Not new enough


Mark Papworth and Amanda Millar

Move Records MCD 632

Here’s a perplexing product: a set of four sonatas (one is actually a sonatina) for natural horn with accompaniment for fortepiano or cello. I know Papworth’s ability from another Move Records issue of Wagner Ring chunks, Siegfried’s Story; Millar is an unknown quantity in my experience. They have devoted their talents to these works by Thomas McConochie, an Australian musician with an interest in the antique brass instrument who produces music to flesh out an almost non-existent contemporary repertoire. Of course, the horn in its valveless form continued in use up to (most notably) Brahms, who had a penchant for the older mysteries, but you’ll rarely come across readings of the C minor Symphony in which natural horns appear.

Now this CD’s title seems to refer to the horn with crooks as the old bottle. Fair, enough. But what is being poured in can hardly be classed as a new wine: it’s vintage, but undistinguished. McConochie’s formal patterns are predictable, as are his melodic shapes and harmonic structure. It had to be so, you’d think, given the natural instrument’s capabilities. For many of us, the natural horn is exemplified for these times by the Prologue and Epilogue in Britten’s Serenade Op. 31. Even given the limitations imposed on the English composer, you’ll hear nothing so advanced here. I can’t see how these compositions have added substantially to the repertoire; rather, they return to ground that was well-trodden by the time of Haydn and Mozart.

The CD doesn’t contain details about the four works’ lengths, so here goes. Like all of them, the Sonata No. 1 in F for Natural Horn and Fortepiano Op. 14 has three movements lasting 15′ 11″: Allegro (6′ 09″), Andante (4′ 58″), Sonata-Rondo (4′ 04″). Next comes the Horn Sonatina No. 5, Op. 16 No. 3 with a duration of 10′ 02″: Presto (3′ 09″), Adagio (2′ 31″), Presto (4′ 22″). A novel Sonata for Natural Horn and Cello in D Major, Op. 22 takes up 13′ 27″: Allegro (5′ 09″), Recitative and Aria (5′ 25″), Presto (2′ 53″). To finish, the Sonata No. 2 in E flat for Natural Horn and Fortepiano, Op. 15 lasts for 12′ 58″: Allegro (5′ 24″), Andante con moto (3’23”), Maestoso (4′ 11″). The whole CD takes 51′ 38″, which is a bit on the under-nourished side. But then, you have to take into consideration the quality of, and degree of difficulty involved in handling, these scores.

I’m probably wrong as far as the horn side of things is concerned, but the piano aspect is unassuming; quite a few of these movements a competent player could sight-read. Both instruments take up the simple first subject of the Sonata No. 1, the piano making most of the running as the movement moves forward, after an overused rhythmic motif that sounds like Mozart . . . no, more a contemporary whose imagination has dipped considerably. The phrases are four-square and nothing new is allowed to interrupt the Alberti bass-rich accompaniment. As for the melodies, these are well enough in their openings but fail of their promise with several awkwardnesses in their rounding-off. What of modulation and harmonic interest, you cry? Forget it. The second movement boasts an ‘Oom-Pah Section’ but this lasts about a minute; the segment sounds like desiccated klezmer, and goes nowhere but simply serves as a diversion from its calm, bland surroundings.

For his finale McConochie hits 6/8 and the suggestions of hunting horns with a few more stopped notes than we’ve heard so far. Still, this is a restrained hunt with an unhealthy penchant for repeated notes and chords. The piano’s solo ritornelli are rather frequent and the main subject of this Sonata-Rondo (rather more of the latter than the former) is yet another instance of the first half being let down by its consequent. You can take as an instance any of the Mozart horn concerto finales but their buoyancy and innate verve show that McConochie has so much to learn about sustaining interest.

Incidentally, the two outer sonatas are written for natural horn ‘and fortepiano’, but the keyboard instrument employed here in both is a normal pianoforte. Would the earlier piano’s use have made much difference? Possibly, mainly as a credible partner for Papworth’s muffled timbre.

