depths.  I used to accompany a talented student in them, first for exam purposes, then for sheer pleasure in their catacombs of delight.


Friday August 18


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

We can only hope that ANAM runs to a full orchestra on this night because much of the concert relies on opulent sound washes, as well as a concluding bout of spiky dissonance.  Bradman, a highly gifted soprano, simply gets better and better each time she appears, her range of colours more expansive and the power of her voice heightened on each re-acquaintance.  This program is a well-organized retrospective of German late Romantic music and the currents that were running simultaneously with its last harvest.  At the centre come Strauss’s Four Last Songs of 1948, a sequence of lustrously orchestrated farewells with a vocal part of great beauty.  Some commentators find them sentimental but to others they speak of boundless regret and a welcoming embrace of mortality.  Bradman also sings Marietta’s Lied from Korngold’s opera Die tote Stadt, written in 1920 and an astonishing success for the 23-year-old composer; the song itself is a post-Rosenkavalier gem with a toweringly fine vocal line. As well, we hear the final scene from Strauss’s Daphne of 1938, which involves the heroine’s transformation into a tree with an intensely difficult postlude for the orchestra.  As for the other near-contemporaneous currents, guest conductor Matthias Foremny directs the suite (the one assembled by Karel Salomon, I assume)  from Weill’s 1933 play-with-lots-of-music Der Silbersee, and he rounds out the seminar with Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony Op. 9 for fifteen instruments which, coming from 1906, is the oldest music of the night in its dating but the most challenging and advanced in purely musical terms.

This program is repeated on Saturday August 19 at 2:30 pm


Friday August 18


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

Johannes Fritzsch is returning to conduct the last of Schumann’s symphonies and the most appealing to a modern-day audience; not that you get many opportunities to hear any of them these days.  Fritzsch has had successful relationships with the Queensland and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras, as well as Opera Australia; his appearances here in my memory started some 12 years ago with Orchestra Victoria and most recently he fronted the MSO in a fair-to-good Mozart/Strauss night.  Soloist for this occasion is popular cellist Li-Wei Qin who gives his all in the Dvorak Concerto, full to the brim with eloquent melodiousness.  The evening’s novelty comes in Manfred Trojahn’s Cinque sogni per Eusebius, written for Dusseldorf in 2010 and comprising five brief meditations devoted to one of Schumann’s artistic personalities in the best schizophrenic E.T.A. Hoffmann mode.

This program will be repeated at 8 pm on Saturday August 19 and at 6:30 pm on Monday August 21.


Sunday August 20


Team of Pianists

Rippon Lea at 6:30 pm

A bit of a stretch; we all know the Three Bs but dragging in Bernstein as No. 4 is a tad cheeky.   In their penultimate recital for the year, the Team will be represented by Robert Chamberlain, while the guests are familiar locals: clarinet Robert Schubert and cello Josephine Vains.  With that personnel, the Beethoven is a giveaway: the Gassenhauer Trio which has been a specialty of Ensemble Liaison.  The Brahms is a predictable entity, too: the A minor Clarinet Trio, one of the luminous works from the composer’s last years.  As for the Bach, this is a straight gamba sonata, the D Major BWV 1028, which the clarinet will presumably sit out.  Bernstein’s work is one most of us will not have encountered: Variations on an Octatonic Scale.  Originally for recorder and cello, here it will appear in its clarinet-cello arrangement and, although I’ve not heard it, I’d assume that the composer will observe his title’s restrictions and employ a scale that moves in alternating tone and semi-tone steps.


Saturday August 26


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

Back  in Melbourne for a short visit, after recitals up the east coast and Beethoven concerto nights with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, British pianist Imogen Cooper is appearing only once in Melbourne with some of the Academy Musicians in a chamber music evening – a unique occurrence on this tour, I believe.  She begins with the Beethoven Trio Op. 1 No. 1 in E flat. She winds up with Beethoven as well: the Quintet for piano and winds Op. 16 which, unlike the trio, you won’t hear often.  In the middle, Cooper is performing one of the more interesting elements of her current solo recital offerings: Thomas Ades’ Darknesse Visible, a re-working of Dowland’s song, In darkness let me dwell where the original melody is present but your attention is distracted by pointillist interruptions and a constant tremolo.


Saturday August 26


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

Sir Andrew Davis likes Massenet’s opera, it would seem.  For the MSO’s mid-season gala, he will conduct a concert version of this work, from which most of us know only the Meditation: a gift for any pit’s concertmaster.  This opera is yet another one that most of us will not have seen, although I think that at one time its popularity was pretty high.  Oddly enough, Opera Australia will have presented a concert version of the same work a month before this MSO night, but in the Sydney Town Hall which will do nobody any favours, least of all leading lady Nicole Car.  As for Sir Andrew’s singers, the heroine is Erin Wall; one of the conductor’s Lyric Opera of Chicago graduates; she has been heard here in Davis’ reading of the Mahler Symphony No. 2 and singing a highly commendable Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss. Her lover, Athaneal, will be American baritone and Lyric Opera of Chicago regular, Quinn  Kelsey.  The Senior monk in Athaneal’s monastery, Palemon, is formidable Australian bass, Daniel Sumegi.  As Nicias, Athaneal’s sybaritic friend, is young Mexican-born tenor Diego Silva.  Liane Keegan has the role of Albine, the mother superior nun who takes in the reformed Thais, while Jacqueline Porter and Fiona Campbell sing the parts of Nicias’ slaves, Crobyle and Myrtale.  The MSO Chorus will oscillate between sacred and profane crowds as required.  Now to get a score and see what’s coming.


