Further encounters with Beethoven’s piano

A BEETHOVEN ODYSSEY VOL. 5

James Brawn

MSR Classics  MS 1469

Brawn 5

In this latest album, English-born Australian pianist Brawn has filled in a gap as he progresses through his cycle of the complete Beethoven sonatas.   In this instance, he presents four of the first period group, leaving only one of the first 10 sonatas unrecorded = the big No. 4 in E flat.   For many a piano student, this new CD will bring back both memories and nightmares, especially in this country where these particular sonatas featured for many years (and probably still do) on AMEB and Year 12 examination lists.   Still, such listeners will find much of interest in these interpretations in which Brawn exercises his perennial enthusiasm and talent in finding sensible solutions to practical problems.

His outline of the first movement to the C minor Sonata No. 5 offers a deft fusion of sharp-edged drama and sensible restraint when the tonality shifts to E flat. The argument – admittedly, not a particularly dense one – is allowed just the right amount of insistence with some nice moments of emphasis, as in the hair’s breadth hesitation before the arpeggio introducing bar 180 and the emphasis on the pseudo-Alberti bass quavers that run almost uninterrupted between bars 215 and 263.

The pianist’s approach to the central Adagio is – in a word – fluid.  Which is hardly surprising, considering the alarums and excursions that the movement contains, although like many a pianist before him, Brawn makes a moving metrical feast of the middle strophes, reverting to adagio molto at bar 71 after an action-packed central venture into excitement before coming back to a home key placidity.  Possibly the coda could have been handled with less urgency to get to the end, although it’s true that there isn’t much matter here that makes you want to linger.

With the Prestissimo finale, Brawn shows the same exemplary brio as in the bounding first movement, the pages urged past with creditable clarity at spots like bars 34-35 where the tendency is to hammer out the right-hand oscillating octave semiquavers to the disadvantage of the left hand’s descending scale.  A rare inexplicable point comes in the centre of bar 68 where a minute change-of-gear interrupts the precipitate urgency.  And Brawn cannot resist the temptation to indulge in the slightest of ritardandi in the second-last bar.

An impressive agitation enriches the opening to the following F Major Sonata, the exposition treated as a very vital allegro indeed   A solitary question mark hangs over bar 72 where the switch from triplets back to straight semiquavers, compounded by a mordent, seems laboured.   But the movement simmers with plenty of panache and a forward thrust, notably at the reversion to the home key after a D Major interlude/lead-in.   Brawn then produces an exemplary rendition of the following Allegretto, a minuet and trio that seems to me more like a spectral landler in its outer segments, here firmly controlled and  well-shaped in its delineation of the composer’s right-hand counterpoint at the minuet’s return.

As for the Presto conclusion to this work, it rattles through persuasively, realizing the composer’s attempted gaiety well enough even if the humour is inclined to be heavy-handed in the movement’s second ‘half’ from about bar 41; it’s a relief to get out of the canons and back to the D Major lightness of bar 69.   However, the passage in question is handled with a good deal more aplomb in the repeat.   Further, the inner-part detail in the final segment from bar 125 onwards is exceptionally polished.

Third in the Op. 10 triptych dedicated to the Countess von Browne, the Sonata No. 7 in D Major has four movements of markedly varied temper, including a D minor Largo e mesto of splendid theatricality which is also the longest track on this CD.   Brawn enters without reserve into the energetic world of the initial Presto; this is a highly persuasive reading, observant of the usual dynamic markings and packed with buoyant spirit.  Throughout the development, tension seems to rise without letting up – on both Beethoven’s and Brawn’s parts – until the emphatic and jubilantly rattling last bars.

One of my acquaintances in student days chose piano as his second study and this sonata’s Lento as one of his end-of-year  ‘list’.   It was the first time I had paid any attention to these pages in any detail, coerced on this occasion as he wanted help.   After its sweeping tapestry had been enjoyed a few times, the detail in each section came into focus, the pages merging into a compelling and moving entity.  In this interpretation, you miss the concert hall’s majestic echo but the recording’s clarity ensures that you miss nothing in the pianist’s efforts to enunciate each chord’s full complement and the samples of pre-Chopin delicacy or Bachian meanderings (Italian Concerto, second movement) shown in bars 36 to 42; then later, after the climactic welter is finished, at bar 72.

The Minuet‘s attractive ambling pace makes a fine consequent to the Lento‘s tragedy and is notable for its precision, even down to features that tend to be subsumed into the recording ether in other recordings, like the left hand sforzando in bar 31.  But the best, like at Cana, is saved till last with a Rondo finale where pretty much everything comes together successfully, from the near-curt definition of the initial three-note theme, through the action-packed modulation-rich episodes, to the inexorable fluency of the final 8 bars where Brawn caps the whole sonata with a conclusion both convincing and elegant.