For a bit of a giggle, the sonatina is subtitled ‘A Little Bit of Sturm and Drang’; and so it seems, right at the start, but the proposed aesthetic doesn’t last. The first movement is gifted with an opening that is arresting for about two bars, then moves into banality and more awkwardnesses, especially in the use of repeated notes. The horn part is secondary; for sure, Papworth gets to play the themes but the keyboard dominates in treatment and overall activity. As for a prevailing compositional period, it’s still uncooked Mozart. Matters are reversed in the slow movement where the horn gets dibs on the first mournful tune; the central B section moves in to the relative major before the A opening is repeated, This section has more going for it than its predecessor with the establishment of an Eroica-indebted funeral march rhythmic pattern and a definite arch to the main melody. The finale presents as an allegro rather than the prescribed presto and the piano sets most of the running as the horn is limited to finding a relevant note and sitting on it while the keyboard goes around an unarresting series of modulations in the various episodes of this rondo.

Next comes the horn and cello work. Its opening allegro improves in performance security on the exposition’s repeat but the modulations in the development cannot be regarded as much more than predictable and – every so often – clumsy. But the musicians themselves sound uncertain in their work here with very little colour invested in phrasing. The following Recitative is a short introduction with a metrical inevitability that persists until a short horn cadenza leads us into a 6/8 lyric during which the horn enjoys a good deal of exposure; Millar provides an arpeggiated support before taking on the central section’s melody-line herself.. The cellist’s articulation and production values are not always reliable with some obvious difficulties in her part’s upper reaches, so that it’s something of a relief when this movement draws to its end.

There is another trace of the Mozart horn concerto finales in this sonata’s concluding Rondo, but the opening section and its returns prove very welcome after some strained interludes (how many are there? One?). You can see how the work is meant to bounce past with infectious jollity, but this doesn’t come off. Perhaps the players take these pages too slowly; possibly the movement requires more determination in attack and dynamic variation. Whatever the case, music of this simplicity needs high expertise to give it any performance interest because there is not much to grab onto as far as content goes.

The composer believes he learned much from writing his first sonata and feels that this is reflected in the more equable partnership of his E flat Sonata. This may be so but you have to wonder at his idea of distributing the goods. For instance, the opening Allegro‘s second subject is announced by the piano, then the horn, at which point the keyboard’s accompaniment is both prosaic and intrusive. But by this stage of the CD you realize that not much is going to emerge that is strikingly original and the compositional methodology is far from sophisticated, as evidenced by the development pages which hold several instances of ungainly part-writing. Even the scale passages for both executants come across as laboured, hard work rather than imaginative flights.

Not much to take exception to in the Romanza, although McConochie can’t avoid odd strokes that a more aware hand would have struck out like the descending bass’s conclusion before the move into a minore variant, and a piano left hand of no little tedium. With the last movement, we hit the world of variations but not in a big way: there are only three of them and all are quite predictable, if vehicles for Papworth’s expertise more than anything else. McConochie’s theme is four-square and plain and nobody is really stretched – except the horn in the movement’s unexpectedly athletic coda.

Here again, as in so much of the whole CD, I sense a lack of character. You have to take into account the necessary limitations of the brass line; even so, nothing here grips the imagination – neither the content of the works themselves, nor the interpretations offered. I can imagine that the natural horn community might be pleased with these additions to their archives but nothing here advances the instrument’s expressive or technical horizons.

Filling in a neglected corner


Victoria Brass

Move Records MCD 641

Brass bands don’t come across your path every day, least of all in these times when they are commonly associated with the military rather than a company that actually makes something rather than weapons. Growing up in Sydney, I came across none except the rancid collection of bugles and side drums that marched in front of our school’s cadet unit. In Melbourne, the Box Hill City and the Kew bands were far more prominent, notably on civic occasions. But, until now, Victoria Brass has not even been a name, as far as my experience has gone. It presents as a conglomerate of players from various sources in the state (chiefly, the city of Melbourne, it appears), gathered together on particular occasions; this disc records several of those – concerts that took place at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Brighton, Box Hill Salvation Army Hall, Ian Roach Hall at Scotch College, and Bendigo’s Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral.

In fact, there are two sets of personnel recorded here – one from 2021 (Bendigo and Brighton), the other from 2022 (Box Hill and Scotch). You will find a few variations across the year space. Soprano cornet and principal cornet remain the same, while the four solo cornets are all different, as is the repiano cornet. All second cornets remain the same, one of the three third cornets remains the same, and the flugelhorn is taken by two separate players. All horns and euphoniums remain the same, but the 2022 line-up has a second euphonium. The solo baritone part falls to two different players and the second baritone set-up shares one player – but the second baritone in 2021 becomes the solo in 2022!. The solo trombone stays the same over the years, but only one of the second trombones survives, and the bass trombone player changes between discs. Tuba personnel stay the same, apart from an extra B flat player in the 2022 recordings. Finally, percussionist numbers change from five in 2021 to three in the following year; in the latter, there are two survivors and the fifth-named in 2021 plays among the third cornets in 2022! In short, it’s a slightly claustrophobic little world and I haven’t noted all the benched/interchange players – just the obvious ones.