Sunday August 27

The Melbourne Musicians

St John’s Southgate at 3 pm

Frank Pam and his string chamber orchestra are hosting three guests this afternoon: oboe Jane Gilby, who is a regular with the Musicians;  Anne Harvey-Nagl, a violinist born in Melbourne but who formed a career in Europe with considerable success; and soprano Sarah Lobegeiger de Rodriguez who appeared with the Musicians last year.  Two composers are programmed: Handel – arias from the oratorios, yet to be specified – and Telemann for whom we are celebrating the 250th anniversary of his death.  Harvey-Nagl will take us through the courtly pleasures of two Telemann concertos, Gilby heads an oboe concerto, both guest instrumentalists combine for a double concerto in C minor, and Lobegeiger de Rodriguez will undertake an Ascension Day cantata: Gott will Mensch und sterblich werden.  Telemann’s cantatas are more modest constructs than Bach’s, usually consisting of two arias connected by a recitative and featuring a solo instrument and continuo under the solo voice – very chaste and probably a relief to congregations of the time.


Tuesday August 29

Andrey Gugnin

Camberwell Boys Grammar School at 7:30 pm

Gugnin won the Sydney International Piano Competition in 2016 and is here reaching the end of a tour of Australia – 32 recitals from the last day of June to September 2.  He must be a formidable talent; not only did he get First Prize overall, but also he gained awards for the Best Overall Concerto Award,  Best 19th or 20th Century Concerto, Best Violin and Piano Sonata, and Best Preliminaries Round 1 Recital.  Very laudable, although such a catalogue does smack of Sydney overkill.  He’s Russian-born and has won other competitions in Salt Lake City and Valsesia, as well as second places in Vienna and Zagreb. At Camberwell, he will play a wide-ranging program; his 90-minute one as opposed to a shorter hour-long one.  He starts with Bach, the Adagio BWV 968 which is a transcription of the opening to the composer’s Violin Sonata No. 3.   Well, it’s short.   Completely warmed-up by now, he continues with Schubert’s Gasteiner D Major Sonata and that’s it for the Germans.   His second half turns homeward as he opens with Shostakovich’s Piano Sonata No. 1 from a time when the composer was a really contemporary voice – this piece bristling with difficulty and aggression.  Leonid Desyatnikov is a less familiar Russian voice; a notable film and opera composer, he is here represented by his seven Reminiscences of the Theatre.  A sudden interruption to the Slavic mode comes with one of Michael Kieran Harvey’s 48 Fugues for Frank (see August 12 above): No. 6 of the ten, G-Spot Tornado.  And, in case you haven’t had enough fireworks, Gugnin closes up shop with the Three Movements from Petrushka that Stravinsky organised for his cobber, Arthur Rubinstein.   90 minutes, eh?


Thursday August 31


Ensemble Liaison

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Not a great fan of the tango; perhaps suffering from a Clive James overload.  Still, you live and learn with concerts like these and it will be a pleasure to hear accordionist James Crabb again; last time in town, I believe he was collaborating with Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, although that seems a long time ago.  With the Liaisoners, his sound envelope is smaller but more ‘pure’, as they say in Tangoland.  Of course, there is a swag of Piazzolla as arranged by Crabb himself: Milonga del Angel, La Muerta del Angel, Romance del Diablo, Vayamos al Diablo – all revenants from the ACO/Crabb Piazzolla disc of 2003.  John Mackey’s Breakdown Tango is for the Liaison personnel configuration but will require the additional services of a violin; in this case, Paul Wright.  Another tango emerges in Desde adentro by Antonio Agri and Jose Carli – another Crabb arrangement although the version I’ve heard asks for string quintet and piano as well as accordion. Away from the Latin, we hear some Scottish folk dances mediated by Crabb, and his arrangement of Franck’s organ work, Prelude, Fugue and Variation.  And the night begins with Liaison leader David Griffiths’ arrangement of Five Bagatelles for string trio and harmonium by Dvorak; the organizational mechanics should be entertaining.


Thursday August 31


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

Skipping sideways from his Mahler conducting odyssey with the MSO, Sir Andrew has decided to unveil for us the world of Bruckner through the Symphony No. 7 in E Major.  Not only will he direct the performance – a touch over an hour long – but he will give us an illustrated (musically) lecture in the concert’s first half, which could be either great or gruesome.  What remains a puzzle is why the conductor feels the need to educate us; the work itself has been standard in the repertoire for many years and, if local performances are rare, recorded ones of the various versions are thick on the ground, including one by Davis with the BBC Symphony Orchestra of nearly 20 years ago.  Nevertheless, the score holds a wealth of melody and transubstantiations, so I’m expecting a thoroughly detailed 35 minutes of profound exegesis.

This program will be repeated at 8 pm on Friday September 1  and at 2 pm on Saturday September 2.