October Diary

Wednesday October 9

A MULTITUDE OF VOICES

Arcadia Winds

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

Well, there’ll be four of them, which isn’t too many.   Oldest of all is J.S. Bach who yet again comes in for a transcription exercise: the Organ Sonata No. 6 in G.   You’d have to assume that this will involve only three members of the Arcadia quintet – perhaps flute, oboe and bassoon?   Around this venerable construct are much more contemporary voices, like Steve Reich whose Vermont Counterpoint for amplified flute and tape will showcase the talents of Kiran Phatak.   English-Australian composer Andrew Ford’s Scenes from Streeton melds some of the artist’s paintings with what the various landscapes look like these days as reported by people who farm them; at the same time, there will be illustrative music, you’d hope.   This will be the world premiere of a work commissioned to commemorate the Recital Centre’s 10th birthday.   As a bonus, the Arcadians perform a work chosen as the recipient of their own Composition Prize.

 

Saturday October 12

Nevermind

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

This quartet, performing under the Musica Viva aegis,  comprises flute Anna Besson, violin Louis Creac’h, viola da gamba Robin Pharo and harpsichord Jesn Rondeau. Their collaboration in Baroque performance dates from their student years at the Conservatoire Superieur National de Paris – which can’t have been too long ago as they all look young, although their chronicled activities and discographies so far are impressive.   Tonight focuses on two composers: J.S. Bach and Telemann.  From the former come selections from the Art of Fugue, an arrangement of the Organ Sonata in C, and the Trio Sonata in G BWV 1039 which usually calls for two flutes as well as the inevitable continuo.    As for Telemann, the group plays the first and last of his Paris Quartets (of which these musicians have made a particular study), as well as Fuga 14 from the 20 Small Fugues which are not that small, nor what you would commonly call fugues.

The second program on Tuesday October 15 at 7 pm is more adventurous in scope for the audience.  The group starts off with some Marais –  Suite IV from the Trios for the King’s Bedtime.   Then comes L’Espagnole from Couperin’s Les Nations suite.  The Nevermind fixation on Telemann is exercised here as well with No. 4 of the Paris Quartets.  The ensemble moves into unknown territory for most of us with quartet sonatas by Quentin and Guillemain – once (in the 18th century) well-known names, now all but forgotten.

 

Sunday October 13

A THOUSAND THOUGHTS

Kronos Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

The fabled group is here as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival’s meagre serious music line-up.   This time, the Kronoi are accompanying a documentary film by Sam Green and Joe Bini, the subject of which is  –  you guessed it   –   the players themselves.   Such larks.   I can’t think of an exercise more self-reflective than playing the score to a film about yourself, but that’s the sort of thing you can get away with when you’re numbered among the legends.   This exercise lasts for 85 minutes with no interval – which either argues for the concentration necessary for such an experience or a fear that audience numbers might plummet if the chance arose for an interval exit.   But you can’t be too unkind about a group that gave us those searing performances of George Crumb’s Black Angels dating back about 45 years.   And, as with the Ardittis, where would contemporary music be without them?

This program will be repeated on Monday October 14 at 7 pm.

 

Thursday October 17

STALIN’S PIANO

Robert Davidson

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

This odd program is another element from the Melbourne International Arts Festival collation.   It features pianist  Sonya Lifschitz playing the music of Robert Davidson, a Brisbane composer-musician whose name hasn’t come across my path, as far as I can tell.   The hour-long work has an audio-visual component and it offers pretty much everything  –  ‘a maelstrom of history, politics, art and rebellion.’    Great.   The pre-performance blurb makes reference to Maria Yudina, an uncompromising pianist of the Soviet era admired by Stalin, or so the story goes.   She was a proponent of 20th century music and was a fellow-student of Shostakovich.   Whether her repertoire features in Davidson’s work, I don’t know; whether he quotes giants that Yudina favoured like Bartok and Stravinsky is unclear.  All will be revealed on the night

 

Friday October 18

SPRING: LU SIQING IN RECITAL

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Lu is the MSO’s soloist-in-residence for 2019 and tonight gets the opportunity to show his abilities in recital, rather than in the concerto format.   He collaborates with Melbourne-based Chinese-Australian pianist Angela Li in a program that moves from solid repertoire to frolicsome encore material with a couple of Chinese bagatelles in the middle.   Debussy’s Violin Sonata of 1917 makes for a brave opening, immediately followed by Beethoven’s F Major Spring Sonata.   Lei Zhenbang’s Why Are the Flowers So Red is essentially a folk-song, presumably organised here for violin/piano duo; Lei arranged it some time ago with Julian Yu for a CD entitled Willow Spirit Song.   Cantonese composer Han Kun Sha’s Pastoral is a straight duo and, as far as I can tell, an original composition.  Then we come to the show-pieces: Kreisler’s Praeludium & Allegro, Svendsen’s Romance, and Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen to raise the performance temperature while the aesthetic level sinks to the flashy virtuosic.  Nevertheless, this violinist is a brilliant performer, not just a fleet-fingered lightweight.

 

Friday October 25

NEMANJA RADULOVIC

Ensemble Liaison

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

It’s the hair.  Every time Serbian violinist Radulovic hits Melbourne, the promotional photos feature the musician in full flight with his substantial mane streaming around his skull.   What does this crowning glory have to do with his playing?   Well, the only way to find out is to drop in and watch the man at work, alongside his friends from Ensemble Liaison – cello Svetlana Bogosavljevic, clarinet David Griffiths, piano Timothy Young.  The night begins with J.S. Bach’s Clarinet Sonata in D minor BWV 1034, better known as the Flute Sonata in E minor.    Bogosvljevic and Radulovic collaborate on Johan Halvorsen’s Passacaglia on a Handel original theme.   Khachaturian’s G minor Trio for clarinet, violin and piano will enjoy a rare outing, only to be outshone by Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, presumably in a violin/piano format.   And another arrangement ends the night: Griffiths’ version of the monumental Brahms Piano Quartet in G minor, in which the clarinet takes the viola line, although a few of us will find it hard to repress memories of Schoenberg’s brilliant orchestration of this score.

 

Saturday October 26

BRAHMS’ REQUIEM

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

This performance will be one that uses two pianos as an orchestral substitute; all quite hunky-dory as Brahms arranged the work himself in this format.   The players are Donald Nicolson, better known to me as the harpsichordist member of Latitude 37, and Tom Griffiths who has been the MSO Chorus’s principal repetiteur/accompanist for yonks.   Soloists are soprano Lee Abrahmsen and baritone Simon Meadows while the lengthy work will be conducted by Chorus Master Warren Trevelyan-Jones.   The concert begins with two Schutz motets: a precursor of the Requiem’s conclusion in Selig sind die Toten; and Herr, nun lassest du deinen Diener – the Song of Simeon that the composer set twice.   Sorry I can’t get to it; besides the tender and massive choral complexes, there is little more wrenching and moving in Western music than the Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit movement – enough to make humanists of us all.

 

Monday October 28

INTIMATE BACH

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

A bitzer of a program here.   There will be Bach, beginning with the Violin Sonata in A minor; no, not all of it – just the third movement Andante.   This will probably feature Richard Tognetti in solo mode.   And the night ends with my favourite Brandenburg Concerto: No. 6 with two violas as the top voices.   Speaking of which, one of the night’s guests will be composer/violist Brett Dean.   The program’s second piece brings the other guest into play: Erin Helyard will give a harpsichord accompaniment to Tognetti (one expects) in the Violin Sonata No. 2.   Adding to the mix are selections from the  15 Three-Part Inventions which will be surely entrusted to Helyard.   As punctuation, patrons get to experience Kurtag’s Hommage a J.S.B. which is for a solo instrument – any one you have to hand, it appears; the Sonnerie de Sainte-Genevieve du Mont de Paris by Marais that generally involves violin, viola and continuo; and Dean’s own Approach (Prelude to a Canon), here enjoying its Australian premiere.

 

Wednesday October 30

Quatuor Ebene

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Like the Kronos, this quartet has been fortunate in retaining most of its original members.  Violinists Pierre Colombet and Gabriel Le Magadure have been there since the beginning in 1999; so has cellist Raphael Merlin.  Only the violist has changed: from Mathieu Herzog to Adrien Boisseau to Marie Chilemme who has been an Ebeniste since 2017 and the ensemble’s first female.   For its Australian debut under our Recital Centre auspices, the ensemble plays three Beethoven works: Op. 18 No. 2 in G, the Serioso Op. 95 and the Harp Op. 74.   This comes about because the players are celebrating the composer’s 250th birthday (next year, in fact) by playing all 16 quartets as they tour the globe, recording their performances and, for local colour, audience reactions.   Quite a challenge for musicians who have not really specialised in any corner of the repertoire, although a CD (recorded in Vienna?) of the first two Razumovsky quartets is to be issued at the end of September.

 

Wednesday October 30

BEETHOVEN’S BACK!

Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, MLC Kew at 7:30 pm

OK, although for many of us he never went away.   Kathryn Selby and two friends we’ve not seen so far this year – violinist Andrew Haveron from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster desk, and cellist Richard Narroway who becomes Lecturer in Cello at Melbourne University’s Faculty of Music next year – take up the Beethoven challenge with two sonatas and a piano trio.   First up is the penultimate cello sonata, Op. 102 No. 1 in C with its unusual two-movement structure operating in a time-frame of about 15 minutes.   Then comes the C minor Violin Sonata No. 7 which takes nearly twice as long; this is the work that Brahms is reputed to have transposed up a semitone at sight to accommodate Remenyi’s unwillingness to re-tune his violin.  Well, the composer became a master of chromatic shifts, so it’s sort of credible.   Finally, all three musicians work through the Op. 70 No. 2 – a welcome appearance given the popular penchant for its companion: the Ghost Trio.   These three works offer an interesting tour of significant points in Beethoven’s compositional journey; a nimble piece of programming that avoids the well-trodden path.

 

 

 

September Diary

Tuesday September 3

Viktoria Mullova, Matthew Barley & Stephen de Pledge

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

A piano trio that comes under the Recital Centre’s promotional heading of ‘Great Chamber Ensembles’, its violinist and cellist are familiar names – husband-and-wife team Mullova and Barley  –  but who is de Pledge, apart from being a friend of the family?  Guess we’ll find out on the night.   To open, we hear the Ravel which will test he friend/pianist, and the group winds up with the glorious Schubert in E flat – one of those feasts that always satisfies.   In between comes a new work by Salina Fisher. a young New Zealand composer/violinist    I’m assuming this is the piece for cello and piano commissioned by Chamber Music New Zealand that is being taken around the composer’s home country later this month; hard to tell from Fisher’s website where her list of works is not up-to-date and this Melbourne appearance doesn’t rate a mention in the list of performances of the composer’s works.