The CD ends with the G Major Sonata No. 10, a fine summation of achievement on Beethoven’s part and an excellent instance of Brawn’s talent for outlining whole paragraphs so as to conserve their integrity, a gift particularly evident in the opening Allegro‘s consistency of narrative between the exposition and recapitulation even though the latter is handled with more rhythmic freedom, if not actual quirkiness.  Further, the flurries of demi-semiquavers run past without a hint of martellato flashiness but come over as natural flourishes to close off a particular paragraph.

With the central Andante theme and three variations, you find it hard to quibble with anything.   Block chords are impressively clear and despatched without even a suggestion of arpeggiation.   Everywhere you look are signs of precise preparation, even in details like the triplet left-hand run that concludes bar 52 leading into a delicious, unexpected piano; or the differentiation between piano and pianissimo in the trademark staccato chords from bar 85 to bar 88.  The following Scherzo is almost as impressive, not least for the performer’s abstinence in use of the sustaining pedal and a consequent transparency of texture; not so much in the C Major interlude/trio that starts at bar 73, but more remarkably in the near-final pages featuring the left-hand-over frivolity that sounds effortless even though the chances of error in such cross-hand passages are ever-present.

Brawn’s odyssey-saga will continue with a sixth album due to be recorded by the end of the year but this current release leaves us with much rewarding listening.  The acoustic conditions that apply at Brawn’s recording studio in Potton Hall, Suffolk continue to underline his style of delivery, most suitable in these earlier and more intimate works which reveal Beethoven’s energy and delight in his own creativity throughout most of the four sonatas.  Brawn’s interpretations reveal a true personality at work, one that finds a coherent path and stays on it without getting bogged down in glutinous gravity.

 

 

 

 

 

Vehement night’s work

FOUR SEASONS

Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, Methodist Ladies College

Wednesday October 17

Alexandre-Da-Costa-02

                                               Alexandre Da Costa-Graveline

 

For her final Melbourne recital this year, Kathryn Selby chose two volatile friends as her partners in a program of high energy, giving as good as she got in fierce address and consistent drive.   Violinist Alexandre Da Costa-Graveline began operations with an ardent reading of Falla’s Suite populaire espagnole, Paul Kochanski’s arrangement of the Siete canciones populares espagnoles – well, most of them: the arranger, with Falla’s approval, left out the original’s Seguidilla.

After a brooding account of the opening El Pano moruno, Da Costa-Graveline stopped the music to give us an account of each movement’s context.  Normally, this sort of intervention leaves me cold but the explanations were brief, gave the remaining pieces some individuality and – as I thought (wrongly) at the time – served as a sort of delaying tactic so that the string player could gird his loins for the fray.

To me, this music is pretty much all show; you look in vain for any emotional or developmental depths in folk music or its imitation.  There’s no doubt that the melodies can be well-shaped and appealing, but, without the transformative power of a Bartok, they are best heard without adornment, or even insulting simplification.  As somebody said about the birch tree song that Tchaikovsky used in the finale of his Symphony No. 4, after you outline the tune, what is left for you to do but play it again, only louder?

Which is actually unfair to Falla whose suite certainly repeats melodies but not mindlessly.   Da Costa-Graveline found a willing partner in Selby who matched him point for point in the quieter excerpts like Asturiana and Nana, elegantly shaped by the dominant violin line but with a commanding bowing arm.  This performance proved memorable for the impressive power of both the Polo and Jota dances which set aside all conceptions of the suite itself as a benign collection of bagatelles with lashings of local colour loaded on.   These were emphatic almost to the point of violence, giving a different slant to the composer’s usual characterization through the dreamy Nights in the Gardens of Spain as a post-impressionist or a master of Hispanic applique, as in The Three-Cornered Hat or even El amor brujo.

The night’s cellist, Umberto Clerici, is the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s principal and  plays a powerful Goffriller instrument, a fine dynamic match for his violin partner’s steely Stradivarius.   For his duet spot, Clerici, Head of Strings at Edith Cowan University, opted for the Debussy Sonata of 1915, a work that delights at every turn.  It was impossible not to respond to the affirmative polemic that this cellist gave to the opening Prologue that brings to my mind echoes of the great French gamba composers, thanks to its affirmative statements alternating with ornate mini-cadenzas.