As for what they play, the 2021 ensemble present the Toccata that concludes Widor’s Organ Symphony No. 5, an arrangement of the Benedictus from Karl Jenkin’s The Armed Man Mass, another arrangement of the fourth movement to Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3, a version of Sullivan’s The Lost Chord, Handel Parker’s hymn Deep Harmony, and Philip Wilby’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (Story of John Bunyan). From the next year come the premiere of Andrew Batterham’s Trumpet Concerto with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s principal, David Elton, as soloist; Tallis’s Third Mode Melody (‘Why fumeth in the fight’); the finale to the ballet Checkmate by Bliss, Eriks Esenvalds’ Only in Sleep, Jared McCunnie’s Elegy, and part of the Cathedral Square Coronation Scene from Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. In other words, half of the tracks for each of the combinations.

As far as I can tell, the fount of all wisdom for all of these tracks is Matthew van Emmerick, an expert director and euphonium specialist who is Victoria Brass’s principal conductor. His soloists are trumpeter Elton, organist Calvin Bowman (the Musicke Master at Brighton’s Anglican church), and singer/narrator Matthew Little who shines in the Bunyan biography.

Some of the music performed is taxing in terms of clear production, particularly under live performance conditions. But there are a few tracks which are straight and uncomplicated, like the several hymn tunes where the demands are mostly for an even dynamic and a secure top line. Still, the Brass get off to an impressive start with the Widor toccata, beloved of wedding organists throughout the Western world. The division of labour in handling those right-hand arpeggios from the original is cleverly accomplished; the top cornets taking the left-hand chords while an active gaggle share the accompanying unbroken semiquaver-figure (or do they? Later on, one instrument alone handles this figure); soon, the bass entry at bar 9 with the composer’s striding pedal line is most impressive. In fact, Bowman takes some part in this arrangement by Philip Sparke, his organ contribution an addition by Philip Wilby, although you’re hard pressed to pick it out – perhaps the sumptuous bass line from bar 50 on? Certainly, he isn’t called upon to provide those incessant semiquavers when the score moves outside the top brass’s range.

Batterham’s concerto in this band accompaniment version is a fine example of expert and sympathetic writing for soloist and a brisk revamping of the original orchestration for strings. While the composer might well be a master of various genres (as claimed in the CD booklet), this piece is written in something I can only call contemporary orthodoxy, not varying much from the kind of jaunty dissonance (not too much) to be found in British composers of a century ago. For example, the middle movement is a flowing, lyrical andante with plenty of Elgarian warmth in its chord progressions and calm suggestions of the organ loft, as well as a graceful economy of melody.

Like the quick declamations of the opening movement, the third forges a bright path for all, right from the start with its pizzicato strummings supporting a fresh-faced 6/8 solo arc, with a wood-block clicking quietly during one of the episodes and a timpani/bass drum emerging in the finale’s later stages. But, as with all good concertos, the emphasis sits firmly on Elton’s solo line which has an attractively jaunty character in the score’s outer pages and a dexterity that you’d expect from the work’s prime executant. Not much of gravity is being expressed here but the work stands as a more-than-worthy addition to a repertoire which is not that substantial; it’s probably not true, but the last trumpet concerto written by an Australian composer that I can recall is Raymond Hanson’s product of 1948! That can’t be right, can it?

Not much to report about the Tallis arrangement by New Zealand cornet/conductor Ken Smith. He gives three iterations of the theme as outlined in Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia with pretty orthodox harmonizations, the second heavy on lower brass and a few cadential descants for the cornets in verses 2 and 3 with a somewhat superfluous Amen added by way of conclusion. Eric Ball’s highly active arrangement of the Finale to Bliss’s ballet becomes something of a broad-beamed melange before the block chords denoting the Red King’s last stand, and there are a few messy notes in subsidiary lines near the movement’s opening. But the aggressive last pages are confidently carried off.