 

Wednesday September 4

THE GAME CHANGERS

Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, MLC, Kew at 7:30 pm

Kathryn Selby’s colleagues for this recital are familiar from previous years: violinist Susie Park and cellist Julian Smiles.   It’s fair to say that these performers are not game changers, but then you’d be pressed to find much revolutionary about the composers highlighted on this amiable night’s work.   Elena Kats-Chernin has become a major presence on this country’s music scene but not for her ability to make us re-think our perceptions.   Blue Silence in a piano trio version was arranged in 2012 for the Streeton Trio, six years after the piece’s original composition for cello and piano.   Based on a four-note motif, the score is as formally -placid and non-directional as a Satie Gnossienne. In Ravel’s Violin Sonata No 2 (the one we all know with the Blues middle movement), the composer experiments with jazz inflections but it hardly represents any blazing of new pathways; Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue appeared three years before this sonata and really altered  public attitudes – for a while.   Smiles and Selby take on Britten’s first composition for Rostropovich: the Cello Sonata of 1961 which started the British composer on his sequence of five splendid scores for the Russian master.  This program concludes with Dvorak in F minor, Op. 65 which signified a directional change from the composer – less nationalism, more abstraction.   Like the Ravel, it’s a game changer more for the writer than for the landscape of European serious music.

 

Saturday September 7

PETRUSHKA

Australian National Academy of Music

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

There’ll be no soloists in this program from the ANAM orchestra.   We hear the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin’s opera Prince Igor, recently aired by the MSO and its Chorus, although I don’t think there’ll be any singing here.   Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat follows with what are called ‘Suite selections’ – two sets to choose from but probably no singing despite the original’s two songs for mezzo.  Then comes the title work, also given recently by the MSO and a severe test still for a young orchestra.  You’d think that the outer tableaux depicting the Shrovetide Fair would be the most problematic, but the two central scenes present problems of a different character with their concentration on individual and small group filigree work.   Tonight’s conductor is Brazilian-born Eduardo Strausser, a young gun with a string of successful appearances to his credit in South America and Europe.   He made his Australian debut last year with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, goading that ensemble through the Bruckner Symphony No. 4; this ANAM program is, in comparison, almost frivolous.

 

Sunday September 8

CELEBRATING MOZART

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

Apart from a Haydn prelude  –  the Symphony No. 39 called Tempesta di mare for reasons I can’t fathom  –   this program is all-Mozart.   You’d assume the Haydn was selected to balance Tognetti’s final offering: the Mozart G minor Symphony No. 25 that enjoyed unusual exposure in Forman’s Amadeus film.   The artistic director takes a solo with the Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, yet another spirit-lifting delight from the teenage composer.    Guest artist Dejan Lazic – a truly formidable pianist – returns to the ACO to perform the E Flat Concerto No. 14 which is a piece you won’t hear often although several commentators place it at the start of the remarkable central group of such works in the composer’s oeuvre.   I think it has a brilliant first movement but is not as enthralling in the following Andantino and Allegro.  Lazic makes a further contribution with a Rondo Concertante that he has arranged from the finale to the B flat Piano Sonata K. 333.    I thought the original would have been too bare-boned and direct for any kind of transformation but Lazic may give us a startling re-composition/adaptation.   We’ll see.

This program will be repeated on Monday September 9 at 7:30 pm.

 

Friday September 13

MOZART 40

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

Not much to report about this night.   Conductor Benjamin Northey takes us on a brisk journey through Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony No. 1, which is always agreable to experience if the players are in skittish form for its 14 minutes’ worth.   Then the MSO’s own Thomas Hutchinson takes the lead for the Strauss Oboe Concerto which lasts for an atypically brief 25 minutes; this soloist currently occupies the Associate Principal position under Jeffrey Crellin, who has been in the main chair for 42 years.   Northey then gets the chance to expound the great G minor Symphony and you’d have to wish him well in attempting to bring something new to these all-too-familiar pages, shamefully bowdlerized by pop music cretins and ad men with absolutely no idea about the worth of their adopted material.   There’ll be some immediate interest in seeing (and hearing) whether Northey uses the version with clarinets.

 

Saturday September 14

Emerson String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Not that it matters, but this ensemble will play its second program first in Melbourne.  The well-settled group – one personnel change in 43 years – takes its name from Ralph Waldo, a philosopher more often used as a reference than as reading material; what I know about him derives pretty much completely from Charles Ives.  The musicians begin with Haydn Op. 71 No. 2 which will probably hold plentiful surprises for Emerson enthusiasts because this particular work does not feature in the ensmble’s The Haydn Project recordings.   Beethoven’s middle Razumovsky, they have recorded to mixed reviews.   No raised eyebrows with the centre work, either: Bartok No. 5.   In short, a program from a well-respected ‘name’ quartet, calculated to highlight the players’ abilities in core repertoire.

The Emersons will perform their Program 1 on Tuesday September 17 at 7 pm.   This comprises Mozart in D Major K. 575, first of the Prussian series which the group has recorded; Dvorak Op. 51 in E flat. oozing nationalistic flourishes, particularly in its second half; and Shostakovich Op. 92 which the Emersons have also recorded and which makes an odd match for the second program’s Bartok.

 

Sunday September 15

PIANOS AND PERCUSSION

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Iwaki Auditorium, Southbank at 11 am

When you read that heading, the first thing that comes to mind is the Bartok Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion and sure enough: that masterwork from 1937 leads the two-part agenda for this recital.   It’s not uncommon to come across it on programs, even these days when the composer is recognized by an ever-shrinking repertoire, but you rarely hear the score achieved with complete confidence.   Here’s hoping pianists Louisa Breen and Leigh Harrold with MSO percussionists John Arcaro and Robert Cossom breeze through its three movements with aplomb.   The morning-into-afternoon concludes with Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story in an arrangement originally for two pianos by American composer/pianist John Musto, transmuted even further by Cossom to include the two available percussionists.   A pretty short recital, which may not stretch past noon as the two works last for about 50 minutes combined.  But no: I’m forgetting those laborious spoken introductions and commentaries that bring this extraordinary music down to the level of banality.

 

Thursday September 19

MOZART AND ELGAR: AN EVENING OF VARIATIONS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Hmm . . . Elgar. . . Variations.   No secrets here, then: we’re in for the Enigma, conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth who is solidly British in background and no close relation to Mark, a fine musician who could have been the MSO’s sometime chief conductor if the stars had aligned, I believe.   Anyway, good luck to Ryan and his interpretation of this hoary collection.   As guest soloist, we hear Paul Lewis in Beethoven’s Concerto No. 3 which is being substituted for Wigglesworth’s own Mozart Variations . . . a new score that might have given some expanded relevance to this concert’s title.   Never mind: Lewis is a remarkable, insightful artist heard here in concertos too rarely.   To begin, Lewis and Wigglesworth collaborate as soloists in Mozart’s Two-Piano Concerto in E flat: a secret pleasure as my favourite above most of the better-known one-piano concerto masterworks.  And my lack of discernment is exhibited yet again by a partiality for the Keith Jarrett/Chick Corea live performance from 1985.

This program will be repeated on Friday September 20 in Costa Hall, Geelong at 7:30 pm.

 

Friday September 20

IVES WESTLAKE DEBUSSY

Australian String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

The Quartet No. 1 by Ives had no subtitle when I first heard it back in the 1960s.  Now the ASQ have labelled it From the Salvation Army; American groups have called it A Revival Service.   Whatever its sobriquet, the work is packed with hymn tunes and – up until the last movement – an orthodoxy that disturbs because you keep waiting for the biting clashes that signify the composer’s idea of a man’s music as opposed to all that French slop being produced about the same time (1898-1902).   Speaking of which, Debussy’s Op. 10 Quartet at the end of tonight’s program dates from 1893 and is a fine example of the kind of writing that Ives detested; we less Spartan minds have learnt to make allowances.   Nigel Westlake’s new piece being premiered on this tour is his String Quartet No. 3, about which no information is readily available.   It enjoys its first performance in Sydney on September 4; then in Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth before being expounded to the discerning ears of Melbourne’s chamber music aficionados.

 

Saturday September 21

LA PHILHARMONIC WIND QUINTET

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

The American players – flute Denis Bouriakov, oboe Ramon Ortega Quero, clarinet Boris Allakhverdyan, bassoon Whitney Crocket  and horn Andrew Bain – open with a welcome burst of nationalism through Barber’s sophisticated and benign Summer Music before employing the services of an ANAM bass clarinettist for Britten’s 1930 Movement for Wind Sextet – a window into the 16-year-old composer’s practices.  Then we cross the Channel in a big way.   An ANAM pianist (Timothy Young?)  gets to join the Los Angeles musicians for Poulenc’s Sextet before we take a step back in time for Gounod’s Petite symphonie which entails the assistance of further ANAM musicians  –  an oboe, a clarinet, a bassoon and a horn.   Milhaud’s Chamber Symphony No. 5 expands the participating personnel by one, requiring a piccolo, a cor anglais to help the oboe, that bass clarinet again, an extra bassoon and another horn.   Finally, the visitors will be duplicated by a home-grown group in Francaix’s 9 Pieces caracteristiques for double wind quintet.   If nothing else, the evening bears evidence of the immense debt that wind players owe to France.

 

Tuesday September 24

Paul Lewis

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Back in the thick of the recherche, this fine British pianist is again confining himself to a circumscribed field.   He begins with Haydn in E minor Hob XVI.34 which, as far as I can detect, has not featured in his recordings of music by this composer.   It’s a pretty terse work, the three movements rushing past with an unusual conciseness of rhetoric.  Continuing his predilection for late works by the masters, Lewis then focuses on the Three Intermezzi Op. 117 by Brahms where the melancholy and resignation of old age colour every page: extraordinary creations of apparent simplicity.   For his finale, Lewis takes on Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations which has not enjoyed the exposure of Bach’s Goldberg and probably lags behind the Baroque work in any universal discography.   You can wait many years to hear the Diabelli live; I believe that I’ve heard it only once – at one of Stephen McIntyre’s  one-day piano festivals at St. Michael’s Church.   To an unprepossessing tune, Beethoven brought all his hard-won craft and you’d anticipate an engrossing interpretation of this lengthy score from this player gifted with consummate skill and a working intellect.

 

Thursday September 26

MENDELSSOHN’S VIOLIN CONCERTO

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Terribly popular, this concerto.   It seems hardly a year goes by without its appearance on an MSO program.  Not that you can whinge about its coming up yet again when the soloist is Ray Chen, a violinist of great accomplishment and insight (when he’s playing something worthwhile).   Tonight’s director/violinist is MSO Concertmaster Dale Barltrop who leads us into a light-filled program with Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri Overture and brings us home with Schubert’s Symphony No. 3 where the concluding frolic of a presto brings to mind the composer who opened the concert.   As a sort of programmed encore, Chen and Barltrop collaborate in Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Violins in A minor, which Bach transcribed, along with three other concertos by the Italian composer, for organ solo.   As a composite presentation for this hall, this all strikes me as effective and appropriate; nothing sombre and little that would benefit from a noticeable echo.

