July Diary

Sunday July 1

Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition

South Melbourne Town Hall at 10 am, 2 pm and 7:30 pm

Off we go once more on a week of wall-to-wall piano trio and string quartet music as young ensembles from everywhere compete for several glittering prizes.  It’s a marvellous time for chamber music devotees and their relish in the events is patently clear: everybody who performs enjoys affirmative, if not rapturous, applause.

In the first recital, the Netherlands/Belgium Mosa Trio plays Haydn in E Hob XV 28 No. 44, the E minor Shostakovich and Dutch writer Sam David Wamper’s Portrait of Light from 2015; it probably will help that the group has recorded these last two works.  Then the Idomeneo String Quartet  – a Belgian/Hungarian/Spanish combo – is listed to play Haydn No. 15 in D minor K. 421 (which makes me suspect somebody has the wrong composer although, in a different incarnation, this could be one of Mozart’s Haydn quartets), Janacek’s Kreutzer Sonata, and Thomas Ades’ The Four Quarters of 2011 which boasts, in its finale, the unusual time signature of 25/16.

After lunch, the Bukolika Trio from Poland gives us Haydn in C Major Hob XV No. 27; then, beating the nationalistic drum, Gorecki’s 6 Bagatelles.  The South Korean Baum Quartet follows with the Mozart D minor – probably the second performance of this score that we’ll hear today – and Szymanowski No. 2.  To end comes the Amatis Trio – another hybrid: Netherlands/Germany/UK – with the same Haydn as the Bukolikas, the same Shostakovich as the Mosas, but a real novelty in Iranian composer Kaveh Tayaranian Azimi’s Fragmented Impulses II.

Leading off the evening recital, the Quatuor Agate attempts Mozart’s Dissonance No. 19 in C, the terse Bartok No. 3, and Bernadette Clozel’s Volutes, written for the 2013 Festival quatuors a l’Ouest and the composer’s first essay in this form.  Australia’s own Clarendon Trio finishes off the first day with Haydn in E minor Hob XV No. 12, resurrects the Alexander Tcherepnin Trio Op. 34 (not 35, as on the MICMC web-site), and airs Stanhope’s (which one? Paul) Dolcissimo Uscignolo tribute to Monteverdi; yes, we can flaunt the chauvinistic banner as proudly as anybody else.


Monday July 2

Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition

South Melbourne Town Hall at 10 am, 2 pm and 7:30 pm

First up, the Austrian/Russian/German Eliot Quartett, taking its name from Thomas Stearns, performs Haydn Op. 71 No. 2, Bartok No. 3 (hello, the lads from Agate), and the same Ades as yesterday’s Idomeneo group.  This morning’s trio is the French/Latvian Sora who break no new Haydn ground with the same Haydn as yesterday’s Bukolikas but then move off the predictable path with Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Op 24 Trio of 1945.

The afternoon brings us the United Kingdom’s Gildas Quartet in Haydn’s Fifths Op. 76 No. 2, followed by – what else? – Britten’s last, No. 3.   The Australian/US Merz Trio, taking  inspiration from the unlikely figure of Kurt Schwitters, presents the festival’s first Beethoven in the flashy Op. 1 No. 2, with an off-setting pendant Shostakovich (third rendering so far, after the Mosa and Amatis versions).  The Thaleia Quartet of Japan sets up a direct challenge to the Eliots with Haydn Op. 71 No. 2, throws down the gauntlet to yesterday’s Idomeneos through Janacek’s Kreutzer Sonata, finally offering a real original in Akira Nishimura’s 2013 Quartet No. 5, Shesha – written for Irvine Arditti as a 60th birthday present from another sixty-year-old.

