August Diary

Friday August 2

ELGAR’S CELLO CONCERTO

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

French conductor Bertrand de Billy comes to front the MSO for the first time.   He has made a reputation as an expert at opera in various houses throughout Europe, although his residences have been uncommonly brief.   His exhibition piece for this program is Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra which the MSO publicity team is anxious to link with Kubrick’s A Space Odyssey; yes, the eminent film-maker used the whole first minute of this verbose tone poem.   What will they do for an organ, now that Hamer Hall doesn’t have one?   Yet another electronic substitute for Calvin Bowman to coax into life, I suppose.   Guest soloist Johannes Moser won the Tchaikovsky Competition 17 years ago; tonight, he works through the most famous 20th century concerto which, unlike the Strauss, is a model of concise expression.   And to ease us into late Romantic mood, de Billy directs Wagner’s ever-moving Siegfried Idyll, that delectable pre-Ring palate-cleanser.

This program will be repeated on Saturday August 3 at 7:30 pm and on Monday August 5 at 6:30 pm.

 

Friday August 9

MOZART PROJECT NO. 3

The Melbourne Musicians

Tatoulis Auditorium, MLC Kew at 7:30 pm

Accompanied by Frank Pam and his ensemble, Elyane Laussade concludes a three-concert series of Mozart piano concertos with the only one among the first ten or so that concert-goers regularly hear: No. 9 in  E flat, the Jeunehomme, which breaks the rules by having the soloist enter almost straight away, then keeps the surprises coming, including a sudden Minuet in the Rondeau finale.   On either side, Pam directs two Haydn symphonies – No. 43 in E flat, the Mercury, and the better-known La Passione No. 49 in F minor.   Breaking the Viennese flavour, the night ends with a three-movement Boccherini symphony in D minor called House of the Devil which reserves its supernatural promise for a violently active final Allegro con molto.

 

Saturday August 10

JOY & HEARTBREAK

Australian National Academy of Music Orchestra

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

Well, the joy isn’t hard to find.   ANAM resident faculty member Noah Bendix-Balgley, first concertmaster with the Berlin Philharmonic, directs and leads Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony to bring the program to a vitally optimistic, if minor-key conclusion.   What comes before is less happy.   Gideon Klein’s folk-influenced, astringent Partita of 1944, the year before the composer’s death in or near the Furstengrube labour camp, was originally a trio for violin, viola and cello, later arranged for string orchestra by Vojtech Saudek.   Further in the heartbreak stakes, Bendix-Balgley takes the solo part in Hartmann’s powerful Concerto funebre, written in the first year of World War Two but drawing part of its sources from German and Russian songs memorializing victims of violence.   Quite a test in concentration for the conductor/soloist; still, you’re only young once.

 

Sunday August 11

LUMINOUS

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

This is another collaboration by the ACO with photographer Bill Henson, revisiting a previous effort in 2005.   These fusions rarely come without problems of balance in interest, although what I remember of the previous exercise was not an unusually lopsided affair, possible due to the cool, detached nature of Henson’s work.   As for the music, it’s another medley that, at time of writing, is vague in its details; some Britten, some Janacek, Peteris Vasks’ Violin Concerto entitled Distant Light, a descent into the abyss with something from R. E.M.    I’m anticipating that this last will involve the participation of the program’s main guest, the singer Lior whose work with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in music by Nigel Westlake stands as one of the few almost-successful fusions of serious intentions with popular vocalisation.   You can understand that Richard Tognetti, director and probably soloist in the 30-minute-long Vasks concerto, wants to keep open options to marry his music with Henson’s photographs; let’s hope the wash-up doesn’t consist of incongruent scraps.

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

 

Wednesday August 14

GERMAN ROMANTICS

Markiyan and Oksana Melnychenko

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

This mother-and-son piano/violin duo has shown admirable versatility in previous recitals.   This time, it’s straight down the line with Schubert and Brahms.   To begin, they play the Grand Duo, Schubert’s Violin Sonata D 574; not a work that you experience often – not like the contemporary and highly appealing Sonatinas.   In fact, I can’t remember the last time I heard it in live performance.   The main Brahms offering is the magnificent G Major Regen Sonata which radiates a healthy gemutlichkeit that typifies this composer’s finest chamber music: a warmth that swells in all-embracing  breadth from one bar to the next.   Finally, the Melnychenko partners look further back in the composer’s career – some 25 years or so – to that youthful oddity, the F-A-E Sonata written in collaboration with Schumann and his pupil Albert Dietrich.   Brahms contributed a scherzo to this composite construct which hits you like a hammer with its intense power and rhythmic vigour, including a clutch of signature hemiolas.

 

Wednesday August 14

SONG CYCLES WITH SARA MACLIVER

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

The Australian soprano is a guest artist in residence at ANAM at this time of year.   As far as I can make out, she has no singing pupils to deal with; which is to say that none are mentioned on the Academy’s 2019 list of musicians.   So you’d assume that Macliver is giving ANAM pianists a chance to accompany her, one of the country’s most versatile sopranos.   Some lucky player will escort the singer through Schumann’s Frauen-Liebe und -Leben, which sets the bar impossibly high for any other lieder composer: an intense, heart-breakingly moving depiction of female psychology in eight superb songs.  Someone else will assist Macliver in selections from Duparc’s 17 chansons: we can hope for L’invitation au voyage, Phydile and Extase.   In between, we’re to enjoy Grieg’s Haugtussa, the composer’s solitary song-cycle which follows a country girl from youthful joy in life to later disillusionment.