This program will be repeated in Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University on Friday September 27 at 7:30 pm.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

July Diary

Thursday July 4

LANG LANG

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Lang Lang came here many years ago in the first flush of his success to play with the MSO: Tchaikovsky No. 1, I think.  Rapturous applause but I was unmoved; a player with full mastery of the tricks but no idea what he was dealing with.  Packing a lot more exposure and experience, he’s back in yet another of the administration’s by-the-book programs.   No, that’s not fair.  It may follow the overture/concerto/symphony format of yore but not slavishly.   Conductor Kirill Karabits opens this celebration with the incomparable lightness of being that is The Marriage of Figaro Overture; thrown off hours before the premiere, according to legend.   But it’s still barely 4 minutes’ worth of festive greatness.   The guest pianist dis/continues the prevailing strain with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24, the overture’s companion in Kochel’s catalogue and a C minor harbinger of Beethoven.   Among the final flurry of the composer’s piano concertos, it sticks out like a sore thumb for its intransigence of expression (except for the amiable middle Larghetto) and is a real test of Lang Lang’s interpretative strength.   For us old-timers, the work is a deviation: 40 years ago, a celebratory gala with a focal Mozart concerto would have been hard to imagine without the presence of a superstar like Haebler in town.   Ditto for the symphony, which is not the Rachmaninov No. 2  –  an MSO favourite  –  but the No. 3 which  I’ve heard the orchestra play twice.   More concise than its predecessor, this score is another splendid  canvas for the performers to unveil.  Karabits remains an unknown quantity; all his work so far appears to be Eurocentric.

 

Saturday July 13

LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

What do you think will happen when Sir Andrew eventually leaves his chief conductor post with the MSO?   Will this annual observance fall into abeyance?   We can only hope.  I can’t be the only one who thinks that, with these Last Night events, you might just as well leave at interval because the second half is as processed as a ham-and-cheese roll from Coles.   The pre-Brexit chain-rattling of imperial reassurance will echo across the decades with the usual Elgar/Wood/Arne/Parry predictables.   Before this prolonged excuse to roll out the Union Jacks, patrons get some familiar works and a handful of unknowns.  Violinist Lu Siqing, the MSO’s Soloist in Residence, will vault through Saint-Saens’ rollicking Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.  And then, presumably, go home.  Soprano Greta Bradman has more to do, beginning with two operatic favourites: Una voce poco fa from Rossini’s Barber of Seville, and poor Leonora’s D’amor sull ali’ rosee just before the Miserere in Verdi’s Il trovatore.   The MSO Chrous will be given the chance to animate Parry’s Blest pair of sirens where Milton comes in for the Pax Britannica treatment.  Bradman returns with an odd brace in Horn’s Cherry Ripe juxtaposed with a work by the singer’s grandfather: Sir Donald’s Every Day is a Rainbow Day for Me which stems blamelessly from the Victorian music hall – melodious and four-square.   To conclude the interesting if scrappy first half, Michael Hurst’s Swagman’s promenade offers a medley of Australian tunes (among the Irish and English ones that have been smuggled past customs) calculated to make you nostalgic for the brain-dead Menzies era.

 

Sunday July 14

HEROIC BEL CANTO

Victorian Opera

Hamer Hall at 5 pm

What’s so heroic here?   Well, primarily, the music is most taxing and not the kind of thing we hear from any organization.   The first half is all-Rossini and he is also a main contributor to the program’s second part.   It looks like the company is preparing for a production of Semiramide: we hear the Overture, Arsace’s Eccomi alfine in Babilonia, the heroine’s Bel raggio lusinghier, the mother-and-son Ebben . . . a te; ferisci duet.  Intertwined with these four will be two scraps from Ciro in Babilonia, the lesser-known of the composer’s two Lenten operas: Avrai tu pur vendetta for the tenor role Arbace, and Chi disprezza gl’infelici from the mezzo confidante Argene.   As well, we get a reminder of the company’s recent essay at Guillaume Tell with Arnold’s famous Asile hereditaire.  After interval, the composer’s massive catalogue gives us two arias from the delicious L’Italiana in Algeri – Isabella’s Act 1 cavatina, Cruda sorte! and the slightly later Ai capricci della sorte – and the night ends with the concluding trio and finale from Le comte Ory.  Bellini scores one guernsey – the overture to Norma –  and the company offers four Donizetti pieces: the heroine’s entrance from Linda di Chamounix, O luce di quest’anima; Deserto in terra from Dom Sebastiano (the same as the eponymous hero’s Seul sur la terre from the original Dom Sebastien); O mon Fernand, Leonore’s big self-sacrifice from La favorite which so accurately prefigures the work’s final curtain; and Livorno. dieci Aprile from Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali, a dramma giocoso about which I know nothing – but one of this night’s singers will be an expert: soprano Jessica Pratt recorded the work 8 years ago for La Scala.  The other singers will be mezzo Daniela Barcellona, tenor Carlos E. Barcenas, ‘and guests’.  Richard Mills conducts what one hopes will be an evening of revelations.

 

Sunday July 14

The Melbourne Musicians

St. John’s Southgate at 3 pm

Out of the regular MLC series, this program takes the Musicians back to their former seat of operations.  To say its appeal is catholic is an understatement.  Frank Pam conducts two Bach violin concertos: the A minor BWV 1041, with Anne Harvey-Nagl as soloist; then the E Major BWV 1042 in a transcription featuring Justin Kenealy’s soprano saxophone.   Mozart’s bracing, magnificent Sinfonia concertante partners Harvey-Nagl with violist Sally Clarke.  But the fun comes with tenor Lorenzo Iannotti and his bracket of Caro mio ben, Schubert’s Ave Maria, and O sole mio.  In fact, you can find nothing to argue with in most of this afternoon’s work.  The Bach works are spiritually cleansing, although you’d have to have reservations about Kenealy’s timbre in this close space.  You’d hope Pam will supplement his strings with pairs of horns and oboes for the majestic Mozart.   As for the Italian/Latin songs, I’m predicting a popular success, even though the tenor is an unknown force to me

 

Sunday July 14

PATRIOTS CONCERT 2

Corpus Medicorum

Melbourne Recital Centre at 5 pm

An orchestra of medical people  – practitioners and auxiliaries – that I’ve heard once before.   It’s conducted by Keith Crellin who occasionally revisits his trademark viola but is now more firmly linked with the baton, directing this and other orchestras in Adelaide.   The program involves only two works and one of them is calculated to stroke the plumage of a certain  kind of patriotism: Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony No. 3 with its broad-bosomed chauvinism serving as an advantage throughout an atypically happy construct.   Preceding this, violinist Markiyan Melnychenko and cellist Michael Dahlenburg front the Brahms Double Concerto which has suffered a poor critical reception for many years but I can’t see why.   Mind you, my affection for it sprang from a long flight leg many years ago during which the classical audio channel got stuck so you had access to a few works only: excerpts from Berlioz’s Romeo et Juliette and this concerto were the recurring highlights – hour after hour.  Whatever the abilities of the orchestra itself, I can speak highly of the two soloists’ professional skills.

 

Thursday July 18

THE RITE OF SPRING

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

The city performances marry a concert-hall cliche with a bourn undiscovered outside the pages of text-books.   Sir Andrew Davis revisits the work that, in 1913, re-defined serious music; after The Rite of Spring, nothing was even potentially the same again and those ignorant enough to dismiss Stravinsky’s chef d’oeuvre in the following decades by pursuing the traditional paths have suffered the fate of all those who stand in the doorway and block up the hall.   The rhythmic changes remain compelling and abrasive, the melodies superbly apposite (now that Taruskin has revealed to us that most of them are folk-tunes), but the orchestration must have shown the composer’s peers how much they still had to learn.   Davis draws on the MSO Chorus and two children’s choirs to present the 1934 melodrame Persephone to a Gide text.  As for principals, his Eleusinian Mysteries originator Eumolphe will be American tenor Paul Groves; the narrator is Lotte Betts-Dean who I’m supposing will not follow commissioner Ida Rubinstein’s lead and dance as well (the four other dance roles are not mentioned on the MSO site).  At the Geelong performance, Persephone disappears (as she does every year), replaced by Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and the 1919 suite that Stravinsky fabricated from The Firebird – the one that we all know and which makes us comfortable.

This program will be repeated – well, half of it – on Friday July 19 in Costa Hall Geelong at 7:30 pm and, in its original format, back in Hamer Hall on Saturday July 20 at 2:30 pm.

 

Saturday July 27

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Hamer Hall at 7 pm

The famous choir is back again, moving into a large space that can host its many admirers.  While it may be singing in Melbourne twice, it will sing the same works on each night; unlike Sydney, which will enjoy an almost completely separate menu at its night/matinee performances.   We will be treated to some all-too-familiar repertoire staples – Gibbons’ Hosanna to the son of David, Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols (really?), Byrd’s Laudibus in sanctis.   The singers will work through an off-shore bracket with Bach’s Komm, Jesu, komm, Monteverdi’s settle-down motet Cantata Domino, and the four-part Salve Regina by Cavalli.   The remainder is solidly British, for the most part: Loquebantur variis linguis by Tallis, Master of the Queen’s Music Judith Weir’s setting for last Christmas’s Nine Lessons and Carols in Cambridge of Wesley’s O Mercy Divine (this calls for the assistance of Sydney Symphony Orchestra principal cellist Umberto Clerici); Vaughan Williams’ setting of Bunyan sentences in Valiant-for-Truth (who’s going to supply the organ-or-piano intro? Probably harpist Alice Giles who’s involved in the Britten Christmas collation).   Erollyn Wallen’s 6-minute PACE suggests novelty – so far.  Like the Weir, a new work by our own Ross Edwards will enjoy its Australian premiere.  Singing the Love currently retains its mysteries, including the origin of its text, but we can hope for an outpouring of Maninyas ecstasy to brighten up what looks like a by-the-numbers event.

 

This program will be repeated on Tuesday August 6 at 7 pm in the Melbourne Recital Centre.

June Diary

Monday June 3

Kirill Gerstein

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

A pianist who sits on the uncomfortable fence between jazz and classical, Gerstein is yet another new name to me, although his career so far as been peppered with significant accomplishments.  He’s centred in America and Europe for the most part, with a few side-trips to Japan and China (Republic of).  He might have hit these shores but I can’t recall it.   His program is all things to all men: Liszt’s Eroica Transcendental Study (Gerstein recorded the lot three years ago) and the Funerailles from Harmonies poetiques et religieuses; a Debussy brace in the late Elegie and Les soirs illumines par l’ardeur du charbon, the composer’s last piano work written in gratitude to his coal supplier; something a tad more mainstream in Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin; Janacek’s political protest Sonata From the Street; Beethoven’s Variations and Fugue in E flat, another gloss on the Eroica finale theme; the Berceuse from Thomas Ades’ 2016 opera, The Exterminating Angel; and a blast from the Armenian past in Komitas Vardapet’s Shushiki Vagarshapat and Unabi of Shushi, both from the composer’s Six Dances.  All that should keep the mental cobwebs at bay

 

Tuesday June 4

RESPIGHI, BRITTEN & VASKS

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Tognetti and troops persist in their fascination for the over-lauded abilities of Peters Vasks; on this program, they are giving the Australian premiere of the composer’s Viatore for 11 solo strings.  The work depicting a traveller in the infinite has two themes, one for the person him/herself and the other for infinity, a theme which, according to the composer, ‘does not change’ – metaphysicians, rejoice.  More earth-bound are the Overture and a few dances from Handel’s Alcina, once the national company’s solitary Baroque offering in the good old days when it had sopranos willing to, and capable of, singing the main role.  The third in the set of three Ancients Airs and Dances by Respighi ups the poressure quite a bit, including that wonderful Roncalli Passacaglia that exposes each of the string lines – well, first violins, violas and cells – with some slashing quadruple stops; let’s hope the players take it at a respectable pace, not dead slow as seems to be the norm whenever the direction Maestoso comes up.  The local content comes in Meale’s Cantilena Pacifica, an arrangement of the fifth movement from the composer’s tedious String Quartet No. 2.  And the night’s best music comes last in Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge; what a genius the young man had at 23 and how few were the flashes that surpassed it in his later career.