The Trio Marvin (Russia. Kazakhstan and Germany – hence the name’s inversion[?]) launches our evening with the competition’s first Mozart piano trio, the B flat K. 502, before vaulting the centuries to senior Latvian composer Peteris Vasks’ Episodi e canto perpetuo, an 8-movement homage to Messiaen from 1985.   Then the all-German Goldmund Quartet plays a different Haydn in the G Major first of the Tost Op. 54 set, runs off-centre with Serbian-born Canadian-resident Ana Sokolovic’s Commedia dell’arte III centred on the characters Brighella, Signora, and the Innamorati, and pulls back a historical decade or four with Wolfgang Rihm’s lop-sided Quartet No. 4


Tuesday July 3

Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition

South Melbourne Town Hall at 10 am, 2 pm and 7:30 pm

The morning session completes the first round for all ensembles.  Trio Gaon, a German/South Korean fusion, complements the Merz initiative with Beethoven’s Op. 1 No. 1 in E flat.  An unusual direction comes through Jean Francaix’s late Piano Trio from 1986, followed by Simone Corti’s two-year-old Musica discreta.  Round One concludes with the American Callisto Quartet offering a difference from the Eliot and Thaleia groups with  Haydn’s No. 1 in B flat from the Op. 71 set, then aiming for the stars with Bartok No. 6.

At 2 pm, the competition moves into Round 2 where everyone has to perform a compulsory Australian work:  Holly Harrison’s Balderdash for the quartets, Paul Stanhope’s Pulses for the trios.  Hearing each of these commissioned pieces eight times will give aficionados plenty of space to exercise their standards of comparison, although I fear people will follow the easier road of slagging the works themselves.   Anyway, for its second attempt, after Balderdash enjoys its first airing, the Baum Quartett essays Mendelssohn No. 6 in F minor, his last completed major work and a requiem for his recently departed sister Fanny.  Then, attention turns to German phenomenologist/composer Elmar Lampson through his Quartet No. 3, Canzone.   The Clarendon Trio follows with the Stanhope, then puts its faith in Mendelssohn in C minor with the big chorale finish.  Finishing this ample afternoon, the Quatuor Agate couples its Harrison insights with Debussy – a real show of self-confidence.

Night brings back the Amatis Trio with Stanhope and Mendelssohn in D minor, bare hours after the Clarendons have worked through the ‘other’ one.  The Idomeneo players couple their Harrison with Mendelssohn in F minor, setting up a juxtaposition with the Baums earlier in the day.


Tuesday July 3


Australian String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

In an unfortunate bit of untimely scheduling, the ASQ is appearing in the middle of a chamber music orgy; perhaps something went wrong in the planning stage but somebody must have known about the chamber music competition.  Will people be happy to forego the pleasures of the Amatis Trio and Idomeneo Quartet for our home-grown musicians? Let’s hope so.  The title tells it all: the last Beethoven and one of his first – Op. 18 No. 3 in D – surround the Hunt Quartet, the third by German contemporary Jorg Widmann.  In this, the group apparently hunts down and kills (musically, one expects) its cellist, the work based on that repetitive rhythm dominating the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A.  Well, it’s a connection of sorts and Widmann’s opus lasts for a bit over 10 minutes – a quick homicide, then.


Wednesday July 4

Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition

South Melbourne Town Hall at 10 am, 2 pm and 7:30 pm

First out of the blocks comes the Bukolika outfit with Stanhope, and Dvorak’s Trio Op. 49 No. 1 in D minor which has me beat because it’s not in the catalogue.   Perhaps Mendelssohn is the intended composer but his Op. 49 is self-contained – no individualizing numbers.  At all events, the ensemble finishes up with Kaija Saariaho’s Light and Matter, a 2014 commission from the Finnish-born composer for the Bowdoin International Festival (a college in Maine that offers an annual summer music school and concerts).  The Gildas Quartet then does its Harrison, finishes with Ravel, these two works bracketing Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s 10-year-old My day in Hell; well, she’s a fellow Brit and a busy writer in her home milieu  .  .  .  so much so that this performance doesn’t rate a mention on her web-site.