 

Saturday August 17

QUARTET & COUNTRY

Australian String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 4 pm & 6 pm

Both of these programs consist of Australian works: six in the early session, five in the later one.   Two singer-composers will be guest artists at 4 pm: Stephen Pigram, from whom we’ll hear Walganyagarra Buru, then Mimi in an arrangement by Iain Grandage; and Lou Bennett whose Jaara Nyilamum is preceded by a collaboration with Grandage, dirt song.   Running parallel with this indigenous current come Kate Moore’s String Quartet No. 3, Cicadidae, which the ASQ presented here in May; and David Paterson’s Quartettsatze, all two of them.   For the second program, the players begin with a venerable (well, it’s almost 30 years old) favourite in Sculthorpe’s two-movement String Quartet No. 11, Jabiru Dreaming.   Guest William Barton joins the ensemble for a new work by Stephen King that involves, naturally, the didgeridoo.   Grandage speaks en clair with his After Silence – like the Sculthorpe, taking its inspiration from Aboriginal sources.  Barton’s own Square Circles Beneath the Red Desert Sand from 2017 is preceded by Sarah Hopkins’ Reclaiming the Spirit of 1993, presumably in its string quartet format.   Good on the ASQ for taking on the challenge of two all-Australian recitals, even if the audiences will probably fit comfortably into the Primrose Potter Salon.

 

Thursday August 22

SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

And here comes another cellist.   Johannes Moser opens the month with Elgar’s anguished masterpiece; now Jian Wang puts his talents into Saint-Saens’ Concerto No. 1, the more popular of the composer’s two works in the form.   Conductor Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider has enjoyed a sterling career as a solo violinist with an impressive CD catalogue of concerto and chamber music performances.   Tonight, he begins proceedings with excerpts from Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream; no sign of any singers or speakers, so there’ll be no melodramas or Ye spotted snakes – which rather limits these extracts to the all-too-familiar.   Szeps-Znaider gives pride of place to the brilliant Berlioz symphony, a masterpiece that nonplussed the strait-laced Mendelssohn and set out an orchestration text-book from which Saint-Saens profited handsomely.

This program will be repeated in Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University on Friday August 23 at 7:30 pm, and back in Hamer Hall on Saturday August 24 at 2 pm.

 

Thursday August 22

NEW CONSTELLATIONS

Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Only two works occupy this evening’s program: the Mendelssohn Octet for strings and the Brahms Serenade No. 1, in its second format for nonet which will be a reconstruction because the original score disappeared.   Piecing together possibilities, this Brahms may be articulated by flute, two clarinets, bassoon, horn, and one each of the string groups. A full complement of the 8 strings necessary for Mendelssohn’s light-filled gem is outlined on the ARCO web-site including violinists Rachael Beesley and Miki Tsunoda, violist Simon Oswell, and cellist Daniel Yeadon.   The whole exercise will be led by Jakob Lehmann who is continuing his liaison with this organization while leading a hectic artistic life focused on his home-town, Berlin.   On paper, the entertainment looks a tad lop-sided: Mendelssohn’s Octet lasts about 30 minutes, the Brahms close to 45.   But you’d be hard pressed to think of two such complementary optimistic and innately happy scores.

 

Thursday August 29

QUINTETS WITH FRIENDS

Ensemble Liaison

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

The ensemble’s three friends for this night’s work are top-notch musicians: Natsuko Yoshimoto from the Adelaide Symphony,  Elizabeth Sellars at Monash University, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s principal violist Christopher Moore.   But operations begin with two of the core Liaison personnel – cellist Svetlana Bogosavljevic and pianist Timothy Young – playing Three Pieces: Humoresk, Lied and Tarantell by Alexander von Zemlinsky, Schoenberg’s brother-in-law.   Brief in length, these bagatelles precede one of the promised quintets, that by Weber for clarinet and string quartet.   This puts Ensemble stalwart David Griffiths firmly at the centre of the action in one if the foundation works for his instrument.   Australian writer Natalie Williams is represented by a new trio, Treppenwitz  –  the German term for l’esprit de l’escalier, or thinking too late of the perfect reply –  which piece seems to have been tailored for the Liaison personnel.   Finally, guest violinists and viola come on to partner Bogosavljevic and Young through the sombre depths of Shostakovich’s Quintet in G minor.

 

Friday August 30

SIBELIUS’ VIOLIN CONCERTO

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

James Gaffigan, chief conductor of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, lightens the atmosphere after interval with Dvorak’s rural-flavoured Symphony No. 8 in G Major.  Eschewing the stentorian brouhaha of the following New World, this score is a fine example of the Czech composer’s ability to appeal to the bucolic in even the most metropolitan-centred of us; a special delight comes with those waffling horns in the exciting finale.   Viktoria Mullova is an honoured name world-wide and you couldn’t ask for a more authoritative hand than hers with the night’s eponymous concerto; it’s one of a kind and engrossing from start to finish, not least for the torrent of work given to the soloist.   For a starter, Gaffigan directs Janacek’s Jealousy, the original overture for Jenufa about which the composer had second thoughts; a fraught 6 minutes of perturbing fragments and blazing brass.

This program will be repeated on Saturday August 31 at 7:30 pm, and on Monday September 2 at 6:30 pm.