 

Friday June 7

BOLERO! SLAVA GRIGORYAN AND THE RHYTHMS OF SPAIN

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

You know just by the title that the night’s focal entertainment will be Ravel’s long crescendo and study in orchestration, especially if you have only one theme to deal with.  And, if Slava Grigoryan is involved, the Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez won’t be far away, either.  Filling out the corners of this popular Town Hall menu come Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat Suite No. 2 – Neighbours’ Dance (simple but inspired), Miller’s Dance, Jota – and Boccherini’s Ritirata notturno di Madrid in the Berio arrangement where you get four pieces superimposed for the price of one, but at least the tune is immediately recognizable thanks to Russell Crowe’s impersonation of a musical master and commander.   Also inserted in there somewhere is the Rapsodie espagnole by Ravel which gives you a better Hispanic soundscape than you get from the hysteria-promoting Bolero.   Benjamin Northey will conduct what looks like being a sold-out event.

 

Tuesday June 11

Doric String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

The group, founded in 1998, is represented as ‘the leading British string quartet of its generation.’  No, I don’t know who wrote/said this; some fatuous fan, I suspect  .  .  .  or probably some under-inspired promotional people.   Anyway, taking everything with a grain of salt, I find no fault in these just musicians – at least, until they get here.   At the core of their two programs sits a new work by Brett Dean; so far untitled, but you’d have to suspect that the form will be quadrilinear.   On this night, the musicians begin with Haydn’s The Joke in E flat and end with the big-boned Schubert in G, the composer’s last.

The Dorics will present their second program on Saturday June 15 at 7 pm. As well as Dean’s new work, the ensemble offers another Haydn –  B flat from the same set as The Joke, Op. 33 – and another weltering masterwork in Beethoven’s C sharp minor that focuses on one of music’s great slow movement/variation constructs.  After this, we’ll be able to see if the publicists/fans had it right.

 

Saturday June 15

EUMERALLA

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7 pm

This is a War Requiem for Peace, according to composer/soprano Deborah Cheetham.   In it, she is attempting to memorialise and put to rest the spirits of victims in a resistance war that ran from 1840 to 1863 around the Eumerella River running from Port Fairy to Portland.   I know nothing about this history, but I’m a product of my class, race and time; which also means that I can understand the composer’s need to speak of the war’s devastation on Aboriginal history and people, especially the Gunditjmara, and their descendants.   As well as Cheetham, the singers involved will be mezzo Linda Barcan, tenor Don Bemrose, the Dhungala Children’s Choir (celebrating its 10th birthday), and the MSO Chorus.   Instrumentalists come from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and Melbourne Youth Orchestras – as well as, I presume, the MSO.   In charge of this assemblage is Benjamin Northey who can turn his hand to anything and everything.

 

Saturday June 15

HOMAGE TO GIDEON KLEIN

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

By all means, let us celebrate one of the musical heroes of Theresienstadt who died under peculiar circumstances at the age of 24 in the last year of World War Two.   ANAM director Nick Deutsch and MSO principal clarinet David Thomas head a group of Academy musicians in this observation of the composer’s birth year centenary.   They will perform some of the Czech writer’s last compositions – the Piano Sonata of 1943 and the same year’s Wiegenlied.   From pre-camp times come the Woodwind Octet of 1940 and a Duo for violin and cello of 1941 that I believed he left unfinished because of his arrest.  Pointing clearly to his more traditional influences, a wind sextet will perform Janacek’s chameleonic Mladi.  And the night reaches even further back to Dvorak’s  Serenade for Winds, which boasts a mutable cast: two each of oboes, clarinets and bassoons, plus three horns.  There’s also an ad lib contrabassoon part, if you have a player to hand.   And/or there are parts for cello and double bass to reinforce the score’s lower textures.  Of course, every Czech writer has to take these great names into account but I hope their formidable chamber music pieces don’t cause us to forget the program’s shorter pieces by the talented and tragic young man who admired them.

 

Thursday June 20

MOZART’S REQUIEM

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Was it last year that we heard this overwhelming masterpiece?   Or am I confusing it with the Verdi?   Perhaps it was another body entirely than the MSO that presented its sober, brilliant strophes.   Whatever the truth of the matter, here is Mozart’s last unfinished important work, turned into grippingly dramatic material by Forman’s Amadeus film of 1984 even if a few improbable myths were not only heightened in the process but turned into meta-history.   Here, it is paired with Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite for reasons that might become clear on the night, but I doubt it.   All the soloists are familiar and welcome: soprano Jacqueline Porter, mezzo Fiona Campbell, tenor Andrew Goodwin, bass James Clayton.   The novelty comes with conductor Jaime Martin, a Spanish musician currently working with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, among other positions.   You’d assume that, despite all the experimentation and clever alternatives currently available, this performance will use the Sussmayr completion.  But what is the night’s shape?  Everybody in for Ravel’s fantastic fairyland, then out for interval drinks?   Back you come for Mozart’s sombre setting and forget what’s happened up till now?

The performance will be repeated on Saturday June 22 at 2 pm.

 

Friday June 21

RUSSIAN & FRENCH MASTERS

Duo Chamber Melange

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6:30 pm

This association of violinist Ivana Tomaskova and pianist Tamara Smolyar is presenting another series (albeit a short one) in 2019 of unexpected works from repertoire fringes.  On this night emerges a work that many of us will not know: Ravel’s A Major Violin Sonata.   In one movement and dating from 1897, the score is a subtle complex showing the harmonic and formal influence of Faure and Franck but the vocabulary has a powerful individuality.   The other historic oddity comes in Medtner’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in B minor which you will be pressed to find on any chamber music program in Melbourne over the past half century, despite the unremitting advocacy of Geoffrey Tozer.   In line with the Melange’s predilection for the outre, we will hear Jane Hammond’s mint-new Noisy Friarbirds in the Silky Oaks which explains itself, you’d think.   And, to ground the audience at evening’s end, we’ll hear Saint-Saens’ Danse macabre; Smolyar will have to work hard at the transcription (whose?) of the composer’s brilliant orchestral effects.

 

Friday June 21

BACH B MINOR MASS

Australian National Academy of Music

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

In one of the year’s four major concerts from ANAM at the Recital Centre, the context leaves the orchestral for once and goes vocal with a vengeance.   Thanks to a visit by the British ensemble VOCES8, the Academy appears to have what you could call basic vocal resources to tackle this long foundation work.   Currently, the group has two sopranos, an alto and a counter-tenor, two tenors, a baritone and a bass;  two more sopranos (locals) have been added to these forces – Susannah Lawergren and Amy Moore, both Song Company survivors.   It all brings back memories of the ridiculous performance mounted by Jonathan Mills in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to open a Melbourne Festival many years ago where the vocal numbers were about the same as in this performance and the strain of discerning what was happening wasn’t worth the pain.   Anyway, the ANAM organization will have much enjoyment on determining which authentic and/or modern-day instruments will be used.   Conducting is Benjamin Bayl, a Sydney-born musician who has worked for Opera Australia (but here?  I think not) and who will bring lashings of scholarship to the exercise; let’s hope he also has an equal amount of discernment with regard to the work’s volume levels – nothing worse than watching those open mouths during the Sanctus and hearing nothing.

 

Sunday June 23

THE KAPELLMEISTERS

Trio Anima Mundi

St. Michael’s Uniting Church at 2 pm

Back where they started off?   The Anima Mundi players open with Haydn in C Hob XV/27 which lasts about 20 minutes if you stretch but is one of those flawless scores that leaves you trailing after the composer, rushing to keep up with the fluency of every page, and I don’t just mean that rapid-fire Presto finale.   Carl Reissiger’s output includes 27 piano trios; the Anima Mundi will play his first one in D minor, which demonstrates the musician’s high reputation, not least in succeeding Weber as Kappellmeister of the Dresden Court.  If piano-heavy in its concentration, the score leaves the  two strings a wealth of melodic interest between the bravura moments.  This also is not impressive in length, even if you observe the first movement repeat.   But it’s quality, isn’t it?   And this organization is back on track again after an administrative hiccup.    You’ve got to admit: the recital’s title isn’t calculated to startle an observer into a fever of high anticipation.

 

Sunday June 23 

SZYMANOWSKI TO SUFJAN STEVENS

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

OK: prepare for a mind-expansion flight, courtesy of Richard Tognetti’s link-suggesting program that sits on a Polish tripod of Lutoslawski, Penderecki and Szymanowski, at the same time moving into a parallel triad of works by Johnny Greenwood from Radiohead, Bryce Dessner from The Nationals, and Sufjan Stevens from America.   Dessner and Greenwood have collaborated, as have Stevens and Dessner.   Have all three thrown in their lot at any one time?   Don’t know.   This is the intended procedure: the ACO plays Lutoslawski’s Overture for Strings from 1949, Bartok tropes all over the place; then we hear Dessner’s Reponse Lutoslawski (here enjoying its Australian premiere performances) which I thought was an answer to the Polish master’s Musique funebre for Bartok.   Does it make much difference?   We’ll see.   Stevens’ suite from Run Rabbit Run was based on an earlier work which was handed over to a group of composers to arrange for string quartet; at least, that’s what I understand happened about a decade ago at the instigation of Dessner.  You’d think that, with Michael Atkinson designated as the arranger, we”ll only get through five of the album’s 13 tracks; the others fell to different hands.   For reasons beyond me, the ACO then plays the Aria, No. 1 of Penderecki’s Three Pieces in Baroque Style which might just as well be a Respighi arrangement because of its lush reminiscence of an ancient air and dance.   Greenwood’s suite from the film There Will Be Blood – all six movements, presumably, with the requisite ondes martenot – precedes the Szymanowski String Quartet No. 2 in Tognetti’s transcription: an ACO favourite since the ensemble recorded it nearly 17 years ago.   What connection it has to either of the three contemporary composers is not clear – yet.

This program will be repeated on Monday June 24 at 7:30 pm.

 

Tuesday June 25

Vadim Gluzman

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Another in the Recital Centre’s series of Great Performers, Gluzman is a completely unknown quantity to me; not surprising as most of his activity has been European and American.   A brilliant light, I’m sure, but flickering on the horizon.   He has a reputation for promoting contemporary composers, although you have to wonder about his offerings on this one-and-only recital here.   Of course, there’s Bach’s D minor Partita and its pendant Chaconne.   And he’s offering Beethoven’s Kreutzer as another slab of more old-fashioned roughage.   In the modern field, we hear Part’s Spiegel am Spiegel – 10 minutes of F Major piano arpeggios and a slow-moving diatonic violin melody.   Some find it moving and enlightening; I want to scream.   And Lera Auerbach, another Gluzman favourite, is represented by her par.ti.ta for solo violin, here enjoying its Australian premiere.  Auerbach offers 10 short movements, probably tendering splintered Bachian perspectives if the syllabically punctuated title is any guide.   Not that this is really new: Auerbach wrote it for Gluzman back in 2007 and he has recorded it alongside tonight’s D minor Partita.  Daniel de Borah accompanies.