Starring in Tony Small’s arrangement of Jenkins’ Benedictus is euphonium soloist Michael Wells who gives the original’s solo cello line a welcome infusion of clarity and an absence of swooping and near-glissandi that can cripple the work’s innate sensibility. As well, you would go some way to find a moment as powerful as the Hosanna explosion in this reading. But it’s easy playing, I think, for both soloist(s) and ensemble, with nothing of great technical moment apart from maintaining dynamic control. And, as when listening to Lloyd Webber’s Requiem (and in certain phases of Britten’s War Requiem), it strikes me that the emotional effect is too simple, too calculated to manipulate; but then, I think that about the In gloria Dei Patris of the Missa Solemnis and nearly everything in the Verdi Requiem.

Another Wilby arrangement comes with the Saint-Saens Maestoso – Allegro with Bowman kicking off all our Babe memories. The arrival of that noble main theme almost works except for the organ dynamic level which is not loud enough to complement the ensemble taking on the strings’ announcement of the chorale; also, the piano four-hands scintillations here are sorely missed. A good deal of the movement is omitted; just as well, as the absence of woodwind and string timbres would be very noticeable if Wilby had stuck to the original’s grandiose self-indulgent repetitions. As well, without the original instrumentation, organ and brass are a tad disjunct as far as tuning is concerned, especially in the fortissimo pesante section at Letter GG in my International Music Company 1950 reprint score, Again, you can hear some high notes fluffed if you listen hard enough, and the tempo seems to be rather ham-fisted – insistent, regular, lacking much elasticity.

I liked the simplicity of Esenvalds’ setting of Sara Teasdale’s gentle poem; his melody is folk-simple and the rich choral fabric under the soprano soloist impresses for its timbral depth and suggestions of consolation, even when the choir takes over in the work’s centre. In this arrangement by Phillip Littlemore, the Brass’s flugel horn, Andrew McAdam, substitutes for the solo voice and the results are pleasing, especially as an instance of a sustained melody enunciated seamlessly and with emotional restraint.

Wilby’s own work celebrating Bunyan impresses for its vision, even if the identification of the Puritan writer with his own Christian seems ingenuous. This work begins with an unaccompanied male voice singing Who would true valour see/He who would valiant be to Vaughan Williams’ setting of the melody line – all three stanzas. Having accomplished this, Matthew Little then starts on a set of read excerpts from The Pilgrim’s Progress with musical illustrations: The Journey, Meditation, Vanity Fair, and The Celestial City. In other words, we are given a selection from the writer’s narrative as the hero is divested of his burden and journeys to his transfigured end.

You hear traces of the hymn tune early in the suite but, of course, it comes into its own when the pilgrim arrives at his destination. As illustrative music, the work meets expectations, notably in the rapid hurly-burly of Vanity Fair. The Brass are agile and solemnly stentorian in turn but there isn’t a good deal of audience challenge in The Pilgrim’s Progress as a musical experience. It’s probably more intriguing for brass players. Nevertheless, the work has appeal as an illustration of how to score for brass and organ in four separate scenarios.

Melbourne composer Jared McCunnie’s Elegy is part of a larger work, SIEGE, which deals with the Martin Place Lindt cafe disaster of December 2014. The score ends with this movement which commemorates the two victims: Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson, the latter dying from police-generated shrapnel in one of the more cack-handed terrorism-related incidents of modern times. This movement is calm, slow-moving, rising to a powerful climax before dying out into unforgiving silence. McCunnie’s language is uncomplicated and earnest in emotional character, his elegy doubling as a lament for the waste of two useful lives.

I can’t remember when I first heard Sullivan’s very popular song; probably in my teens when all I knew of the composer were some of the Savoy operas. It isn’t as off-putting as many another wrenching Victorian-era gem of religiosity and there’s a good deal to be said for performing it in arrangement, like this excellent version by notable British brass band expert, Gordon Langford, which gains a great deal from Bowman’s organ in Brighton. A very truncated version of the Kremlin coronation from Mussorgsky’s opera (another Littlemore construct) seems to conflate two segments, leaving out the self-torturing aria that the Tsar sings to himself while the crowd and boyars are apparently otherwise occupied. You can hear an uncertain cornet wandering at one stage and there’s some rough trombone work later, but you get the general flavour of the scene, with even a break for a carillon. All very exciting but, sadly, a pale echo of the real thing.

