March Diary

Thursday March 1

ROMANCE

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm

Two soloists feature in this season-opener for the MCO.   The major contributor is pianist Konstantin Shamray, who, you may recall, won the Sydney International Piano Competition ten years ago; he’s on board to play the Schumann concerto. The other guest is Markiyan Melnychenko, a top-notch violinist  whom we are lucky to have working here; his contribution is Dvorak’s Romance, which is a stranger to me.  Book-ending the night is the Overture to Act III of La Traviata where Verdi urges out a large amount of tubercular angst in a couple of minutes, and Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony in A: that infectious and totally delightful sequence that depicts a country that might have presented to the composer’s non-jaundiced eye but which sits uncomfortably alongside the modern-day reality that stretches from Turin to Bari.

This program will be repeated on Sunday March 4 at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

Saturday March 3

SEASON OPENING GALA

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Sir Andrew Davis is using his two guest artists to fine effect in this standard-unfurling event.  Nelson Freire has returned quickly for an appearance in the Recital Centre’s Great Performers series and the MSO has taken the opportunity to have him appear in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto; still a great challenge, especially keeping your head in the modulations of the first movement’s development.  Also on the bill will be tenor Stuart Skelton who complements Freire’s Beethoven with the opening to Act 2 of Fidelio: Florestan’s Gott! Welch Dunkel hier! He then moves to Wagner, specifically Siegmund’s outpouring, Wintersturme wichen dem Wonnemond – one of the few light moments in Die Walkure.  Balancing this will be the final aria from Verdi’s Otello, the Nium mi tema where everything becomes clear to the noble, misguided hero.  As for purely orchestral matter, Davis conducts Carl Vine’s Symphony No. 1, Microsymphony (Vine is the MSO Composer in Residence for 2018); some bleeding Gotterdammerung chunks – Morgendammerung and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey; and Verdi’s Ballabile from Otello, an interpolated Oriental ballet that even the composer realised was a waste of space and time.

Wednesday March 7

AUTUMN AIRS

Evergreen Ensemble

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

This group has swum under or over my radar.  It comprises a wealth of musicians, some of them well-known from other ensembles – violinist Ben Dollman, cellists Rosanne Hunt, Josephine Vains and Rachel Johnston, baroque guitarist/theorboist Samantha Cohen, bassoonist Simon Rickard;  others are half-recalled, like gamba expert Jennifer Eriksson, violinist/violist Anna Webb, oboist Jessica Foot and double bassist Miranda Hill.  Then there are some I don’t recognize: the group’s artistic director and violinist Shane Lestideau, Celtic harpist and vocalist Claire Patti, and Uillean piper and percussionist Matthew Horsley.  The obvious playing field is folk and art musics, exemplified by this entertainment containing a Purcell trio sonata in G minor, and Scottish composer James Oswald’s 96 Airs for the Seasons – well, extracts from them.  As chamber composer to George III, Oswald was very productive, more so than his attributed catalogue attests, it seems.  The pieces in his two sets of Airs are all named after different flowers or shrubs, divided into their annual times of florescence.  As both listed program elements are negotiated by a trio, it would seem obvious that not all the Evergreens will be involved.

Thursday March 8

THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Here’s another masterwork that Sir Andrew is bringing back into the light.  As his soloists, the MSO’s chief conductor has tenor Stuart Skelton as Gerontius, Catherine Wyn-Rogers as his escorting angel, and bass Nathan Berg doubling as the Priest and the Angel of the Agony.  Once popular in England and select colonies, as well as parts of Europe, Gerontius has slipped into choral backwater territory; in these piping times of short attention spans, it doesn’t have much going for it.  But Newman’s overwrought poem and Elgar’s seamless and challenging score make a splendid combination to create something that comes as close as music can to depicting a bearable afterlife, if such a thing exists, particularly as shown in the cardinal’s poem which so exercised that sad segment of the Anglican clergy who insisted on bowdlerizing its text to bring it into line with British cathedral-close orthodoxy.

This program will be repeated in Costa Hall, Geelong on Friday March 9 at 7:30 pm, and back in Hamer Hall on Saturday March 10 at 2 pm.