 

Thursday June 27

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC

Victorian Opera

Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7:30 pm

Possibly, I’m one of the few people of my generation who has never seen this Sondheim musical.    But then, I saw the Bergman film it was based on at the start of the 1960s and a few times since, always content with its trans-generational interplay.   Still, this production promises a good deal.   Nancye Hayes returns to play Madame Armfeldt; Ali Macgregor sings her daughter, Desiree; Sophia Walsey rounds out the family as Fredrika.   The warring unfaithful Malcolms are Verity Hunt-Ballard and Samuel Dundas.   As the mis-matched Fredrik and Anne Egerman, we see Simon Gleeson – whom I do know – and Elisa Colla – whom I don’t.   Henrik, not long for the seminary, is Mat Verevis who starred in that competition without substance, The Voice.   Alinta Chidzey has the part of Petra, Anne’s servant.   The promotional material also mentions Paul Biencourt, Kirilie Blythman, Michelle McCarthy and Juel Riggall as ensemble members – possibly contributors to the Chorus-type Quintet.    Stuart Maunder directs, as he has so often for this and other companies.   Phoebe Briggs conducts.

The musical will be repeated at 7:30 pm on Friday June 28, Saturday June 29, Tuesday July 2, Wednesday July 3, Thursday July 4, Friday July 5 and at 1 pm on Saturday July 6.

 

Friday July 28

TCHAIKOVSKY’S VIOLIN CONCERTO

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Welcome back to conductor Jakub Hrusa, an MSO favourite with performers and audiences.    He’s starting tonight with a little-known orchestral poem by his distinguished countryman, Dvorak: The Wood Dove.   It’s a substantial piece with a gloomy underpinning story but has a splendid tapestry for listeners to experience.   The night’s soloist will be Vadim Gluzman, fresh from his Great Performers recital at the MRC, ready to take on the night’s titular work.   Here’s hoping that this violinist gives us a reason or six to be subject to yet another experience of this warhorse.    Hrusa finishes with Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s suite for piano, Pictures at an Exhibition.   This is the earliest composed of the night’s works which all fall within a little over a 20-year range.   Of course, this temporal ambit is expanded by the Frenchman’s orchestral transcription which dates from 1922 and is one of the great transformations of its kind.   Still, it makes for a lop-sided night: the poem and concerto come in about 54 minutes, while the suite rarely cracks half an hour.

This program will be repeated on Saturday June 29 at 7:30 pm and on Monday July 1 at 6:30 pm.

 

 

 

 

May Diary

Wednesday May 1

MEDITERRANEAN FEAST

Songmakers Australia

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

Of the seven elements in this sometimes-Mediterranean recital, three are by Rossini, that superlatively cosmopolitan European composer who was never content to be a homebody.   We are also to hear a Massenet piece, a scrap from Turina, and two true oddities:  Habanera by the great 19th century soprano Pauline Viardot, and Perche due cuori insieme by the 19th century Italian/British conductor Michael Costa.   Soprano Merlyn Quaife, mezzo Christina Wilson, guest tenor Brenton Spiteri and bass Nicholas Dinopoulos will enjoy the accompaniment of Songmakers stalwart Andrea Katz.  Two of the Rossini pieces are for all four voices (I assume Wilson will take one of the tenor lines in Cantiamo, ridiamo, che tutto s’en va) while the other is a duet; Viardot’s piece is either a solo or a female duet; the Massenet Chansons des bois d’Amaranthe comprise five accompanied vocal settings – a duo, two trios and two quartets; Costa’s product is a complete unknown and untraceable; Poema en forma de canciones by Turina consists of four solo songs (probably for soprano) preceded by a Dedication for solo piano.   Sounds like fair shares all round.

 

Thursday May 2

METROPOLIS NIGHT ONE

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

This year’s MSO Metropolis concerts feature works by Dutch contemporary master Louis Andriessen who is celebrating his 80th birthday.  We haven’t experienced much of this composer’s music in live performance here, although his influence has been spread by means of some of his students  –  Damien Ricketson and Graeme Koehne  –  who are familiar names in Australia.   The focal point of this opening concert in a surprisingly long-lived festival of new music is Andriessen’s . . . miserere . . . : a string quartet, later arranged for string orchestra and having some formal connection to Allegri’s only well-known choral work.   Supplementing this come three Australian pieces: a new score by Barry Conyngham; Koehne’s three-movement Capriccio from 1987  for piano and strings where the soloist will probably be the composer’s countryman, Ralph van Raat; and another one-time Andriessen pupil, Kate Moore’s freshly-minted Magenta Magnetic which showcases the talents of percussionist Claire Edwardes.   This two-concert bundle from the MSO is conducted by American musician Clark Rundell, Professor of Conducting at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

 

Saturday May 4

METROPOLIS NIGHT TWO

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

The second Andriessen-honouring program concludes with a collaboration between the venerable Dutch master and this night’s conductor, Clark Rundell; well, more of an arrangement.   The new work, enjoying its first Australian performance, is based on Andriessen’s 1999 opera, Writing to Vermeer.  The work, Vermeer Pictures, is a suite based on the opera but without any sung component.   As for the preludes to this, the evening will go all Cybec.  Last year’s MSO Young Composer in Residence, Ade Vincent, has collaborated with vocalist Lior to create Forever Singing Winter into Spring, an art/pop song cycle in four seasonal sections which involves electronics as well as your regular symphony orchestra; and this year’s Composer in Residence, Mark Holdsworth, presents his new Cri de coeur which boasts no other resources than a plain orchestra; just how plain remains to be seen.

 

Monday May 6

THE ART OF FUGUE

Brodsky Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

With a new first violin on deck in Gina McCormack, this estimable British ensemble is playing a wide-ranging miscellany that includes two parts of Bach’s magnificent edifice: the single fugue Contrapunctus I and the counter-fugue Contrapunctus VI.   Having dispensed with this calling card, the group then moves into later explorations, first with Mozart’s Bach tribute: the stern Adagio and Fugue.  Mendelssohn follows: the 4 Pieces for String QuartetAndante, Scherzo, Capriccio, and Fugue.   For those not already fugally sated, the Brodskys will outline Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge.  Back to Bach for the  solo Violin Sonata No. 3 in C with its massive second movement fugue; you’d have to assume that McCormack would be performing this ultra-demanding score, although the group’s original second violin Ian Belton might put up his hand for the task.   And the feast concludes with Shostakovich: his String Quartet No. 8 which begins fugally and reverts to the form’s techniques as its two finale largo movements sink into total despair.

 

Tuesday May 7

NEW PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION

ZOFO

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

It may be that with this presentation Musica Viva is moving into areas where its less limpet-like followers will not follow.   Still, full marks for novelty.   ZOFO comprises pianists Eva-Maria Zimmermann and Keisuke Nakagoshi, both playing on the one instrument in the best 19th century domestic music-making format.   Their program comprises an update of Mussorgsky’s solo piano masterpiece; they commissioned pieces from a wealth of composers from 15 different countries to accompany a visual art works, one that each individual composer selected for treatment.   You probably know some of these composers but to me all but one is a stranger: Australia’s own Carl Vine.  There’s Frenchman Gilles Silvestrini, Israeli Avner Dorman, Poland’s Pawel Mykietyn, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh from Azerbaijan, Chinese-American Lei Liang, Jonathan Russell from America, Indonesian-New Zealander  Wayan Gde Yudane, Kenji Oh from Japan, Cecile Marti from Switzerland, Iranian-American Sahba Aminikia, Russian-Briton Gabriel Prokofiev, American Samuel Adams,  Pablo Ortiz from Argentina, and Keyla Orozco from Cuba.  Each composition is discrete, separated from its companions by a Promenade, the whole prefaced by a Mussorgsky-mimicking Introduction.   Played at MOMA last year, the piece lasted about 75 minutes and I assume that, as then, the work will be given tonight without interval.

This program will be repeated on Saturday May 11 at 7 pm.

 

Wednesday May 8

LOVE & DEVOTION

Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, MLC at 7:30 pm

And so it is, with one of the great marriages, pseudo-adoptions and worshipping-from-afar in music history, actually verified by a chain of historical data.   The love and devotion are best exemplified by the relationship between Clara and Robert Schumann, a dedication on his part that lasted from their first meeting to the sad ending in the Endenich asylum; and, from her, an unwavering loyalty to his work and memory that endured across the 40 years of her widowhood.   Then came Brahms, who adored both husband and wife from his first encounter with them in 1853 but maintained a platonic relationship with Clara up to her death, a year before his own.   Selby and her friends for tonight – violinist Grace Clifford, cellist Timo-Veikko Valve – present one work by each of these three composers: Clara’s Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Robert’s Piano Trio No. 1, and the Piano Trio No. 1 by Brahms – all written within a seven-year span.  While respecting the Schumann family products, it’s the Brahms work that moves the spirit – one of chamber music’s highest glories.

 

Thursday May 9

PIANO PICTURES

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

Back in Melbourne for yet another expose on what’s taking up attention on the contemporary piano scene, Lisa Moore is partnering ANAM’s resident piano-meister Timothy Young.   Together they will play Hallelujah Junction, John Adams’ two-piano composition from 1996 – no, not that contemporary but representative of a happy mind-set, and welcome for that alone.   Some of the ANAM pianists will join in the fun for Steve Reich’s Six Pianos of 1973, which makes it a pretty venerable objet d’art although it shares an obsessive predilection for phasing with the Adams work that kicks off the night.   Reich wants six upright instruments so the players have closer access to each other.   Another 6-piano work follows in Benjamin A. Wallace’s Fryderyk Chopin’s Psychaedelic Technicolor ‘Lectro-Funk-Core Superstarlit Ultra-Throwdown on Op. 28 No. 4, which bases itself on the Largo E minor Prelude and is only two years old.    Finally, using the sextet of pianos once more, we hear an arrangement by New York-based American musician Paul Kerekes of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition which I’m assuming has not been rejigged and so comes in as the night’s senior guest at this pianistic wedding, dating as it does from 1874.  Perhaps referring to ‘contemporary’ was not the best program descriptor.

 

Friday May 10

ROMEO AND JULIET

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

It’s a Slavic night, if not totally Russian.   Conductor  Stanislav Kochanovsky hails from St. Petersburg; born in 1981, he’s making a solid reputation for expertise in  orchestral and operatic works, particularly those of his home country.   His 2017 performances with the MSO of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 pleased everybody except me.   He leads off tonight with the original version of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, a product that the composer’s mentor Balakirev criticised severely; sadly, Mussorgsky never heard this work, least of all in the revision by Rimsky-Korsakov which has become standard on concert programs.   The night concludes with excerpts from Prokofiev’s great ballet; not one of the three suites, then, but possibly a captain’s pick by Kochanovsky.   In between, Russian pianist Julianna Avdeeva, the Chopin Competition Prize Winner of 2010, is soloist in that composer’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor.   Squaring the ledger for any age-information egalitarians, Avdeeva is 33.

The program will be repeated on Saturday May 11 at 7:30 pm, and on Monday May 13 at 6:30 pm.