In his preliminary talk, Clerici covered a confusingly broad stretch of historical references but much more usefully demonstrated the pizzicato effects that Debussy wanted in this work’s second movement Serenade: the first time in my experience that this variety of requirements has been made clear.   Here was a virtuoso reading, loaded with changes of speed, abrupt decelerations and mirroring forward rushes, handled with assurance by both players.   But then, Clerici, like Da Costa-Graveline, had the score by heart and Selby is the most aware and obliging of partners.

Still, the substantial Finale to this sonata is the work’s high-point, loaded with incident and sudden moments of stunning beauty, as in the ascending cello motive from bar 7 to bar 14, hinted at just before Rehearsal Number 8, and recapitulated with moving effect 6 bars after Number 10.  Following the movement’s flurries and almost continuous concerted action for both players, the penultimate cello solo flourish that calls to mind the sonata’s braggadocio opening takes your breath away, particularly in this very direct, strikingly forward interpretation that did for Debussy what Da Costa-Graveline and Selby had done for Falla; taking away all that Clair de lune drowsiness and showing how precise, finely tuned and assertive was this great composer’s sensibility in the last painful years of his life, pointing up yet again his primacy among important 20th century musical figures.

The three musicians came together for the evening’s signature work, Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires which several local piano trios and other chamber combinations have performed in recent years.   I seem to be in a minority, especially when faced with the advocacy of significant musicians in this country like Richard Tognetti who is a fan, but the Argentine writer’s tangos, despite being ‘new’ and far removed from the early 20th century’s emasculation of the dance, leave me browned out.   But then, you could simply sit back and appreciate the emphatic address of these players, particularly Selby’s unfailing definition of metre and security in chords and the two string players dynamism even in unison/octave passages during the Autumn and Spring  movements.

But, as with so much other Piazzolla, you felt that you were being pummelled.  In which respect, the trio lived up to the composer’s expectations, intentions and transferred life experience – well, part of it.   Put simply, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the movements – certainly not in format or harmonic language – and the Pizzolla tango’s natural state is somehow one of musical violence.  Selby and her colleagues realised this work’s broad underpinning of machismo with determined gusto.

From the rear of the Tatoulis space, the post-interval reading of Mendelssohn  in D minor came across as sharply defined, crisp, and not as thunderous as I had anticipated following the Latin-heavy first half to the night.  Very few errors crept into Selby’s piano part which is where the score’s chief interest falls, the pianist/composer unable to hold back from his own command of digital legerdemain.   Da Costa-Graveline and Clerici made a moving creature of the repeated first melody to the meltingly fine central Andante where the composer manifests his emotional maturity by avoiding any trace of sentimentality simply though the calm serenity of his lyrical gift which in these pages never fails to weave its involving spell.

It seemed to me that the final Allegro was over-anxious, an emphasis on urgent mobility even in those moments where the strings have prominence as in the broad B flat Major burst of eloquence at bar 141 where the piano tones down its semiquaver prominence.  At the end, the trio brought the exercise to a satisfying conclusion, Selby courteously tamping down her volume for the string-rich duet from bar 297 up to bar 311, at which point the piano explodes into D Major virtuosity.   An uplifting way to end a solid year’s work.

For the future, yesterday

7 GREAT INVENTIONS OF THE MODERN INDUSTRIAL AGE

Syzygy Ensemble and Dan Richardson

Move Records MD 3427

It took me a while – in this case, something like three months of desultory listening – to get onto the wavelength of this CD.  As usual, the big problem was taking the whole exercise too seriously when anyone with a modicum of sense, after hearing the first track, would have known that composer Greenaway’s intentions are coloured by whimsy, not a post-Revolution intention to pictorialize musically the advances that she has selected to illustrate.

Before getting down to what happens, it would be wise to give some physical data.  For the disc’s 10 tracks, the actual musicians involved from the Syzygy Ensemble are: piano Leigh Harrold (who has the first track to himself and has the last word as well), Laila Engle’s flutes, violin Jenny Khafagi, cello Campbell Banks, Robin Henry’s clarinets and guest percussionist Dan Richardson beavering away at various sound sources.  Greenaway might have determined on 7 inventions, so where do the extras come in?  Well, they comprise a solo piano preamble, a finale that begins by involving everyone until Harrold takes over, and a Hymn to Freedom.

As for the inventions themselves, she singles out telecommunications, aviation/space exploration, advertising, artificial intelligence, world war, medicine and the cinema. That afore-mentioned paean to freedom follows the war track (which is the CD’s longest), the composer reassuring us that the worst of these creations has its ameliorating counterpart.  The odd feature of all this is that everything – preamble, inventions, Beethoven’s Ode updated and the postlude – lasts under 37 minutes total running time.