Saturday March 10

BOHEMIA

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

This first concert for the year at ANAM features music by three composers from the Czech Kingdom, as it was once called: Janacek, Smetana and Suk.  The night begins with the Fanfare that kicks off Janacek’s Sinfonietta, a bracing brevity involving 9 trumpets, 2 bass trumpets and 2 euphoniums supported by an active timpanist.  Smetana’s Sonata and Rondo for 2 pianos, 8-hands is a piece you won’t hear on a regular basis but it’s brilliantly written for its forces.  Suk’s popular Serenade for Strings ends the event but before that comes an arrangement for wind octet of The Bartered Bride – bits of, you’d hope, otherwise it could be a long night.  Speaking of which, it’s been a fair while between performances of the Smetana opera; the last I can recall from the national company must have been well over 40 years ago.  A pity as it’s loaded with superb melodies and highly appealing vocal writing.  The cast list for this operation features many of the ANAM instructors: Nick Deutsch, David Thomas, Saul Lewis, Tristram Williams, Timothy Young, Sophie Rowell, Robin Wilson, Caroline Henbest, Howard Penny and Damian Eckersley as well as a slew of young ANAM Musicians – the raison d’etre for this excellent finishing school.

Tuesday March 13

ROMANCE AND REVOLUTION

Orava Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

The Oravas – violinists Daniel Kowalik and David Dalseno, violist Thomas Chawner, cellist Karol Kowalik – are here playing content from their first CD for Deutsche Grammophon.  We hear the Tchaikovsky D Major Quartet with its memorable, lilting Andante cantabile;  Shostakovich No. 8, the original of the popular Chamber Symphony arranged by Barshai; and the Rachmaninov String Quartet No. 1, all two movements of it.  The bonus track from the CD is an arrangement by Richard Mills for double string quartet and soprano of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise; Greta Bradman recorded it with the Oravas and sings the piece tonight although how they’ll arrange for another string quartet to participate remains to be seen . . . you’d have to anticipate some pre-recorded magic, wouldn’t you?  As a novelty, the ensemble opens with Haydn Op. 33 No. 2, known as the Joke, with its side-splitting stop-start finale.

Wednesday March 14

IN THE HOUSE OF ROSSINI

Domenico Nordio and Massimo Scattolin

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

Violinist Paganini and guitarist Giuliani did meet in Rossini’s house and set up a sort of partnership-rivalry that resulted in several fine works for both instruments as a duo. Giuliani’s Grand Duo Concertant is a regular in recitals of this make-up, as is the Paganini Sonata No. 1 from the 18 sonatinas that make up his Centone di sonate.  As well, the players will present the Paganini Cantabile duo and Sonata Concertata.  Which is enough to be getting on with as the composer wrote an incredible amount for the combination, much of which is ringing slight changes on amiable material, but a little goes a long way.  Guitarist Scattolin I know from the Ballarat Organs Festival; Nordio is a new name to me but he is well-known enough to violin aficionados as a virtuoso with a wide repertoire.

Wednesday March 14

BEETHOVEN BY BALLOT

Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, Methodist Ladies College at 7:30 pm

To begin her 2018 season, Kathryn Selby is working her piano trio magic with violinist Grace Clifford and cellist Clancy Newman, who is a regular contributor to this series.  I don’t know who voted in this Beethoven poll but most of the results are predictable.  Newman works with Selby through the most popular of the cello sonatas, that in A Major;  Clifford has the chance to radiate benignity in the Spring Violin Sonata; the trio eventually assembles for the Archduke.  By way of a preface, the group plays another B flat Major trio, WoO 39, a one-movement Allegretto where the keyboard rarely surrenders primacy for its five-minute length.  A well-contrived exercise with well-spaced samples across the composer’s career, this will be given in Selby & Friends’ new venue in Hawthorn/Kew.

Thursday March 15

THE DEBUSSY PROJECT

Melbourne Art Song Collective

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

This recital contains some Debussy – selections from the first book of Preludes, performed by Eidit Golder – and works by four young Australian composers, written as responses to either Debussy or these Debussys.  It’s unclear what form these homages will follow but something of an indication comes through in that Lotte Betts-Dean is not billed as a soprano but as ‘voice’.  The specific preludes are Ce qu’a vu le vent de l’ouest, Les sons et les parfums tournent dans  l’air du soir, La serenade interrompue, and La cathedrale engloutie.  The contemporary variants are Matan Franco’s This story wants to be told in bed . . . ,  Lisa Illean’s Women love a project . . . , Charlie Sdraulig’s Rushing sounds like blood . . . ,  and Jack M. Symonds’ Tomorrow I shut down.  Of these four, Sdraulig is the only one whose work I’ve heard. probably through the Cybec 21st Century Australian Composers Program.  Bringing up the rear, Dean will sing Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis, three songs to poems of Pierre Louys that were originally credited to a contemporary of Sappho who turned out to be an erotic figment of the poet’s imagination.