The disc concludes with a flawless reading of Handel Parker’s hymn, arranged by American academic Lee Harrelson. Apparently, Victoria Brass uses this four-part harmonization as a rehearsal warm-up and it makes a modestly rich-flavoured ending to the ensemble’s endeavours. To be honest, I prefer the sense and stability of such slower tracks on this recording to the frenetic or heftier offerings, although the Bliss Checkmate is a stand-out. Like a good many other musical observers, I’ve not encountered a brass band in the normal run of concert-going; this product by Victoria Brass shows that the loss has been a significant one, made all the more telling by my grandson’s enrolment this year as a trumpet student at the Victorian College of the Arts; I feel that my ignorance of brass literature and performance practice is about to be remorselessly filled in.

Diary May 2023


Brodsky Quartet

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Tuesday May 2 at 7 pm

Once again, the devil’s in the detail. Yes, the Brodskies have been in operation since 1972, so a 50-year observation is in order, if slightly overdue. Two of the original players have survived: second violin Ian Belton and cello Jacqueline Thomas. Another member musician has retained his Brodskyism since 1982: viola Paul Cassidy. First violin position has undergone the most change until 2021 when Krysia Osostowicz took over the role. So it’s 50 years – good on you all – but only half the group has seen out the distance. Anyway, this British ensemble is offering tickets from $79 to $99 with the usual $7.20 fee to put you off. As for what’s to be heard, the Brodskies will indulge in a bit of nationalistic touting with Britten’s String Quartet No. 2, which is the most impressive of the composer’s three major essays in the form, probably for its concluding Chacony; if there’s one thing you can rely on Lord Benny for, it’s clever foraging in the past. Added to which, this group has recorded all of Britten’s quartets – twice. Then the musicians make their assault on Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, recorded back in 1993. To kick off, we’ll hear Cassidy’s arrangement of the Bach G minor Sonata for violin solo, BWV 1001 which the Brodskies also recorded two years ago on a CD containing all three sonatas Cassidied into string quartet format. So the whole occasion is a well-rehearsed celebration-cum-remembrance of things past – some recent, some mid-Brodsky ageing – with the main point of interest in listening to how Osostowicz melds with the old-timers. I’m assuming that QPAC is sponsoring this event, chiefly because I can’t find any publicity spruiking a specific sponsor.


Musica Viva Australia

Queensland Conservatorium Theatre, South Brisbane

Wednesday May 3 at 7 pm

As far as I can tell, the three artists on this latest national tour are not regular collaborators. Flautist Adam Walker recorded with violist Timothy Ridout a CD of French flute music, but of harpist Anneleen Lenaerts I can’t find a mention in either of her two male colleagues’ discographies or recital lists. In any case, they have come together to perform the Debussy Sonata – the only work anyone is aware of that was composed for this particular instrumental trio. You’ll have to wait till night’s end to hear it but the three Musica Viva guests will work through another two flute/viola/harp compositions: Gubaidulina’s one-movement Garden of Joy and Sorrow from 1980, and Takemitsu’s 1992 And then I knew ’twas Wind which took its title from an Emily Dickinson poem. Along the way come a few piano solos – Debussy’s Jardins sous la pluie and Clair de lune, British composer George Benjamin’s Flight for solo flute and the famous Messiaen duo Le Merle noir for flute and piano (harp?). And I assume that the Telemann Fantasia No. 7 in E flat – all four movements of it – will be entrusted to Ridout, although with these sorts of programs you can’t be sure who’ll wind up doing what; those two Debussy piano solos come to mind insofar as they’d have to be transcriptions by or for Lenaerts – or will one of the others step in for a solo line? Mind you, they’d have trouble with the gardens. Tickets range from $15 to $109 with concessions available but I can’t figure out if there’s an attached booking fee; sadly, there probably is.


Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Queensland Symphony Orchestra Studio, South Brisbane

Friday May 5 at 7:30 pm

We’ve got two famous night musics on this 75 minute interval-less program. First comes Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, the Serenade No.13 in G, K. 525 which is known to pretty much anyone who’d be attracted to this QSO event as one of serious music’s signature dishes, harnessed to the advertising industry like few other scores. Here’s hoping that concertmaster/director Natsuko Yoshimoto can bring plenty of verve, if not novelty, to these familiar pages.. This Classical gem is followed by Romanticism’s last gasp in Schoenberg’s sextet Verklaerte Nacht of 1899, packed with depression, guilt and redemption-through-love. It’s a great nocturnal journey, nowhere better than from the breathtaking change of key to F sharp Major and the radiant final 12 bars. You’d probably be right in thinking that both Mozart and Schoenberg will be given in string orchestra format, chiefly because the final work to be presented – Telemann’s 8-part Don Quixote Suite – calls for a big string sound (with harpsichord? and lute??) and what’s the point of having all those musicians hanging around through a quartet and sextet in which they could easily (and legitimately) swell the numbers? This trio of scores shows a sensible, if uninspired, temporal sweep but the arrangement would be improved if the Baroque work came first. Tickets range from $30 to $75, plus an inflated booking fee just 5 cents short of $8: a compulsory tip of over 10%.

This program will be repeated on Saturday May 6 at 3 pm.


Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Friday May 12 at 7:30 pm

And tonight, the QSO makes another foray into the world of Cervantes. Nothing as refined or as brief as Telemann’s little suite from a week ago but Richard Strauss’s vast, blowsy depiction of the knight and his squire which asks for two soloists: cello for the Don, viola (and a few others) for Sancho. I’ve heard this once in live performance from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the performance wasn’t memorable, apart from Christopher Moore carrying out discreet solo viola duties. Here, with chief conductor Umberto Clerici in charge, the character lines will be performed by the QSO’s section principals – Hyung Suk Bae and Imants Larsens. Not that the tone poem is a trial; it falls into 14 sections over its 35-minute length and the orchestration is as subtle as that for Till Eulenspiegel. In the program’s first half, Piers Lane will be soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor K. 491. With a big frame, this work calls for more orchestral forces than any other in this division of the composer’s catalogue and its emotional demands are as severe as Beethoven’s Op. 37. It’s a solid half-hour, granted, but I can’t understand why the orchestra needs an interval between this and the Strauss. Tickets range from $90 to $130 with the supplementary charge of $7.20 for stuff-all.

A guest I can’t explain convincingly is actor Eugene Gilfedder. It’s hard to see him fitting into the concerto format, so it’s probable that he’ll be involved in the Strauss reduced epic. Yet, as far as I know, there’s no place for a narrator or any dialogue in the score. So he could be present on stage to welcome us, or to apologize for us to the original inhabitants for being there, or to attune us to post-COVID changes in concert hall etiquette, or (best of all) to explain the workings of a wind machine.

This program will be repeated on Saturday May 13 at 1:30 pm


Australian String Quartet

Conservatorium Theatre, Griffith University

Friday May 19 at 7 pm

On a rare visit to Brisbane – but not as rare as some other chamber groups with lesser drawing power – the ASQ is performing at the Con theatre. Last time I was aware of them here, the group played in a library building opposite QPAC which took me ages to find, especially in the penumbra that operates after dark through the riverside buildings of the Cultural Precinct. Griffith spends a good deal more on lighting so we should have a well-lit path to where the ensemble in its current format – violins Dale Barrltrop and Francesca Hiew, viola Christopher Cartlidge, cello Michael Dahlenburg – will present a solid recital. The evening begins with Thomas Ades’ Arcadiana: a seven-movement, non-stop composition celebrating the idyll with a good many references to other composers and several options as to what the composer understands by Arcadia. The recital’s title is a pretty good representation of where Ades is leading his listeners. After this British early work, the ASQ heads for Mozart in D minor K. 421, second of the Haydn quartets and irregular in many aspects, mainly formal. Then it’s the turn of Shostakovich through the No. 9 in E flat Major (you reckon?) which, like the Ades, is played without a pause between its five movements. It seems that a good many youngish ensembles take on the Russian master’s quartets without much preparation and even less natural insight, resulting in bland readings which stay on the surface. You’d hope for much better from these artists who have enjoyed several years of mutual experience behind them – and the fact that two of this score’s movements are adagios where bouncy, biting satire is absent from the interpretative equation. Tickets are a flat $81, without a booking fee but apparently with no concessions on tap.