We begin with a little Bach gesture; if we’re talking inventions, how about the Two Part in F Major?   Not that you get much of it (a suggestion only) before the mood changes to Scott Joplin-style ragtime for the opening Invention Reinvention.  That’s fine; it sets a sort of time-frame that suggests what follows is either contemporaneous with or follows the Maple Leaf Rag era.  The Invention is something of a spoof of both Bach and Joplin but it makes sense even if the working-out almost tips over into laboured territory.

Telecommunications begins with a concerted flourish which gives way to some blurred radio transmissions before a Gershwin-style blues headed by clarinet and flute, with a few more radio interpolations and a humorous coda that honours an early drawback in domestic television sets the world over.   Next comes a Cape Canaveral countdown and a rising scale before a bit of early American astronaut humour and a fade into the sort of optimistic tapestry you get when you experience a satellite’s view of the globe.  A heavily-sequenced melody takes pride of place, suggesting onward progress, which is counter-weighted by a super-imposed static-heavy ‘We have a problem’ message and the space enterprise fades into nothingness.

By this point, you have a pretty firm handle on Greenaway’s vocabulary which is diatonic with a neat hand at modulation.   The tracks pass so quickly that any thought of old-fashioned development is out of the question; textures don’t so much change as meld into each other without fuss.   A skin-cleansing ad with a broad American accent from the 50s leads in to the advertising celebration,  followed by a bouncy sequence that suggests events in the preceding movement, which is interrupted by an old Maxwell House ad enunciated in Received English/ABC newsreader-speak; then, a washing machine (Whirlpool) gets a guernsey.   Betty Crocker cakes, Remington razors and a layer of superimposed tracks reduce advertising to what it has become: meaningless burble and informational white noise.   All this rises to a high dynamic level before stopping on a dime before another ad, this time for Quick-Eze proposing the possibility of a mental cleanser to parallel the product’s physical specialty at ameliorating heartburn and indigestion.

The Mechanical Brain starts with a piano ostinato which is broken into by arpeggio-rich breaks from the other instruments.  This pattern is followed without much variety, suggestive of the remorseless advance of machines although the music itself is not particularly threatening.   Soldiers marching, tanks or trucks on the move, explosions all lead into the actual instrumental elements of the And So Begins Massed World Warfare movement.  A cello solo based around a vehement low G is soon accompanied by piano chords and some stentorian gestures that fade to expectant silence; then a violin’s solo arpeggios with some disjunct piano chords, and the flute brings a descending motif into play.   This segment is pretty obviously ‘free’ in rhythm as the players work through some limited individual material.   An air-raid siren sends out its warning and downward violin glissandi lead to a welter of piano chord clusters as the bombs land.  Here is no Penderecki Threnody, nor even Holst’s Mars but a pocket-sounding image of conflict; more a Schleswig-Holstein spat than the horrid spectre of a doom-carrying Enola Gay.

The consequent Hymn stays in C minor for its four or five repetitions.  It is sung in unison by the instrumentalists, Harrold coming in with supporting chords that rarely move outside the predictable.   It’s a quiet, wordless lyric with no Finlandia bravado; more, something that you might have overlooked in the soundtrack to Schindler’s List.  The mood changes for the medical marvels.   B flat Major and minor oscillate in a rather whining set of motives over tinkling piano arpeggios.  A scientist discusses the new wonder of penicillin while the instruments do a Poissons d’or imitation.   We hear Graeme Clark speaking of his first attempts at a cochlear implant, then a therapist and patient pronounce individual words in antiphon.   The movement ends in a warm major chord; in this segment, it has to be noted that the music is of secondary interest to the recorded texts.

Last in this fleeting caravanserai are the moving pictures, The Advent of Cinema.  You hear a whirring old-time projector in action, more piano arpeggios over a pedal; there’s no real melody, just an awfully predictable modulatory sequence.   Again, we’re between major and minor tonalities as a waltz rhythm starts up, with a little less subtlety than the matter of this nature that Rota supplied for Fellini’s 8 1/2.  It’s all pretty heavy-handed and a strangely retrogressive image of film history.

The Finale opens with a small-scale fanfare that breaks into a retrospective of some themes and progressions that have featured in the preceding movements before Harrold is left with his Joplinesque syncopations to bring us home.