Thursday March 15

THE MAGIC PUDDING

Victorian Opera

Playhouse, Arts Centre, Melbourne at 6:30 pm

This one-act opera, based on Norman Lindsay’s children’s book, with music by Calvin Bowman and libretto by Anna Goldsworthy, enjoyed its premiere in October 2013 at the hands of this company and is now being resuscitated for the pleasure of those among us who missed it the first time around.  Fabian Russell conducts and Cameron Menzies returns to direct.  Nathan Lay reprises the role of Bunyip Bluegum, Timothy Reynolds returns as Bill Barnacle, Brenton Spiteri takes on Sam Sawnoff, Jeremy Kleeman persists as the Pudding, and Carlos E. Barcenas again plays the Judge.  The VO chorus will contribute and I suppose certain roles – like Watkin Wombat and Rooster, Possum, Henderson Hedgehog and the Constable, and Benjamin Brandysnap, not to mention the Narrator – will be allocated from their ranks.

The opera will be re-presented on Friday March 16 at 6:30 pm, and on Saturday March 17 at 1 pm and 5 pm.

Friday March 16

MAHLER 9

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

And then there were two.  Getting a tad out of sequence, Sir Andrew Davis nears the end of his Mahler symphonic cycle and takes the MSO through the large-framed No. 9, although he’ll probably have a go at the completed-by-several-hands No. 10.  Still, we’re all waiting for No. 8, and will go on doing so: we won’t be getting it this year.  There’s been no attempt to couple this Symphony No. 9 with a filler, which is just as well as most performances of a traditional nature last about 1 and a 1/2 hours, even if some more recent ones have clipped the score back by about 10-15 minutes.  The last time I heard this Ninth was in Costa Hall, Geelong, where the MSO played under Markus Stenz; not the best space for such an experience whereas Hamer Hall gives the symphony room to flower, particularly that long final Adagio.  This score is possibly the most extended passage of focused play from the orchestra all year, something to anticipate for its tremendous concentration of emotional gravity.

The symphony will be performed again on Saturday March 17 at 7:30 pm and on Monday March 19 at 6:30 pm.

Saturday March 17

THE BEAUTIFUL BLUE DANUBE

Hoang Pham

Melbourne Recital Centre at 5 pm

The title of this recital from one of our more enterprising (in a business sense) pianists comes from the Strauss/Schulz-Evler Arabesques on The Beautiful Blue Danube, to give the famous waltz its proper title.  A magnificent display piece of five waltzes and a coda, this is the last word in extended encores and Pham is giving it to as a built-in component.  Before it will come Beethoven  –  the Polonaise, Pathetique C minor Sonata and some of the six Op. 126 Bagatelles – alongside Schubert’s C minor Sonata, one of the formidable final three.  Here’s a big program that takes the young musician on a long odyssey across the Beethoven repertoire, cutting to the Schubert chase with a Beethovenian challenge – and the real technical fireworks to finish.

Sunday March 18

ALINA IBRAGIMOVA: DEATH AND THE MAIDEN

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

Guest director and solo violinist Ibragimova is presiding over a notably dark collection of works, reaching its apogee (or nadir)  in the great Schubert quartet as arranged for string orchestra.  The afternoon begins with Barber’s Adagio: that sinuous score that is always brought out for broadcast at moments of national tragedy in the United States.  Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue continues the muscular depression mode before Ibragimova fronts the Concerto funebre by Hartmann, a work that she recorded with the Britten Sinfonia 11 years ago.  And the comatose cat among these pigeons is Arvo Part’s Silouan’s Song, as atmospherically stagey and static as you’d expect, based around a religious text by Father Silouan, a Russian mystic who died in 1938; still, the good news is that it lasts only about six minutes.

The program will be repeated on Monday March 26 at 7:30 pm.