 

Saturday May 11

RIGOLETTO

Opera Australia

State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7:30 pm

It’s back.   Elijah Moshinsky’s scenic updating of Verdi’s psychologically ugly opera is here to thrill us again.   Not that the mise-en-scene matters overmuch; what you come for, to a very familiar work like this, is the singing, isn’t it?   Well, you’d never know from the reviews by most of my colleagues who spend a large part of their time talking about the sets or costumes or lighting or dancing; it’s easier than having to make an informed judgement on the voices and whatever was happening in the pit.   The title role is to be taken by Amartuvshin Enkhbat, a Mongolian baritone who has a vast experience in this role – Kiel, Naples, Verona, Genoa, Parma, Palermo, Monorca, Salerno, and Turin; he goes on after Melbourne to sing the role in Macerata and Florence.  That’s a helluva lot of Italian houses, so he’d have to be more than passable.   Our own Stacey Alleaume sings Gilda, and the plum role of the Duke of Mantua goes to Armenian tenor Liparit Avetisyan. Filling out the last act’s quartet is OA regular Sian Sharp as Maddalena.  Most of the minor roles have also fallen to familiar quantities: Gennadi Dubinsky as Monterone, Luke Gabbedy as Marullo, Virgilio Marino as Borsa, Christopher Hillier as Ceprano, Dominica Matthews as Giovanna; the only unfamiliar name is Roberto Scandiuzzi who sings Sparafucile.   Andrea Licata conducts.  Watch out for the dancing: it’s woeful.  Raise a cheer for the final act’s car, the set designer’s sad salute to De Sica.

Further performances will follow on Wednesday May 15, Wednesday May 22, Saturday May 25, Monday May 27 and Wednesday May 29 – all starting at 7:30 pm – and a matinee on Saturday May 18 at 12:30 pm.

 

Sunday May 12

BRANFORD MARSALIS

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

Two of the Marsalis family visiting Melbourne  in one year!  A few months ago, Wynton brought his Jazz at Lincoln Centre ensemble to town for a collaboration with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; now big brother Branford is appearing with the ACO under Satu Vanska in a catholic program that will feature some heavy saxophone contributions.   Alongside two concertos – well, a fantasia by Villa-Lobos, and British composer Sally Beamish’s own arrangement of her 2006 viola concerto, Under the Wing of the Rock – there is a fair amount of dross.   Piazzolla enjoys a fair innings with the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (each indistinguishable from the other) and the over-exercised Libertango.   Two movements of Ginastera’s Concerto for Strings will be played, the middle scherzo and adagio omitted in favour of the flashy outer pages; not one of the composer’s finer efforts, being cobbled together from his own String Quartet No. 2.   Villa-Lobos gets a second run with the Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5; no mention of a soprano soloist or of where the ACO will source the requisite 8 cellos.   Osvaldo Golijov continues the Latin flavour with the first movement of his two-part Last Round, dedicated to the memory of Piazzolla as a street-fighter.   Starting the whole thing are Stravinsky’s 1919 Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet (preferably the performer will have both A and B flat instruments on hand) – presumably, this features Marsalis down-sizing.   Catholic, indeed: all over the place.

This program will be repeated on Monday May 20 at 7:30 pm.

 

Tuesday May 14

PIERS LANE PLAYS BACH AND CHOPIN

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6:30 pm

The notable expatriate Australian pianist is certainly playing those two composers – the Well-Tempered Clavier‘s staid Prelude and Fugue No. 14 in F sharp minor from Book 2, then an uneven Chopin bracket in an impromptu, a waltz and the B flat minor Piano Sonata.  That out of the way, Lane offers a Russian group to finish: the Op. 21 Six Pieces on a single theme of Tchaikovsky, dedicated to Anton Rubinstein and neglected by him in the composer’s lifetime almost as much as they are by pianists these days; and Stravinsky’s Three movements from Petrushka, written for another Rubinstein  –  Arthur  –  who, oddly enough, failed to record them.   This last is an odd choice for this polished musician to include in an otherwise urbane evening’s music; I’m sure he has it firmly under control, but it has brought many another pianist to grief, especially those who enter its Shrovetide Fair finale with a determination to pound.   I’d pin my expectations for the best Lane on the all-embracing Chopin Impromptu No. 2 and the Tchaikovsky suite.

 

Thursday May 16

LUDOVIC MORLOT: A NIGHT AT SEA

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

 

Morlot, leaving his moderately substantial tenure as music director of the Seattle Symphony this year,  is the sole focus of this watery exercise.   He opens with a bon-bon and ends with a marvel.   Liadov’s Enchanted Lake was a regular stocking-filler for orchestral programs half a century ago, holding a place that the MSO preferred to occupy with Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila Overture.   Before the inevitable Four Sea Interludes from Britten’s opera Peter Grimes, the conductor presents a rarity from Sibelius: The Oceanides tone poem where nothing seems definite but the score surges with assured magniloquence to its muted conclusion.   Before reaching the evening’s apogee with Debussy’s La mer, after which other musical waters sound tepid, we hear La source d’un regard from 2007 by Marc-Andre Dalbavie, a former pupil of Boulez and habitue of IRCAM.   It starts out sounding a touch like Britten’s Sunday Morning interlude but settles into a dazzling chain of timbral patterns and super-impositions.  What it has to do with water escapes me, even given the opening noun in the work’s title.

This program will be repeated on Friday May 17 in Costa Hall, Geelong at 7: 30 pm.

 

Friday May 17

MOZART PROJECT 2

The Melbourne Musicians

Tatoulis Auditorium, MLC at 7:30 pm

Continuing its three-program focus on some of Mozart’s piano concertos, the Musicians will escort Elyane Laussade through the delectable F Major K. 459: without question, my favourite in the whole series for its uncomplicated sophistication and a slow movement – actually an Allegretto, so not too slow – that  boasts an appealing unsentimental eloquence.  Frank Pam concludes this night’s operations with the Haydn Symphony No. 49, La Passione, written 16 years before the Mozart concerto.   Some lesser Mozart prefaces the major works: 12 German Dances, being given their premiere.  They could be the K. 586 set but these call for an odd orchestral format  –  two each of the four woodwind, pairs of horns and trumpets, timpani, and violin with double-bass.  It’s quite possible that these brief pieces might not have gained the attention of any Australian orchestra so far.    And the Haydn is preceded by Dittersdorf’s Symphony in F Major, a four movement construct of no great pretensions with a rondo second movement and the same format for its finale, only needing pairs of oboes and horns to complement the usual Musician strings.

 

Saturday May 18

ENGLISH BAROQUE WITH CIRCA

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Why does this work?   I don’t know.   The questionable combination of circus and Baroque music (not always strictly adhered to) has produced two memorable events in recent times.   It isn’t really a balanced business: the gymnastic feats of the Brisbane-based troupe attract your attention much more easily than the instrumentalists and/or singers, but it’s not too lop-sided; indeed, the last Spanish-inflected concert on 2017 worked to great success,  Paul Dyer’s assembled pieces complementing the physical action effectively.  This year, the music comprises works by Dowland, Purcell, Handel, Corelli (well, his works permeated Europe, so why not England?) and the Neapolitan-born (probably) Nicola Matteis who enjoyed a splendid career in late 17th century London.  Fleshing out the Renaissance and High Baroque bookends will be some folk-songs including the Gartan Mother’s Lullaby from Donegal and Hole in the Wall which has somehow become associated with Purcell’s Abdelazar.   Singing the Lullaby and assorted other treats – Dowland’s Behold a wonder here, Thanks to these lonesome vales from Dido and Aeneas, Handel’s Gentle Morpheus – is Sydney-born soprano Jane Sheldon.

 

Saturday May 18

COSI FAN TUTTE

Opera Australia,

State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7 pm

When the Eastern Metropolitan Company was still operating, it produced a version of this opera that has stayed with me for years.   At the end, the lovers reconcile in Mozart’s scenario; the EMO producer had his cast play this as an unpalatable outcome, neither pair happy and the men as bad-tempered and disgruntled as pretty much all the male participants in the recent season of Married at First Sight.   Here is a new production which transposes the action to pre-World War One, hopefully still set in Naples.   The cast is mainly local: Jane Ede (Fiordiligi), Anna Dowsley (Dorabella), Taryn Fiebig (Despina), Samuel Dundas (Guglielmo), and Richard Anderson (Don Alfonso).  The one import, Pavel Petrov, is a young Belarusian tenor (Ferrando) whose exposure to this role starts here; I thought he might be in Australia for his experience in the Rossini opera that follows this one in the national company’s Melbourne season, but no: his Cavalier Belfiore from last year’s Graz Opera is not wanted.   Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson is making her Australian debut tonight; the director is David McVicar; the all-important set and costuming are the responsibility of Moritz Junge.

Further performances will take place at 7 pm on Saturday May 18, Tuesday May 21, and Thursday May 23.  A matinee will; be given on Saturday May 25 at 12:30 pm.

 

Thursday May 23

LES ILLUMINATIONS WITH EMMA MATTHEWS

Ensemble Liaison

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Britten’s song cycle was written for soprano/tenor and strings.   Tonight’s version will be an Iain Grandage arrangement; the Ensemble has the necessary soprano in Matthews but what can you make of the Ensemble’s clarinet/cello/piano personnel to take the place of the composer’s highly idiosyncratic instrumental textures and attacks?   Not quite as challenging is the last movement from Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 where Matthews summons up an odd vision of Heaven, sadistic and gluttonous with a self-congratulatory conclusion.   Still, the text comes from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which collection the composer found hard to leave alone.   The recital begins with Britten also: Three Folk Songs (take a guess which of the 61 we’ll hear).   Falla’s Suite Populaire Espagnole is also promised, presumably in the arrangement by Maurice Marechal for cello (Svetlana Bogosavljevich) and piano (Timothy Young).   New Zealand composer John Psathas adds to the mix with his 1996 Three Island Songs which don’t ask for a singer but the Liaison configuration of cello, piano and clarinet (David Griffiths).   I’m very fond of these musicians but is there enough here?   The Psathas lasts about 13 minutes; the Falla Suite possibly the same; Britten’s cycle about 17 minutes; the Mahler lied, 10 minutes at a stretch; and most of the folk-song settings are pretty brief – on average, between 2 and 3 minutes each.   Say about an hour in all; mind you, to me, that’s an ideal length as long as the missing minutes aren’t made up for by rambling explanations and verbose statements of the obvious.