In the end, this is not a grave memorialization of the 20th Century’s most significant achievements but a quirky take on some of those advances that have made us what we are, for better and worse.   Greenaway has constructed more of a divertissement than a suite and – with all respect to the Syzygy players and Richardson – there isn’t much here that stretches the participants’ talents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November Diary

Saturday November 3

Benedetti, Elschenbroich, Grynyuk Trio

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Here is the final Musica Viva series for this year: a piano trio comprising Nicola Benedetti, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich, and pianist Alexei Grynyuk.   The Scots violinist does not seem to have made much of an impression outside her home country and England, and most of her reputation rests on concerto work.   Elschenbroich has been here previously as a member of the Sitkovetsky Trio and proved to be a fine contributor; like Benedetti, Grynyuk is an unknown quantity to me, occupying as he does that genealogical half-way position somewhere between Ukraine and England.   For this night’s program, the musicians perform two early Richard Strauss sonatas: one for cello, the other for violin.  Before they reach into the glories of the Brahms C Major Trio, the group will give an airing to another second piano trio, that by Gordon Kerry subtitled Im Winde, which was last heard here 8 1/2 years ago from the Trio Dali.

The BEG combination will present its second program on Tuesday November 20 at 7 pm.  As well as Kerry’s Im Winde, the fare changes from Strauss to Prokofiev sonatas and the affair ends with the Ravel Trio.

l

Saturday November 3

LORELEI

Victorian Opera

Merlyn Theatre, The Coopers Malthouse at 7:30 pm.

It’s hard to know what to expect here.   Three divas are involved: Ali McGregor, Dimity Shepherd and Antoinette Halloran, each taking a turn at playing Lorelei or, more properly, a version of the eternal temptress.   As for the music, this has been written by Melbourne screen-composer Julian Langdon, writer and broadcaster Casey Bennetto (Keating!), and musical comedian Gillian Cosgriff; the latter two also have supplied the librettos.  The promotional spiel claims this will be ‘an intoxicating encounter with love and death: part cabaret, part opera, all seduction.’   Be still, my beating heart.   Further, the sopranos’ ‘hypnotic music is to die for.’   No, it’s not: at best, it’s to enjoy; at worst, to endure.

The performance will be repeated at 7:30 pm on Wednesday November 7, Thursday November 8, Friday November 9 and Saturday November 10, with a matinée performance on Saturday November 10 at 1 pm.

 

Monday November 5

BACH & BARBER

Ensemble Gombert

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

Why this pairing?   It could be a demonstration of old and new counterpoint or an exploration of the contrast between masculinity and flaccidity.   However you read it, the night will test the Gomberts’ pitching and interpretative skills in the confined Salon space of the MRC.   For the Bach, we are confronted by three of the mighty motets: Der Geist hilft, Lobet den Herrn, and Furchte dich nicht.   Taking a bit longer to work through, the American composer’s group comprises the choral madrigal in three movements, Reincarnations; a setting of Laurie Lee’s Christmas poem Twelfth Night; its companion piece, To Be Sung on the Water; and the almost inevitable Agnus Dei arrangement of the Adagio for Strings which will probably make up the longest piece on the program.   The outer Bach pieces are for double choir, and they sound magnificently mobile in a fair-sized church but I think that here the dubious Lobet in 4 lines will come off best.

 

Wednesday November 7

LA BOHEME

Opera Australia

State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7:30 pm

And, just for a laugh, let’s move the whole shebang to Weimar Republic Berlin.  That way, we can weave in suggestions of depravity and physical grime, potentially providing a refresher course in George Grosz, I don’t think.   Have we seen this Gale Edwards vision here before?   It could be so – in which case any memories went straight through to the keeper.   In charge of the pit is Pietro Rizzo who conducted the score almost two years ago in Sydney and is forging an onward-and-upward career in second-class European houses.  Mimi is Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska who sang the role earlier this year on Sydney Harbour; her Rodolfo will be Yosep Kang, back after his impressive Alfredo Germont in April.   The remainder of the cast is native-born.   Jane Ede enjoys Musetta; Christopher Tonkin is her matching Marcello.   The other Bohemians are Richard Anderson (Colline) and Christopher Hillier (Schaunard), with Graeme Macfarlane, Adrian Tamburini, Clifford Plumpton, Anthony Mackey and Benjamin Rasheed handling the minor parts.   In the end, though, you’re asked to exercise that unnecessary suspension of disbelief and read in Weill’s world for Puccini’s.

The opera will be repeated at 7:30 pm on Friday November 9, Monday November 12, Wednesday November 14, Friday November 16 and Tuesday November 20 with a concluding matinee at 1 pm on Saturday November 24.