Queensland Youth Symphony

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Saturday May 20 at 7 pm

Under Simon Hewett, these young players taken on Debussy’s La mer which will be as mobile and possibly as inchoate as you’d expect. It’s is a hard ask for any orchestra and I’ve yet to hear live a performance that fully satisfies. But do we stand still and put it into the too-hard basket, almost 120 years after its gestation? To be honest, I’d rather hear what the QYS can make of these sketches than watch them labour through yet another slab of German Romanticism. The concert ends with Stravinsky’s Firebird, and I believe that this means the complete ballet rather than one of the three suites. Which is both interesting and unsettling as I heard part of the work in the car a few days ago on ABC Classic; I think it was the 1945 suite because I came in during one of the Pantomimes and left during the Khorovod. But the shock was that, for about three minutes, I had no idea what I was hearing; there is a good deal of the complete work that is unfamiliar to those of us who have been bred on the 1919 suite and who have come to realize that there’s precious few pages outside those five movements that comprise neglected gems. In the program’s middle, the orchestra escorts William Barton through his own Apii Thatini Mu Murtu (To sing and carry a coolamon on country together where a coolamon is a dish). Barton will play a didgeridoo and sing, as he did at the work’s premiere with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under Benjamin Northey in July last year. I’m out of sync with this sort of music where the Aboriginal instrument and chant are superimposed on a Western orchestral sound fabric. The most convincing fusions of didgeridoo and orthodox instruments come from writers with advanced compositional techniques, or so it seems to me. You can applaud the respect shown to First Nations musicians who make the effort to grapple with serious music-making, rather than award time and space to those proposing country/rock imitations of hillbilly Americana. But listening to this work of Barton’s won’t convince you that such a hybrid music leads forward. Tickets are a flat $45, with the $7.20 tax-for-no-service added.


Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Sunday May 21 at 11:30 am

After what seems to be an out-of-town try-put, the QSO is dishing out one of its lollipop programs in an obvious attempt to put bums on seats. On May 19, a Symphony Under the Stars night to be held somewhere in Gladstone will be conducted by Johannes Fritzsch and feature, as guests, soprano Rebecca Cassidy and tenor Rosario La Spina. The audience will be treated to clumps of Puccini (Un bel di, E lucevan le stelle, the Act III Intermezzo from Manon Lescaut, Che gelida manina to the end of the act), a bit of Bizet in the Prelude to Carmen, and Verdi’s Act 2 Triumphal March from Aida. Another art form gets a look-in with The Young Juliet from Prokofiev’s great ballet. A few other isolates are included, like Elgar’s Salut d’amour and the Strauss waltz Roses from the South. Back in Brisbane, the Elgar, Bizet, Prokofiev and Strauss are scheduled, as are excerpts from Madama Butterfly, Tosca and La Boheme (I wonder which ones?), as well as ‘AND MORE’ . What’s missing? The Verdi and the Puccini Intermezzo? Still, there’ll be the same guests, the same conductor but – especially written in for The Big Smoke – Guy Noble will play host. Not much has gone into preparing this event with its catch-as-catch-can list of classical hits, but seats – from $75 to $105 with concessions and booking fee surplus of $7.20, regardless of how much your ticket costs – are selling like Vegemite hot cross buns.


Queensland Symphony Orchestra

Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre

Friday May 26 at 7:30 pm

It appears to be a simple celebration of contemporary film music, but does it have accompanying clips? With the Voices of Birralee singers, the QSO under Nicholas Buc will bring back memories – some pleasant, others nauseating – of movies we have seen, beginning with the opening to Richard Strauss’s 1896 tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra, bars that provided so much grist to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey mill of 1968. From there, it’s pretty much all downhill. James Horner is represented by scraps from Avatar (2009) and Titanic (1997). Hans Zimmer also scores a double with The Dream is Collapsing and Time from his 2010 suite for Inception. And so does Danny Elfman with the Main Theme and Ice Dance out of his 1990 score for Edward Scissorhands. Not to forget Craig Armstrong’s work for Love Actually of 2003, from which we hear the Glasgow Love Theme and Prime Minister Theme. You get to hear quite a few oncers: Alan Menken’s Main Theme for 1991’s Beauty and the Beast; the whole symphonic suite (apparently) from The Two Towers of 2002 by Howard Shore; a spin-off in Ludwig Goransson’s 2019 Main Theme for The Mandalorian; Australia’s own Nigel Westlake’s Ready to Launch from Paper Planes of 2014; Michael Giacchino’s Married Life sequence from 2009’s Up; Simple and Clean from a ring-in with Kingdom Hearts of 2002 (hope that’s accurate: these video games are so hard to track down to specifics) by Hikaru Utada; and Merry-Go Round of Life from Joe Hisaishi’s 2004 music for Howl’s Moving Castle. But let’s not forget the grand master John Williams, who is honoured with the Hymn to the Fallen from Saving Private Ryan of 1998, Harry’s Wondrous World from 2001’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and the 1999 Duel of the Fates from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. For me, the memories would be more thin than most; I’ve seen the Kubrick, Avatar and Titanic (sort of; between dozes), Edward Scissorhands, Love Actually, The Lord of the Rings trilogy,, all the Harry Potters and all the canonic Star Wars epics – a little less than half of the program content. But I’d much rather watch complete films and be exposed to their full audio components than listen to bits and pieces. After all, doesn’t everyone want to know what happens after Strauss’s magniloquent proclamation? Well, perhaps not. Tickets, with concessions available, range from $90 to $130 but there are precious few of the former left; what is constant is the $7.20 tax for daring to come to the Concert Hall.