After lunch, the Mosa Trio pair their Stanhope with – surprise, surprise – Mendelssohn in D minor.  Then the Thaleias juxtapose Harrison with the demanding Ravel Quartet.  Finally, Trio Marvin matches Stanhope with the last Brahms in C minor, as well as Thorsten Encke’s Trio No. 2, written last year and commissioned by the Felix-Mendelssohn-Wettbewerb Berlin but which conceals its mysteries from this writer.

Ending the day’s labours, the Eliot Quartett, like the Agate boys, sets up Harrison and then hopes that Debussy doesn’t suffer in comparison.  On the other hand, the Trio Gaon puts its Stanhope alongside Brahms No. 1, the noble B Major masterpiece.


Thursday July 5

Melbourne International Chamber Music Festival

South Melbourne Town Hall at 10 am and 2 pm

The penultimate Round 2 event opens with the Callisto Quartet opting for Debussy alongside Harrison, then offering a difference from the Eliot and Agate people with young Spanish trombonist Francisco Coll’s 5 minutes’ worth of Cantos, written for the Cuarteto Casals last year and with a barrel-load of effects inside its small frame.  The Merz collageists follow Stanhope with Schumann’s last Trio in G minor Op. 110 No. 3 – great to see this being aired – and Johannes Maria Staud’s 10 miniatures ofrom 2007, Fur Balint Andras Varga, a homage to the prolific Hungarian commentator on contemporary music and this composer’s ‘mentor and advocate’.

To finish the round, the Goldmunds break no new ground, putting their Harrison beside Ravel, just like the Thaleia Quartet.  Last cab off the rank, the Trio Sora give their Stanhope before Mendelssohn in C minor, then take on Kagel’s Trio No. 2, In einem Satz; seems to me like overkill if you consider the length of this last work which may be in one movement but is a solid and unusually enervating score.


Thursday July 5


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

The very popular conductor and splendid violinist collaborate in a simple program that makes little sense on paper if you’re looking for logic.  Regardless, I think that Melbourne people have a lot of time for the Sydney-born musician, especially after the inane and inept treatment afforded her by the national opera company.   Blacher was first sponsored here, I believe, by Markus Stenz and his repertoire mastery continues to impress on each visit.  Tonight, he fronts Britten’s Concerto, a pretty early work but a fine example of the composer’s genius at walking a distinctive line between bracing neo-modernity and piquant sweetness.   As a counterweight, Young conducts Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6, a work you hear very rarely but, to my mind, refreshingly uncluttered – the only one that the composer didn’t subject to revisions.

The program will be repeated in Costa Hall, Geelong on Friday July 6 at 7:30 pm, and back in Hamer Hall on Saturday July 7 at 2 pm.


Friday July 6

Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition

South Melbourne Town Hall at 9:30 am, 11:30 am, 2 pm, 4 pm, 7:30 pm

It’s semi-finals day.  Each of these recitals features a quartet and a trio that have one final chance to impress the audience and jurors.   Five recitals mean five of each ensemble, so by this stage only three in each competitive formation have been eliminated.  It makes for a long day and the only assurance is that competitors can only stay on-stage for an hour maximum.

At this level, the repertoire is limited to Beethoven or Schubert.  Which may explain why these composers barely feature on preceding programs; in Schubert’s case, not at all, which avoidance you can certainly understand with regard to the piano trios who will all have been thinking of this round’s single limitation.


Sunday July 8

Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition

Melbourne Recital Centre at 1 pm and 6 pm.

We’ve moved up-market to the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall for the competition’s grand final.  The earlier recital features three piano trio ensembles, the last men and women standing.  Their mission is to play a work that they have not performed so far at MICMC.

Obviously, the evening event is for the quartets.  The same situation applies: they can play anything they want but it can’t have been part of their Rounds One or Two programs.

You can wait around for the jury to file out to give its verdict.  Or, if you’re time-poor, you can listen to the results on ABC FM which is broadcasting this event, while 3MBS has been taking responsibility for all of the other recitals over the preceding week-plus.