 

Thursday November 8

HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN IN CONCERT

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Plenary, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre at 7:30 pm.

From here on, the whimsy leaches out of this famous series while the sense of menace increases markedly.   This is the final film for which John Williams wrote the score and conducted the results, although the leitmotives persisted in later films.   Above all, the ambience has become monumental, illustrated by director Alfonso Cuaron’s insistence on massive clocks and their workings while Hermione and her two doofus mates negotiate the ins and outs of turning back time.   A moment that appeals to the repressed English chorister in some of us comes with the choral treatment of Double, double toil and trouble which gives the whole witchcraft/sorcery meme an unexpected layer of cultural references – or am I falling into the pit of becoming a Potter nerd?   Whatever, this will doubtless prove to be a winner for the MSO with determined patrons turning up dressed in their house robes and – with the benefit of hindsight – restraining their boos for Severus Snape.

The concert will be repeated on Friday November 9 (sold out, apparently) and at 1 pm on Saturday November 10.

 

Friday November 9

CELEBRATING BRETT DEAN

Australian National Academy of Music

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

A celebration on two layers as the Australian National Academy of Music has Dean come ‘home’ to lead its orchestra in music of his own as well as ventilating some other compositions that have been of  significance to the Australian composer.   Meale’s Clouds now and then, one of the Sydney writer’s haiku-inspired pieces, leads off – a real 1969 blast from the past for some of us, recalling a time when Australian music seemed to be coming of age, at last.   Georges Lentz is also a Sydney name that enjoyed a few brief exposures during Markus Stenz’s time as chief conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; Jerusalem (after Blake) of 2016 has not been performed here.   Sydney composer and London resident Lisa Illean contributes her 2015 Land’s End, written for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and conducted a year later by Dean with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.   His own music is also pretty much up-to-date: From Melodious Lay (A Hamlet Diffraction) springs out of the composer’s well-received 2016 opera for Glyndebourne on Shakespeare’s play, with Lorina Gore semi-reprising her role as Ophelia in this year’s Adelaide Festival performances. and Brisbane-born Finnish tenor Topi Lehtipuu singing Hamlet.   This is a welcome tribute to the Academy’s former director and an opportunity to hear one of his more recent major products.

 

Saturday November 10

LIXSANIA AND THE LABYRINTH

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Lixsania Fernandez is a Cuban gamba player and the ABO’s final guest artist for this year.  Under Paul Dyer’s direction, the orchestra will partner her in Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Violins and Viola da gamba, a plain concerto for gamba by Graun and a contemporary work by Rene Duchiffre (Schiffer) – the Tango barocco finale from his Concerto for Two Violas da gamba.   We can be fairly sure that Fernandez will be playing one of these, but the other?   On top of this, concertmaster Shaun Lee-Chen will take the leading role in Locatelli’s D Major Violin Concerto, The Harmonic Labyrinth, and a tad more Vivaldi fleshes out the night in the 5-minute Sinfonia al Santo Sepolcro.   Apart from the contemporary Brabantian fusion, the other three composers stretch across the Baroque proper and represent a territory on which some of us prefer to hear the ABO at its labours.

This program will be repeated on Sunday November 11 at 5 pm.

 

Sunday November 11

TOGNETTI’S BEETHOVEN

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

Never happy with this appellation; after all, what makes Tognetti’s Beethoven different to Vengerov’s or Francescatti’s?   I’d even prefer the pornograpically suggestive Tognetti Does Beethoven than have this proposition of proprietorship pushed forward as a reason to attend.   Only two works are programmed: the Violin Concerto with Tognetti as soloist, and the Symphony No. 5.   These were written contemporaneously and stand at the pinnacle of the so-called ‘middle’ period.   Quite a few of us can recall the artistic director’s last solo performance of the concerto and you can be sure that the years will not have diminished the player’s skill and insight.   About the symphony, I’m not so sure; we’ve heard pretty much all the canon from these players in the recent past and, while some interpretations have proved riveting, I can’t recall much more than some remedial scouring of this C minor score’s tradition-heavy surface.

This program will be repeated on Monday October 12 at 7:30 pm.