 

Friday May 24

IL VIAGGIO A REIMS

Opera Australia

State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7 pm

It’s a fair drive these days from Plombieres-les-Bains, where this opera takes place, to Reims toward which town most of the main characters are aiming in order to attend the coronation of Charles X in 1825; about 300 km, which would have been a fair hike at the time.   It’s no news to relate that nobody in the opera got to the big smoke, which means they were all saved from an extraordinary celebration for an unpleasant man.   Still, that wasn’t Rossini’s problem, since he couldn’t predict how unpopular the last of the Bourbon top rank would make himself.   It’s the composer’s last opera in Italian, which is something, I suppose.   Or it would be if Rossini hadn’t thought so little of it that he didn’t see it lasting more than a few performances and later rifled it as source material for another work.   This production’s main claim to fame is its use of art – as backdrop and as clothing/masks for various characters.   Well, you need something to distract from the inane plot and a plethora of showy, pointless arias.   The cast is a large one but, like the company’s current Cosi, contains mostly local artists: Lorina Gore (Corinna), Emma Pearson (Contessa di Folleville), Julia Lea Goodwin (Madama Cortese), Sian Sharp (Marchesa Melebea), Shanul Sharma (Conte di Libenskof), Warwick Fyfe (Barone di Trombonok), Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Lord Sidney), Luke Gabbedy (Don Alvaro), Conal Coad (Don Prudenzio), John Longmuir (Don Luigino) and Christopher Hillier (Antonio).  The imports are: American soprano Jennifer Black (Maddalena), making her first essay at this opera, as far as I can tell; Juan de Dios Mateos (Cavalier Belfiore) which role the Spanish tenor has sung in Barcelona as well as negotiating three minor roles in a more recent Viaggio production at Deutsche Oper Berlin; Italian baritone Giorgio Cauduro (Don Profondo) also seems to be a Viaggio virgin.  Australian conductor Daniel Smith makes his debut with the company after a prestigious career so far in Europe during which he conducted Il Viaggio in Pesaro and St. Petersburg.   The original director was Damiano Michieletto, whose function is here fulfilled by Meisje Barbara Hummel.  The opera is in three acts, but the company has scheduled only one interval.   In this ludicrously brief ‘season’, do we really have to put up with this inconsequential frivolity?

 

Friday May 24

BEETHOVEN & BRUCKNER

Australian National Academy of Music

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Principal conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Nicholas Carter returns to his former finishing school to conduct the latest crop of ANAM musicians in  two symphonies, both the fourth in the composers’ catalogues.  The Beethoven B flat Major Symphony is not well-known, sitting with Nos. 1 and 2 as pretty neglected.   But it radiates good humour and benevolence once the opening Adagio has been dismissed – which it is in splendidly brusque style.   The work asks for pin-point precision in the outer movements and a wide range of inflections during the substantial Adagio.   Bruckner’s Romantic Symphony in E flat Major, one of the composer’s most congenial sprawls, asks for a rich depth that is a doubtful quantity in the Murdoch Hall.   As usual in Bruckner, the symphony also requires a fearless choir of four horns who are front and centre from the third bar onward, not least during the bounding Scherzo with its rapid-fire triplet chords.  Here’s hoping the orchestra has staying power; that last movement all too often becomes an effort-laden test of stamina rather than the composer’s intended magnificently warming sonorous tapestry.

 

Monday May 27

MOORE BEETHOVEN BRAHMS

Australian String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

You can’t beat these ASQ program titles for maximum information in the shortest possible space.  For this leg of the group’s annual series, we are to hear two solid repertoire stalwarts.  The Beethoven is No. 4 of the master’s first set of six string quartets, Opus 18; despite its numbering, this score was the last in the set to be written and is the only one in a minor key with a generous emotional underpinning in its outer movements of restlessness and standing as a harbinger of the fierce intensity that the key of C minor would come to have for Beethoven.   Brahms took a long time to publish his first quartet, the Op. 51 No. 1, but he had the crazy idea that a work in this format needed to be polished up to its best advantage.   Also in C minor, the work is informed by its own brand of restlessness, a turbulence of spirit but still constrained.   Kate Moore’s new work, enjoying its world premiere at the ASQ hands, is apparently her third string quartet.   I can’t find mention of her first two, although there is Sketches of stars from 2000, as well as Violins and skeletons from 2010   –  which could well be her Nos. 1 and 2.   What little I’ve heard of Moore’s music has not lingered in the memory but there’s always hope.

 

Wednesday May 29

SLAVIC PASSION

Seraphim Trio

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

This fine ensemble  –  violin Helen Ayres, cello Timothy Nankervis, piano Anna Goldsworthy  –  has been working for 25 years now.   For the first program in its all-too-short recital series for 2019, the trio performs an ever-welcome standard: Smetana in G minor.   Written, as the composer admitted, as a result of personal tragedy, the work is a searing elegy, encapsulating the Czech composer’s honesty of expression.   As a preface, the Seraphims will play Suk’s Elegie, 5 minutes’ worth of slender late Romanticism and a less scorching memorial than that by Smetana.  Tucked in the middle of these passionate Slavs comes Richard Mills, whose Piano Trio is a new commission and is, I assume, the Portraits and memories work that the Seraphims will play at the Art Gallery of Ballarat the day after this Potter Salon event.   Whose portraits, what memories have yet to be revealed.

 

Wednesday May 29

MOZART SYMPHONY NO. 29

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

The MSO’s principal viola has charge of this night and will probably follow an established track carved out on previous similar enterprises by both directing and playing.   The night opens with Part’s Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten, one of the Estonian composer’s most popular works and always effective if the audience can refrain from its customary expectorational outbursts.   Moore then moves us to the memorialised himself with Britten’s Rondo concertante for piano and strings; a product by the 17-year-old student composer; I’ve never heard it and have gleaned only that it is in two parts.   Stefan Cassomenos is the lucky pianist to reveal this work to us.   As well, Cassomenos is the central figure in Britten’s Young Apollo for piano, string quartet and string orchestra which comes from 1939, the composer’s first year in America.    Mind you, it’s not very long – about 5/6 minutes – but it is almost insistently flashy.   Two Mozart works bring the program to a happy conclusion: the endearing A Major Symphony, of course, preceded by the splendid Serenata notturna  –  Eine kleine Nachtmusik for the Thinking Man –  which asks for timpani as well as strings, as the Part opener requires one tubular bell to give atmosphere to its remorseless violin scales.   By the way, this is another ‘short’ program; as far as I can tell, the combined offerings add up to about 70 minutes.

This program will be presented again in the Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University on Friday May 31

 

 

 

April Diary

Monday April 1

Teddy Tahu Rhodes & Kristian Chong

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6:30 pm

The well-loved baritone has given few Melbourne recitals, as far as I can recall.  Tonight he makes up for this famine with a solid program that offers three song-cycles.  Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte is a real cycle in its end being wound into its beginning and the whole six numbers being through-composed and musically linked.  Finzi’s Let Us Garlands Bring, five Shakespeare settings of great integrity, have not travelled well outside England.   Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, drawn from verses of that name by Robert Louis Stevenson, is also little attempted outside the English-speaking world, if having an easier path to appreciation than the Finzi suite.   A trio of Celtic tunes brings in an unexpected level of popular appeal – Raglan Road (presumably On Raglan Road, Patrick Kavanagh’s poem, set to The Dawning of the Day tune), Molly Malone and Loch Lomond.   Between the British song cycles, Rhodes and Chong will perform three lyrics by Calvin Bowman: West Sussex Drinking Song, The Night, and Noel – all three recorded for Decca last year by baritone Christopher Richardson.  This duo on paper makes a promising combination, both artists notable for their generosity of timbre and spirit.

 

Thursday April 4

MOZART’S CLARINET CONCERTO

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

You can be lucky – as a composer, as a performer, as an audience member.  Tonight, British clarinettist Michael Collins gets to play solo in his instrument’s greatest concerto.  Paul Dean, the MSO’s Composer in Residence for this year and former director of the Australian National Academy of Music, is presenting his own new Clarinet Concerto.    As a tick of public approval, the first night is sold out already; which may be due to the small (1001 seats) capacity of the MRC’s Murdoch Hall but in some small way also would have been brought about on the strength of the Mozart concerto’s attractiveness.  Most of us know Michael Collins and his musical progress –  Philharmonia, London Sinfonietta, Nash Ensemble, Royal College of Music, then a glittering freelance career; tonight, he plays and leads this well-loved work, which headed a Top of the Pops list fomented by ABC radio some years ago.   Immediately after the Mozart comes Dean’s new score, played by the composer with Collins directing; could be an unavoidable case of by their ambience ye shall judge them.   After interval, we are treated once more to the Beethoven Symphony No. 7: a welter of bludgeoning delight in three of its four movements while a dour tragedy informs most of the grave Allegretto.

This program will be repeated on Friday April 5 in the Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University at 7:30 pm.

 

Saturday April 6

BACH AND TELEMANN IN CONCERT

Pinchgut Opera

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

We don’t get to see Pinchgut productions in Melbourne, which is a great pity as the company’s repertoire engages with a bevy of neglected works by big-name composers.  When I say ‘neglected’, I mean ignored in this country where you can wait from one millennium to the next for the national company to program anything by Rameau, Vivaldi, Purcell, Charpentier (ancient or modern), Cavalli, Salieri, Haydn or Hasse.  Even Handel has fallen out of favour, now that the counter-tenor craze has passed.   These Baroque/early Classical works comprise Pinchgut’s stock-in-trade.   Anyway, let’s take what we can get; in this case, a night of  Bach’s Easter Oratorio and Telemann’s Thunder Ode.  The first is fairly well-known as an extended cantata that lasts about 45 minutes, here to be given as originally set out with SATB soloists (Alexandra Oomens, Anna Dowsley,  Richard Butler, and a choice between David Greco and Andrew O’Connor) with no choir.   Telemann’s work is of similar length, with five soloists (including the two basses) and, I assumed, a four-part choir but here also the soloists will be doing double service.    Erin Helyard conducts the Orchestra of the Antipodes: a body that I, for one, will be hearing live for the first time with keen anticipation.

 

Sunday April 7

LATE MASTERPIECES

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Iwaki Auditorium, Southbank at 11 am

Ringing in the MSO’s chamber music recital series will be the job for a string quartet and Philip Arkinstall whose clarinet enriched the recent visit by Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra.  This morning opens with a divertimento for string trio by Mozart, the K. 563 in E flat Major and a considerable six-movement work with a rich Andante plus 7 variations at its core.  As for performers, you can be sure of principals Christopher Moore on viola and David Berlin on cello;  the violin line will be taken by either concertmaster Sophie Rowell or principal second violin Matthew Tomkins.   The afternoon second half will be taken up by the Brahms Clarinet Quintet; hard to think of a better way to spend your Sunday than luxuriating in this superbly finished construct.  And, for once, the program’s title sums up these proceedings accurately.

 

Thursday April 11

VERDI’S REQUIEM

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Directing this dramatic setting of the Mass for the Dead is Lawrence Renes, a Dutch-Maltese conductor who is completely unknown to me.   He’s had plenty of opera experience – chief conductor of the Royal Swedish Opera, as well as working with the Netherlands and English National Operas; all of which will stand him in good stead here.  American soprano Leah Crocetto has enjoyed wide Verdi experience: Otello, Luisa Miller, Il trovatore, Falstaff, AidaDon Carlo and this Requiem last year in Spain.   Alto Okka von der Dammerau has less substantial Verdi credentials, although she has sung Emilia in Otello and Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera.   Issachah Savage, another American, sings the solo tenor, hopefully with the same power that he has brought to Radames, Manrico and Otello.   Tonight’s bass is Nicholas Brownlee, another American whose most recent Verdi experience was last year’s Simon Boccanegra in Karlsruhe where he sang the part of Paolo Albiani; he has also sung Banquo’s aria at the 2016 Belvedere Competition in Villach (he won).   If all this sounds like an unusually mixed bag of individual experiences, you can always trust in the MSO and its Chorus to give the performance a solid base of professionalism.

