Luxe, calme et volupte


Music Viva

Queensland Conservatorium Theatre

Wednesday November 24, 2021

(L to R) Sofia Troncoso, Patrick Nolan, Alex Raineri

Closing its never-say-die year, Musica Viva once again celebrated the talents of local musicians which, in these dodgy times, means Queenslanders. This particular evening focused on the salon; specifically, the French variety and, by and large, the program stuck to the task, although the opening offering seemed a tad out-of-place. But who’s to say that Bellini arias weren’t standard fare in the greenhouse atmosphere of the Guermantes and Verdurin get-togethers? That’s what soprano Troncoso began this night with – Eccomi in lieta vesta/O quante volte from I Capuleti e i Montecchi and which is Juliet’s first appearance, coloured by prominent, mournful horns that were here replaced by Nolan‘s flute. The only part of this opera that I know, the recitative/aria gave the singer plenty of space to exercise her range and dynamic control, the higher reaches of the work heading towards pitch problems with a a strong vibrato intruding across the word intorno but disappearing for some creditable mini-cadenzas to brillar il giorno and the second-last in tuo sospir, this last a sensitive preparation for the concluding bar-and-a-bit.

More likely fare for the salon came in Doppler’s Mazurka de Salon, a non-stop show-piece for Nolan with pianist Raineri (once again fulfilling his occupation as accompanist for all seasons by replacing the scheduled Stephen Emmerson) offering discreet chord support. Both artists appeared quite happy with each other in the frequent stops, starts, rallentandi, accelerandi, swoops and curvets that typify this highly decorative material. While the Mazurka presented as not so blatantly virtuosic as when expounded by other flautists, Nolan kept a fine grasp on the work’s mobility and preserved its sense, eschewing the temptation to make a gabble of its prolix solo line.

Reaching for the highest point that can be associated with the salon, Raineri played three of Chopin’s Op. 28 Preludes, beginning with No. 20 in C minor, its Largo enjoying a very slow approach from this pianist who showed a clear relish for the bass octaves across the opening bars and a determination to elongate the distance between chords in the repetition of the second strophe. No. 22 in B flat found the pianist doing his best to give us high-flying Romanticism, using plenty of rubato and taking more opportunities to vary phrase lengths than most interpreters I’ve come across. In the final Prelude of this collection, the D minor pedal dominated the first 10 bars, but that made the eventual move off it all the more dramatic. I wasn’t over-impressed by the first scale-rush to a top F in bars 14-15 because of a lack of definition and the famous descending chromatic 3rds run sounded indistinct rather than fulfilling its anticipated scouring effect. As with his first Chopin, Raineri presented a most distinctive and individual version of this prelude, well worth the experience for its drive and responses to parts of the score that are often glossed over.

More indisputable salon music arrived with three Hahn songs from Troncoso and Raineri. L’heure exquise saw the singer manage her upward 6th and 7th leaps with telling smoothness – high points in a fairly monochromatic song. A Chloris gave Raineri room in his interludes to execute some elegant note-pointing while the vocal line sustained the required measured and even style of delivery that infuses this work with ancien regime elegance. Still, I thought the third number, L’enamouree, came off best in the group, Troncoso demonstrating clean output and deliberation in her work, caressing the line in an example of eloquent sentiment – the exercise a moving partnership between these musicians.

In the evening’s solitary voice/flute duet, Troncoso and Nolan gave a finely executed reading of Roussel’s Rossignol, mon mignon, their interleaving mutually considerate to the point where good manners went too far; more self-assertiveness, especially from the instrumental line, might have mitigated the effect of a fluent but aimless set of pages. More persuasive although a less accomplished piece was the program’s only genuine voice/flute/piano trio: the first of the 3 Odelettes ancreontiques by Maurice Emmanuel, Au printemps – another example of how much the Greeks have to answer for. This was harmonically lush, thanks to Raineri ensuring that each change of colour made its point, while Nolan pulled back in dynamic power, even at that tempting point where poet Remi Belleau speaks of birds playing in water and Emmanuel responds with some telling glissades. But then, this is a soft song, rising to an mf marking at Number 2 in the Durand edition for barely five bars.

Having celebrated the early 19th century salon with his Chopin bracket, Raineri moved to the last century with some of Szymanowski’s Nine Preludes, the composer’s Op. 1: intriguing products as the composer’s own choices from his juvenilia, as being indebted to Chopin’s Op. 28, and as indicative of Szymanowski’s experiments with novel compositional language. We heard three of these works: No. I which sets three against two throughout its brief duration; No. IV does the same thing but with more chromatic swerving around an ambiguously applied key signature; and the E flat minor No. VIII which was the most Chopin-suggestive of the three and a splendidly fluid creation expertly accounted for.

Finally, Nolan had his turn in the spotlight, for which he chose the most famous flute solo of modern times (apart from Varese’s Density 21.5): Debussy’s Syrinx of 1913, actually written for a ballet and to be played off-stage. This player is highly experienced and has the craft and insight to shape the piece into a fluent construct, in this interpretation covering an ample dynamic range and tempering the lengths required for breaths as well as maintaining the work’s direction through the cedez, rubato, un peu mouvemente points, the whole finishing with a masterfully controlled final 5 bars and the softest concluding D flat.

More Debussy followed with the Chansons de Bilitis, again demonstrating the sympathy between Troncoso and Raineri as they negotiated the slightly tinted character of long stretches in these three works. For instance, La Flute de Pan is recitative with clear stretches where the vocal line stays on one note while the piano employs several colourful additives – the titular flute, certainly, but also details like the frog imitation just before the last rushed line about the singer deceiving her mother.

About this point, the performers were distracted by some buzzing or electrical interference which could have been feedback from the Conservatorium hall’s recording system, or its speakers, or a hearing aid turned up too loud – this last an all-too-common feature of musical events I’ve attended in the Salon of Melbourne’s Recital Centre, or at the Australian National Academy of Music, or even in Hamer Hall. Whatever, the sound, lowered itself, if not quite to nothingness, and the duo simply pressed on.

In La chevelure, Troncoso generated a fine lyrical arch at la meme chevelure and maintained the song’s urgency up to the final Quand il eut acheve, from which point the composer gives us a superb exhibition of near-stasis harmonically while the vocal line folds in on itself. Finally, I found great pleasure in Raineri’s block chord work across Le tombeau des naiades and the clarity of his parallel right-hand 3rds from bar 11 till the fourth-last measure. On top of this, Troncoso gave a fine display of controlled power leading to the song’s explosion into F sharp minor.

Finally, all three artists came together for another hybrid in La flute enchantee from Ravel’s lopsided Sheherazade triptych. I can’t trace who did the arrangement but it made for an engaging if brief conclusion to the program, the performers making a generous gift of the opening three lines, keeping their heads in the active central Allegro, and observing the letter of the law in the brief free-for-all in the Lent before Number 4 in the Durand edition. A gem to finish this tour de chambre, even if the Ravel song belongs in the concert hall rather than a more intimate space, and it was delivered with a quiet panache that had graced a good deal of this varied entertainment.