 

Sunday November 11

19TH CENTURY SPLENDOUR

Team of Pianists

Glenfern, St. Kilda at 3 pm

Finishing its year – apart from a fund-raising recital for the Dili Hospital on November 24 – the Team hosts Melbourne Symphony Orchestra principal clarinet David Thomas who, with senior TOP member Darryl Coote, will play both the Brahms Op. 120 sonatas.   Now there’s an afternoon’s solid modicum of delight for you: the last chamber works by the composer, featuring an instrument that he fell in love with during his final years.  Punctuating these gems, Coote plays two Schubert impromptus: the C minor and most mournful from the Op. 90 set, followed by the theme-and-five variations B flat Major from the Op. 142 quartet.  Somehow, the whole gels to make up a most inviting and atmospherically consistent program with the added thrill that, in this house’s central room, you seem to be right on top of the performers, even when sitting in the back row or half-way out the back window.

 

Tuesday October 13

THE MASTERSINGERS OF NUREMBERG

Opera Australia

State Theatre,  Arts Centre Melbourne at 4 pm

After the company’s Ring resuscitation, what better move by the national company than to thrill Melbourne with Wagner’s thigh-slapping yet actually unfunny comedy?   Such a long haul for everybody concerned, but conductor Pietari Inkinen, who has covered himself with acclaim for previous Wagner marathons here, is back for this long-winded nationalistic pap.  The direction has been achieved by Kasper Holten who, with the willing assistance of set designer Mia Stensgaard and costume designer Anja Vangh Kragh, has transposed the action from mid-16th century Nuremberg and put it in a London club (unclear when; could be at the time of Beau Brummell or during the period of Evelyn Waugh) which doesn’t allow women – bad luck for Eva and Magdalene as this embargo will probably hamper their efforts to take part in  the action.   Still, the anachronisms might make bearable the unpleasant overtones of Sachs’ last address to the crowd – such a pity it all had to take place in this particular city.    As this fulcrum figure comes local lad Shane Lowrencev who is fated to rabbit on almost as tediously as Wotan.   The young hero Walther also features a Ring revenant in Stefan Vinke.   The two female roles are local favourites: Natalie Aroyan as Eva and Dominica Matthews as her confidante.   Apprentice David is taken up by Kazakh tenor Medet Chotabaev and Warwick Fyfe, a revelation in previous Wagner, gets the plum role of Beckmesser; who wouldn’t want to play a critic?  Veteran Daniel Sumegi plays Pogner and the rest of the club is a list of familiars: Luke Gabbedy, Adrian Tamburini, John Longmuir, Nicholas Jones, Kanen Breen, Robert Macfarlane, Andrew Jones, Michael Honeyman, Gennadi Dubinsky and Richard Anderson.   You need a wealth of stage magic to keep audiences awake and focused through this opera which begins brilliantly and  quickly peters out as the characters set themselves forward in clear single dimensions.

The opera will be repeated at 4 pm on Monday November 19 and Thursday November 22, and in a matinée performance on Saturday November 17 at 12 pm.

 

Thursday November 15

BEETHOVEN 5

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Would you believe it?  Two C minor symphony performances within four days of each other.   This concert also features a violin concerto: Shostakovich’s all-things-to-all-men-except-Zhdanov No. 1, a remarkable construct of great originality in texture and format.  Guest violinist Mayu Kishima won the Shanghai Isaac Stern Violin Competition two years ago and plays the ‘ex-Petri’ Stradivarius instrument of 1700 – all of which sounds promising; as well, she has the endorsement of Rostropovich.   American Karina Canellakis has recently been appointed the next chief conductor of the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra in the Netherlands, the first woman in that post as well as the first female chief conductor anywhere in that country.   She will take the MSO through a rarely-heard Dvorak tone poem, The Noon Witch, as a procedural prelude, then finish off the night with that blazing Beethoven.

The program will be repeated in Costa Hall, Geelong on Friday November 16 at 7:30 pm, and again in Hamer Hall at 2 pm on Saturday November 17.

 

Sunday November 18

DOUBLE TROUBLE

The Melbourne Musicians

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

Frank Pam and his players finish off their 2018 efforts with this special concert featuring quite a few doubles.   First come the Grigoryan brothers, Slava and Leonard, bringing their guitars to bear on some concertos for two instruments.   The first is by Handel, the sixth of the Op. 4 set of organ concertos; still, it was originally composed with a harp solo, so doubtless the solo work will be easily divided.   The other is from Vivaldi, the RV532 which is well-known as a work for two mandolins, but the composer would be the last to complain about an adaptation of this type.   Pam surrounds these with Viennese dance music, beginning with Karol Komzak’s Vindobona March and Lanner’s six Dornbacher Landler.   After the concertos come 15 of Schubert’s 16 German Dances and 2 Ecossaises Op. 33, originally for piano solo.   And the afternoon ends with a Strauss double: the senior’s Champagne Galop, followed by the junior’s Bacchus-Polka which could take on extra interest if the Musicians take up the composer’s original instructions which ask for the players to sing as well.