Monday March 19

NADIA’S INFLUENCE: WORKS BY STUDENTS OF NADIA BOULANGER

Inveni Ensemble

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

Boulanger seems to have educated most of the 20th century composers whom we’d have to class as creditable place-getters in the ranks; some of them on this program are surprising, most of them well-known, none of them (in my book) enough to get you out on a cold autumn night – with the honourable exception of Elliott Carter.  The Inventis begin with a Nocturne for flute and piano by Lili, Nadia’s younger sister and sometime student; this is probably to be played by Melissa Doecke and an unknown pianist.  Then, one of the ensemble – probably Ben Opie – gives an airing to Carter’s Inner Song for solo oboe, an in memoriam for Stefan Wolpe.  Thea Musgrave’s works are recital rarities; good on the Inventis for programming her Narcissus for solo flute (Doecke again?) and digital delay  –  a relatively substantial composition, it lasts about 17/18 minutes.  The compositional standard dips with Piazzolla’s Tango Etudes for solo flute (the hard-worked Doecke); there are six of them and they take about 25 minutes to get through.  Suddenly, the recital’s one hour length could be a close-run thing, if you consider that the Boulanger lasts 3 minutes, Carter’s piece 6 minutes and we still have Berkeley’s Oboe/Piano Sonatina to go (about 14 minutes) and Bacharach’s Alfie theme (in an Inventi arrangement) which could stretch out beyond 3 minutes.  It’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast but still a creditable exercise.

Tuesday March 20

THE VOICES OF WOMEN

Ludovico’s Band

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6:30 pm

This richly-coloured period music ensemble heads for waters that most of us have never plumbed by means of a night of music by female composers.  Only one of the three names programmed so far is a familiar one: Barbara Strozzi, daughter of Giulio and a solid presence in Baroque-era Venice.  The others are Francesca Caccini, daughter of Giulio and the first woman to write an opera, and the Ursuline nun Isabella Leonarda, a musically fecund contemporary of Strozzi.   But all three women wrote a great deal, so the Band has a wealth of material to work with.  The publicity material promises a ‘selection of songs’; the sole singer listed is soprano Helen Thomson, who has sung with this ensemble previously.

Wednesday March 21

Measha Brueggergosman

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Soprano Brueggergosman has a big reputation in her home country, but I can find little about any extra-Canadian work she has done.  Her surname combines her maiden name and that of her husband, which is an equality-in-marriage gesture, if – in this case – an awkward one.  Tonight, she opens with the Five Popular Greek Melodies by Ravel, followed by some Poulenc – Violon, C’est ainsi que tu es, Voyage a Paris, Hotel – and then back to Ravel for Sheherazade, that sumptuous three-part song cycle which will suffer greatly from the lack of an orchestra.   Brueggergosman opens what I surmise will be her post-interval efforts with four of Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs – Rheinlegendchen, Verlorne Muh, Wo die schonen Trompeten blasen, Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? – and balances the opening Ravel with Montsalvatge’s  Cinco canciones negras, then finishes with a selection from the 24 cabaret songs by William Bolcom, which will make a welcome change to the all-too-readily trotted out equivalent songs by Britten.  This is the second recital in the MRC’s own Great Performers series.

Thursday March 22

PASTORAL MELODIES – IDYLLIC & TEMPESTUOUS

Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

I’ve not heard this band so can’t give any indication as to its quality.  Certainly, the list of players is most impressive with a few well-known musicians from the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, the CAMERATA Queensland Chamber Orchestra, and Sydney’s Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra alongside ex- and present-day players with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.   Directed by Richard Gill, the ARCO is not exactly carving out new territory with Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides Overture or Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony No. 6.   But more interest comes in the Brahms Five Songs, Op. 104 where the instrumentalists fall silent and make way for the Polyphonic Voices ensemble for an a cappella set, while both forces collaborate in Mozart’s so-called Spaur-Messe in C K. 258; at about 18 minutes, short and sweet, like every Mass should be, featuring an unknown set of soloists.