This program will be repeated on Saturday May 27 at 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm.


Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra

Conservatorium Theatre, Griffith University

Friday May 26 at 7:30 pm

It’s big, as suits its theme: a memorial to the revolutionary demonstration outside the Tsar’s Palace in St. Petersburg; to be specific, the massacre of January 22 when the army came to the aid of a nervous government to commit yet another atrocity in a long line of disasters that pepper Russian history. The Symphony No. 11 is something of a polemic, full of big strokes – drama, conflict and mourning come in impressive splashes across the work’s hour-long canvas. Triple woodwind (thirds doubling piccolo, cor anglais, bass clarinet, contrabassoon), 11 brass, two harps, xylophone, tubular bells, celesta, timpani and assorted other percussion, with a large bank of strings – all ensure a powerful climax or twelve. Johannes Fritzsch will conduct this work, but will he conduct anything else? The university website proposes that this ‘program includes’ the Shostakovich symphony, but no details are available as to what else will be given to us. Adult tickets are $45 but there are concessions for pensioners, seniors, students and 4MBS patrons; and no booking fee/consumption tax on top! Yes, they’re students but The Year 1905 Symphony is rarely heard in this country, particularly when the major Australian orchestras are concerned with cash flow and expanding their client base. In that context, where conservative programmers are racing for survival and leaving the hard stuff alone, a little child shall lead them.


Brisbane Chorale

St. John’s Cathedral, 373 Ann St., Brisbane

Sunday May 28 at 2:30 pm

The Chorale is presenting this concert under the auspices of 4MBS and that station’s Festival of Classics. The Bach is easy enough to assimilate as conductor/music director Emily Cox and her forces will present the Magnificat – but only the first movement: all 90 bars of it with three trumpets, timpani, braces of flutes and oboes plus continuo forces and strings. Seems like a lot of people gathered together for a short burst. Fortunately there’s more, if not much. On the program is Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, which could be Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe or Jesus bleibet meine Freude from the Cantata BWV 147. Doesn’t really matter: it’s 71 bars in both. Before this come the Mendelssohns. In Felix’s case, it’s a setting of Psalm 42, Wie der Hirsch schreit nach frischem Wasser (As the hart pants for fresh water; or, as the Chorale has it, As the deer longs for water; or, as I recall from my Gelineau days, Like the deer that yearns for running streams). This concentrates heavily on a soprano soloist who also enjoys the assistance of pairs of tenor and bass soloists in the penultimate movement. Double woodwind, four horns, strings and organ support the edifice while the full SATB choir actually frames the work at either end while the female voices carol along with the soprano through Denn ich wollte gern. All very lovely and German Anglican. But the afternoon’s real interest comes with sister Fanny’s Oratorio on words from the Bible, following the 1821 cessation of a cholera epidemic in Berlin. Despite the recent revival of interest in this writer, we still know so little, apart from the Piano Trio. This score packs 15 movements into a little over half an hour with choruses and solos alongside two duets (one involving the choir) and a trio. The soloists for this reading will be soprano Sarah Crane, alto Anne Fulton, tenor Paul McMahon and baritone (bass) Shaun Brown; with the Chorale, all will be escorted by the Sinfonia of St. Andrew’s, fresh from the nearby Uniting Church. Adults pay $55, as do Seniors; Centrelink concessionaries and 4MBS subscribers pay $50; students pay $20; other group costs can be arranged. But the booking fee for any ticket is $1.25, which is – given what other bodies try to scrounge out of you – almost forgiveable.