 

Thursday November 22

BACH SUITES

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm

And here is the MCO finishing off its subscription series with a well-structured set of four works.   The night begins and ends with Bach: first, the Orchestral Suite No. 4; finally, the Orchestral Suite No. 3.   Both of them ask for three trumpets, timpani and and two or three oboes, as well as the usual body of strings with a bassoon for extra colour in No. 4.  In between come two double violin concertos.   As you’d expect in this programmatic company, the first is the slashing and popular Bach D minor, while the second is freshly minted and comes from the pen of the concert’s conductor, Richard Mills.   Who are taking the solo lines?   No idea yet, but MCO director William Hennessy has a fair assembly of talent from which to choose – or he could take one of the lines himself.  Always happy to hear top-class Bach but this event’s main interest comes from the Mills concerto, about which the gossip mills have maintained a stolid silence.   Its catalogued title at the Australian Music Centre gives something away: ‘Concerto for two violins and strings (string orchestra with multiple soloists)’.

This program will be repeated in the Melbourne Recital Centre on Sunday November 25 at 2:30 pm.

 

Friday November 23

FRENCH CLASSICS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

To be fair, you will hear two significant French masterpieces on these nights: Debussy’s limpid Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune, and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 for which the MSO Chorus will contribute to the final orgy.   This night’s conductor, Paris-born Fabien Gabel, is music director of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, so we can be reasonably sure of the requisite Gallic insights.   Debussy appears again on the program through his early six-part song-cycle to Verlaine poems,  Ariettes oubliees.  These were orchestrated in 2015 by Brett Dean for the Australian World Orchestra, later recorded by the German Symphony Orchestra Berlin, tonight sung by mezzo Fiona Campbell.   But the night’s showpiece, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, is solidly Russian, setting the benchmark for all those skittering works of similar ilk that flowed from the pencils of the composer’s less-talented compatriots.   Beatrice Rana is the soloist; Italian-born, silver medallist at the 2013 Van Cliburn, first prize at the 2011 Montreal Piano Competition and still in her mid-20s .  .  .  ideal for this concerto.

This program will be repeated at 7:30 pm on Saturday November 24 and at 6:30 pm on Monday November 26.

 

Thursday November 29

MAHLER 9: FOR CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

That’s it, of course: just the last Mahler (well, the last completed).  The arrangement, by pianist/conductor Klaus Simon, is one of the fruit’s of his editing endeavours in the scores of Schoenberg and Mahler.   Somehow, he has cut down the large orchestral body to 15 players, in this outing most of them notable Australian presences: flute Virginia Taylor (ex-ANU, ANAM), oboe Nick Deutsch (ANAM artistic director), clarinet Philip Arkinstall (MSO), bassoon Lyndon Watts (Munich Philharmonic), horns Andrew Bain (LA Philharmonic) and Saul Lewis (MSO), trumpet Tristram Williams (ex-MSO), piano Timothy Young (ANAM), percussion Peter Neville (ANAM, University of Melbourne), piano accordion James Crabb (ACO favourite), violins Sophie Rowell (MSO) and Robin Wilson (ANAM, Sydney Conservatorium), viola Caroline Henbest (ACO, MSO, everyone’s favourite guest viola), cello Howard Penny (ANAM, Chamber Orchestra of Europe) and double bass Phoebe Russell (QSO).  The conductor is Matthew Coorey, an Australian based in London who has conducted the MSO although I didn’t hear him.  A one-time horn player, he should be well equipped to direct this agglomeration of timbres.  Accordion?  Really?

 

Thursday November 29

LUDWIG’S LEGACY

Wilma & Friends

Ian Roach Hall, Scotch College at 7:30 pm

In this final recital for the year, Wilma Smith and four colleagues are playing a set of little-known works by top-rank composers.   For instance, although it shames me to admit it, I’ve never come across Beethoven’s String Trio in C minor, nor the other two works that make up the composer’s Op. 9.   In similar vein, I doubt that the Brahms String Quintet in F Major has swung across my horizon; nor has its later companion, the G Major String Quintet.    And Mendelssohn’s B flat String Quintet is further unknown territory, as is the composer’s earlier A Major work in the same format.   An occasion, therefore, to remedy woeful ignorance.   Along with Smith’s violin, the other voices in this recital are to be taken by Ji Won Kim from the MSO’s first violin ranks, violas Stefanie Farrands from the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra and Caleb Wright, newly appointed principal with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, while Michael Dahlenburg from the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra plays cello.