Friday March 23

FAITH, HOPE & DEATH

Goldner String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

It sounds like a perversion of the theological virtues but the Goldners’ program follows this title’s path, more or less, if it’s highly dependent on your willingness to accept at least one of the intended musical applications.  You can’t argue with the relevance of the night’s major work: Schubert’s D minor Death and the Maiden, the composer’s idea of mortality covering a world of emotions from the vehement and tempestuous to drear acceptance.  For the Faith part, we are directed to Arvo Part’s Fratres, a three-part work expanded to quartet form in 1989 but heard in all sorts of other arrangements; one of the Estonian composer’s most popular pieces, I can’t be alone in wondering what is has to do with this specific virtue.  As for Hope, that comes through Latvian writer Peters Vasks’ String Quartet No. 3.  Vasks has taken optimism for his country’s future as one of the fundamentals of his work and has been quite specific about the (eventual) upbeat nature of this particular score.

Saturday March 24

TOMBEAU DE CLAUDE DEBUSSY

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

The day before the centenary of Debussy’s death, ANAM is presenting this tombeau,  a celebratory compendium that arose when Henri Prunieres assembled pieces (mainly for piano solo) by ten composers to memorialise the master’s passing.  Dukas is represented by La plainte, au loin, du faune;  Roussel found a more celebratory note or two in L’acceuil des muses; Florent Schmitt worked common ground with  Dukas in Tristesse de Pan, one of his Op. 70 Mirages; Malipiero contributed A Claude Debussy, Eugene Goossens a Hommage a Debussy.  Bartok dedicated No. 7 of his Improvisations on a Hungarian Peasant Song, Op. 20; Falla moved to the guitar for his well-known Homenaje.  Ravel dedicated his Sonata for violin and cello to the composer and the duo written for the Tombeau became that sonata’s first movement.  Stravinsky contributed the Chorale from his Symphonies for Wind Instruments to Prunieres, later dedicating the completed work to Debussy.  Satie set a poem by Lamartine as the first of his Quatre Petites Melodies and sent that in as his one-page contribution.  Timothy Young is the night’s pianist; ANAM director Nick Deutsch will play his oboe, presumably in the Stravinsky Chorale because I can’t see room for it anywhere else. Richard Mills will conduct the Stravinsky, you’d expect as, like Deutsch, there’s nowhere else  to exercise his talent.

Sunday March 25

LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

It’s hard not to be a tad indifferent to this celebration that Sir Andrew has brought to the Antipodes in recent times.  The British get obvious delight in the written-in-stone second half of these Royal Albert Hall events, complete with Elgar’s first Pomp and Circumstance March, Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs, Arne’s Rule, Britannia! and Parry’s Jerusalem.  If I had my druthers on these last nights, I’d go home at interval.  This year, Sir Andrew opens with Elgar’s In London Town or Cockaigne Overture, has violinist Tamsin Little sparkle through Ravel’s Tzigane, gives space for David Jones to premiere Joe Chindamo’s Drum Kit Concerto, interpolates Carl Vine’s V fanfare lasting, as you’d expect, five minutes, and gains from the presence in Melbourne of Measha Brueggergosman for the MRC’s Great Performers Series (see March 21 above) to have her sing some orchestral songs by Duparc.  There are 8 to choose from but it’s almost certain that the bracket will contain that once-heard-never-forgotten Baudelaire setting, L’invitation au voyage, and the Leconte de Lisle setting, Phidyle.

Friday March 30

BRAHMS GERMAN REQUIEM & SZYMANOWSKI STABAT MATER

Melbourne Bach Choir and Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm

For Good Friday this year, Rick Prakhoff and his Bach forces are deviating from their usual fare and presenting the Brahms Requiem that avoids any religious references as well as Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater, which may turn out to be sung in Polish.  The Brahms score asks for a soprano and baritone soloist, while Szymanowski wants a contralto soloist as well.  Both forces have roughly the same orchestral forces – no low brass in the Stabat Mater but a pretty large percussion force, a piccolo in the Requiem  – but the composers’ language offers a wide contrast.   As well, the hymn lasts less than 30 minutes while the Requiem canters on for well over an hour.   Lorina Gore is the soprano in both works, Warwick Fyfe the baritone and mezzo Belinda Paterson gets to share honours in three of the Szymanowski score’s movements.   It’s a well-devised pairing in that the Brahms is a humanist expression of the inevitability of death and the composer’s preference for a stoic acceptance of it while the Polish composer is more interested in his folk music characteristics than in observing and catering to the Catholic cast of the Marian sequence.