The prizes seem to grow in number every year, but the pity is that either a trio or a quartet wins the top Grand Cash+Tour Bonanza; a choice between apples and oranges, once again.


Saturday July 14


Victorian Opera

Palais Theatre, St. Kilda at 7:30 pm

It’s been 140 years between performances in Australia, but now the state company is taking the plunge into Rossini’s final opera.  As you’d expect, it will be given in abridged form, but it has rarely been staged in its original length, shortened even during the composer’s life-time.  VO is presenting a three-hour version, which is long enough for those of us who have a powdered coffee acquaintance with the score.  The cast is heavily local, with a few major imports: Argentinian  baritone Armando Noguera takes the title role; Swedish soprano Gisela Stille sings the love interest, Mathilde; Italian bass Paolo Pecchioli will be the villain, Gesler.  Teddy Tahu Rhodes, a sort of import, plays Melcthal, the unfortunate patriot who lasts for only one act.  In the vocally pivotal part of Arnold, Melcthal’s son, Carlos E. Barcenas has his work cut out for him; Jeremy Kleeman serves as Tell’s off-sider, Walter; Alexandra Flood has the young-pants role of Tell’s son, Jemmy; Liane Keegan will suffer as Tell’s pressurized wife, Hedwige.  Jerzy Kozlowski appears as Leuthold who sets the whole story in motion by killing one of Gesler’s guards; Timothy Reynolds’ tenor enjoys the opera’s first solo as the fisherman Ruodi.  Company artistic guru Richard Mills conducts; Rodula Gaitanou directs and here’s hoping she can improve on last year’s Cav/Pag double from Opera Australia.

The opera will be repeated on Tuesday July 17 and Thursday July 19 at 7:30 pm.


Sunday July 15


The Melbourne Musicians

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Southgate at 3 pm

Rada Tochalna is Frank Pam’s soloist for this concert.  Living up to the title’s expectations, she will sing the well-known Seven Spanish Folk-Songs by Falla which give a rich all-embracing view of the country’s music in encapsulated form.  The chamber orchestra also plays Albeniz, a Carmen suite, and pieces by Shostakovich (Salute to Spain? Spanish Dance?  Some or all of the six Spanish Songs?)  and Waldteufel (the Espana Waltz?).  All this Iberian frivolity will eventually give way to a brief birthday greeting for Australian composer George Dreyfus who turns 90 a fortnight from today.  Horn player Tom Campbell takes the melody line in Larino Safe Haven, and the whole ensemble revisits the composer’s most popular piece: the main title for the mid-70s TV series Rush.


Sunday July 15


Team of Pianists

Rippon Lea, Elsternwick at 6:30 pm

Rather than the collation of short-breathed pieces that have speckled TOP programs so far this year, this recital has only two works scheduled.  A senior Team figure, Darryl Coote, provides the keyboard line for Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E flat K. 493, then does double duty with Schubert’s A Major Piano Quintet – yes, the happy Trout.  His collaborators are all current MSO members: violin Kathryn Taylor, viola Christopher Cartlidge, cello Rohan de Korte, and double-bass Benjamin Hanlon.  Like every performance of the Schubert, this will come from an ad hoc ensemble but it’s hard to strike a misfire with such a benign score.  The Mozart is another story, notable for its hard-hitting directness and oh-so-revealing clarity of texture.


Friday July 20


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Here’s an unusual set-up from the programmers; something that gives you a lot to chew on.  Tonight’s conductor is Joshua Weilerstein – brother of cellist Alisa, son of pianist Vivian Hornik and violinist Donald.  He is currently artistic director of the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne.  His first task is not that challenging: escorting Dalby-born pianist Jayson Gilham through the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3, which has always struck me as being the simplest of the five, technically and intellectually.  After this has been done with, the MSO plays a Klengel arrangement of the soothing Brahms Intermezzo No. 1 from the Op. 117 set;  I assume it’s Paul’s and not Julius’ orchestration because Weilerstein has recorded the former with the BBC Philharmonic.  Following this near-lullaby, the orchestra plays what is called the ‘orchestral version’ of Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor; again, I’m into presumption territory. thinking/hoping that this could be Schoenberg’s celebrated transcription of 1937 which is hard to surpass for mouth-watering textural richness.

This program will be repeated on Saturday July 21 at 7:30 pm, and again on Monday July 23 at 6:30 pm.


Sunday July 22


Flinders Quartet

Upper Gallery, Montsalvat at 2:30 pm

As you could probably guess, we’re hearing music for the Shakespeare play, arranged for string quartet by Iain Grandage, with the MSO’s principal viola, Christopher Moore, declaiming a sequence of extracts from the text.  I once saw Joel Edgerton carry out the same task with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the results were top-notch.  Moore further builds on his spoken-word duties by narrating Michael Leunig’s texts for The Curly Pyjama Letters, with music by Calvin Bowman; all the whimsy you could possibly desire.  The recital continues its gala quality with the buoyant Brahms String Quintet in G Major Op. 111, which requires two violas and which the composer intended to be his final work – that was, until he heard Muhlfeld’s clarinet.  For this, Moore closes his mouth and partners Helen Ireland’s tenor line.   The Flinders’ first violin position is changing occupants throughout the year; this afternoon, it will be taken by Thibaud Pavlovic-Hobba, whom I’ve only seen/heard in the  ranks of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.


Tuesday July 24

Joyce Yang

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

The South Korean-born pianist has appeared here with the MSO but I think these are her first Melbourne recitals.  Appearing for Musica Viva, she is playing two separate programs here and in Sydney; the common element to both is a newly commissioned Piano Sonata by young Australian composer Elizabeth Younan.  Tonight, she begins with Five Lyric Pieces by Grieg; don’t know which ones but she has 66 to choose from.  Then come the three Debussy Estampes, Chopin’s Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante, Younan’s sonata, and Schumann’s Carnaval for a weltering finale.   In the second program, Yang opens with three of Rachmaninov’s preludes from the catalogue’s 25; moves forward with the Janacek Piano Sonata; brings us a blast from the past in Liszt’s Spanish Rhapsody – it’s been years since I heard this finger-twister; follows the Younan sonata with one of the greatest in the form – Liszt in B minor.  She’s a fine pianist (judged from her concerto appearances) with a welcome level head on her shoulders.

Yang will play her second program on Saturday July 28 at 7 pm.


Friday July 27


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

A fine combination: the ACO’s long-time artistic director Richard Tognetti and that cellist-for-all-seasons Timo-Veikko Valve make chamber music of the purest kind with Scottish pianist Steven Osborne.  Mind you, they’re not bringing any surprises to this event, playing just two repertoire staples: Dvorak’s Dumky E minor Piano Trio and the Brahms No. 1 in B Major.  This is a one-night stand between Perth and Brisbane appearances and, like some other ACO small-group programs at the MRC, could be so-so or a night to relish for months to come.


Friday July 27


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Another of the live soundtrack efforts from the MSO, this also serves to amplify local efforts to observe the centenary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth.  A revelation when it first appeared, this film is almost standing the test of time; only the acting is occasionally over-melodramatic (George Chakiris) or ineffectual (Richard Beymer).  But you’d come along for the music, wouldn’t you?  And its dance sequences will be a test of the MSO’s responsiveness to changing rhythms and the brassy assertiveness that radiates from the original, even though Bernstein didn’t approve of the arrangements made by Irwin Kostal.  Above all, in this era of ditzy stupidity in musical theatre, West Side Story has a dramatic and musical clarity that set it as one of the high watermarks of the art – and  that’s exactly what Bernstein made of it.

The program will be repeated on Saturday July 28 at 1 pm.