This program will be repeated on Saturday April 13 at 2 pm.

 

Friday April 19

ST. MATTHEW PASSION

Melbourne Bach Choir and Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm

Reverting to its foundation repertoire, the Bach Choir and Orchestra under Rick Prakhoff takes on this big Good Friday special which concentrates the attention remorselessly on the events of this day without a trace of Easter morning celebrations.   Sure, you can find consolation descending after the Es ist vollbracht but you leave the Murdoch Hall – one hopes – in imaginary penitential garb.   This reading of the Passion brings back some familiar voices: Andrew Goodwin ever-welcome as the Evangelist; Jud Arthur, familiar from national opera company productions, as the Christus; two Jacquelines – Porter and Dark – soprano and alto soloists respectively; Michael Smallwood the tenor (whom I last heard perform a fine Mullerin a bit over 3 years ago); and Jeremy Kleeman given the bass solos, coming into his own in the last part of the work.  Much of the score’s processes rely on the choirs, for whom this Passion is home-ground; the only information lacking is where Prakhoff is sourcing his boys’ choir for the opening and closing numbers of Part 1.

NEWS JUST IN: The boys’ choir needed for Part 1 will be supplied by VOYCE, the youth ensemble from the Victorian Opera company.   Which means, you’d guess, the appellation ‘boys’ will not apply – and a good thing, too.

 

Friday April 26

GHOSTBUSTERS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Not the all-female (except for Chris Hemsworth) remake but the original from 1984 starring Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, directed by Ivan Reitman (once described by Arnold Schwarzenegger as ‘a genius’, so it must be true).   The film did well at the box office – extremely well – and the MSO is counting on a lot of nostalgia out there, scheduling three performances in Hamer Hall; at the time of writing, there are plenty of seats available at all three performances, except for the first performance balcony where none appear to be on offer.   Benjamin Northey will add to his live soundtrack laurels by taking the MSO through Elmer Bernstein’s acclaimed score although the composer seems to have had as much trouble with studio shenanigans as did his contemporary non-relative Leonard with the West Side Story film transmutation.   Apart from the title number, the rest of the score is not vivid in my memory, despite my having seen the film several times.   That’s the attraction of these events: you have to focus on the music because it attracts unusually high attention, often becoming the dominant constituent in the aural mix.

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

 

March Diary

 

Tuesday March 5

MOZART, HAYDN & MORE

ACO Collective

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

The Collective is the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Younger Set, a group of young players who roam the country seeking whom they might entertain.  Not really, but the ensemble goes to places that the parent company doesn’t visit.  Of course, the Collective also gets to play in the ACO’s usual venues, one of which (occasionally) is the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall.   For this program, Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto is running the show and it’s as eclectic as any of Richard Tognetti’s more recherche collations.  The night starts and ends with American writer Pauline Oliveros’ Tuning Meditation which works much better with voices than with instruments; perhaps that’s what the Collective will do – sing, rather than play.   This whole in-my-end-is-my-beginning exercise centres on Haydn’s Symphony No. 47, the Palindrome where minuet and trio each mirror their first halves.   The Mozart element comprises 6 Contredanses K462 (448b), evidence of the imagination that the composer lavished on trifles.   A new work by Heather Shannon is programmed, although the MRC’s advertising mentions two new works by this Australian pianist with an indie rock band.   Most startling of all is the night’s second half which is set to consist, at the end, of a reprise of the Tuning Meditation after Hindemith’s hour-long Ludus Tonalis compendium of prelude, interludes and fugues for solo piano, the performer as yet unnamed  .  .  .  or will we be treated to a transcription?   Could be so, as wind players for the Australian National Academy of Music are catalogued as participants.

 

Friday March 8

FANTASY AND THE FIREBIRD

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

Back at the Melbourne Town Hall for another year of booming acoustics.   Benjamin Northey conducts a night of popular works which will clearly climax in Stravinsky’s Firebird  –  tonight, the 1919 suite, the ‘classic’ one of the composer’s three.   Solo pianist Kristian Chong has the delectable task of fronting Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; later, the composer gets further exposure, thanks to soprano Jacqueline Porter who sings his soulful 1915 Vocalise.   Beginning the night and shifting a tad to the geographical left, Northey conducts some excerpts from Grieg’s music for Peer Gynt; with Porter in the house, we’ll probably get a true Solveig’s Song.   Our own transplanted Russian (Uzbek), Elena Kats-Chernin, is represented by her Dance of the Paper Umbrellas, a 5-minute bagatelle that Northey and the MSO last played in 2015, two years after its composition.

 

Saturday March 9

BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Paul Dyer is conducting his ensemble in all of the concertos bar No. 2, the only one that asks for a trumpet soloist – admittedly, one of exceptional talent.   Still, it’s the second-shortest of the lot and you’d think the organization would want to give full value on this occasion.  Anyway, there’s plenty in the remaining five to keep you happy, especially in my favourites: No. 1 with its peripatetic horn lines, and the earthy textures of No. 6 for strings without any violins.   Can’t find any details about the soloists, although flautist Melissa Farrow has written on the company website about the Brandenburg experience, as has principal second violin Ben Dollman.   But these are works of elevating joy where nobody can hide so we’ll doubtless get to hear most of the ABO members as soloists, no matter how briefly.   Given Melbourne’s Bach worship, it’s probably safe to say that this event will be packed to the doors.

This program will be repeated on Sunday March 10 at 5 pm.

 

Saturday March 9

BLUE PLANET II LIVE IN CONCERT

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Plenary, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre at 8 pm

This will be a feather in the MSO’s conservationistical cap.  The original film, which took you across, through and under the world’s water expanses, escorted by Sir David Attenborough’s commentary, is enjoying the full treatment at one of Melbourne’s largest auditoriums.   Hans Zimmer, Jacob Shea and David Fleming were responsible for the original soundtrack and the MSO will air it, conducted by Vanessa Scammell.   In Sir David’s absence, the commentary will be read by English actor Joanna Lumley; patrons are in for a breathy, gushing vocal stratum to add to the MSO’s pointed illustrations.

This program will be repeated on Sunday March 10 at 3 pm.

 

Tuesday March 12

AN IMMORTAL LEGACY

The Sixteen

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

The famous British vocal ensemble is visiting under the sponsorship of the MRC itself, although clearly in partnership with other centres because the singers will present this program in Singapore, Sydney, then here before Queensland.   Founding director Harry Christophers has set up  –  without any sweat at all  –  an all-English program to celebrate The Sixteen’s 40th anniversary.   It intersperses Tudor gems with contemporary pieces; well, James MacMillan (two works: Sedebit Dominus Rex and Mitte manum tuam from the first set of his Strathclyde Motets)  is still above ground, even if Tippett (yes, the Five Negro Spirituals from A Child of Our Time) and Britten (of course: the Choral Dances from Gloriana) are long gone.   Tallis enjoys five exposures: Salvator mundi, O nata lux, O sacrum convivium, Loquebantur variis linguis, and some of the Tunes for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter, among which we’re bound to hear Why fum’th in sight.   The group’s output tonight contains a few well-known madrigals – Morley’s April is in my mistress’ face, Gibbons’ The Silver Swan, Byrd’s This Sweet and Merry Month of May.  This last is also represented in ecclesiastical mode with Laudibus in sanctis.   Finally, the program includes John Shepherd’s third setting of In manus tuas: the only work on tonight’s menu that does not appear on the group’s CD An Immortal Legacy of 2013.  Bit late for a promotional tour?

 

Friday March 15

MOZART PROJECT 1

\The Melbourne Musicians

Tatoulis Auditorium, Methodist Ladies College, Kew at 7 pm

This enterprise featuring director Frank Pam’s beloved Mozart will see pianist Elyane Laussade performing one of the piano concertos at each of the three concerts being presented at MLC in the hall to which Kathryn Selby has moved her recitals after decamping from Federation Square.   The Musicians will present an event on Bastille Day in their long-time stamping ground of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Southgate, and another special MLC program in November.  This opening gambit will see Laussade present the G Major K. 453, one of the six buoyant works in this form the Mozart wrote in 1784.   The program is framed by Haydn – the Menuetti Ballabili, all 14 of them; and the Symphony No. 83, La Poule.  Also, we will hear a 1791 Dittersdorf symphony in D minor which I can’t trace at all; but then, he wrote over 100 symphonies of definite attribution.

 

Saturday March 16

SIR ANDREW DAVIS AND LU SIQING

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Once again, the season has well and truly opened – what with the Chinese New Year, the Myer Bowl excursions, the first of the Town Hall programs – but here comes the 2019 Opening Gala; actually, it’s the first time this year that we see chief conductor Sir Andrew Davis in control.   A somewhat unoriginal program, but that’s clearly the organizers’ perception of their regular patrons’ taste.   Violinist Lu Siqing, the MSO’s Soloist in Residence (when did that sobriquet come into being?) is repeating his success with the Bruch G minor Concerto which he performed several times with the orchestra during last year’s tour of China.   Then Sir Andrew runs us through an MSO regular: Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony No. 6.   The opener is a bit unexpected these days, although at one time the piece was an annual inevitability.   Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from the opera Prince Igor offer a fine showcase for any interpreters – colour without depth – and will involve the MSO Chorus, in the interests of exactitude and courtesy to the composer.

 

Sunday March 17

BEETHOVEN & PROKOFIEV

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

Returning after an interval of three years, Italian violinist Lorenza Borrani will serve as soloist and director for this unusual program.   First up comes Prokofiev: the F minor Violin Sonata No. 1 in an arrangement that takes in the ACO strings.  This is not the delightfully robust D Major Sonata originally for flute but a more stormy and brusque creation.   Borrani eventually leads the ensemble through an arrangement of Beethoven’s final and even-tempered string quartet, the Op. 135 in F Major – presumably to balance the Russian work.   At the afternoon’s centre stands Such Different Paths by Dobrinka Tabakova, a Bulgarian-British writer.  This was written in 2008 and is a string septet.   It may retain that shape but who knows in this program of transcriptions and new clothes?   For me – and, I suspect, for several others – this will be a new voice but one that has already gained ongoing success through several significant prizes and commissions.

The program will be repeated on Monday March 18 at 7:30 pm.

 

Tuesday March 19

SCANDINAVIAN SONGS

Melbourne Art Song Collective

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

Collective regular Eidit Golder accompanies guest tenor Brenton Spiteri in an hour’s worth of Grieg, Sibelius and Stenhammar.   Not many surprises with the first two names: the Grieg is his Op. 48 Six Songs, settings of German poetry and climaxing in the demanding Ein Traum; Sibelius also gives us Six Songs Op. 50, and these too are settings of German texts, most strikingly in No. 5, Die stille Stadt.  Wilhelm Stenhammar is unexplored territory for me.   Spiteri and Golder are working through one vocal work by the Swedish composer: Four Stockholm Poems of 1918, which are in Swedish.  Then Golder gets to unveil the Sensommarnatter or Late Summer Nights: five virtuoso pieces from a gifted pianist-composer.  I’ve not heard Spiteri for a while but he has impressed me previously as an admirably clear singer with an individual performing personality.

 

Thursday March 21

MAHLER 10: LETTERS AND READINGS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Yes, all very lovely but Sir Andrew Davis is really straining in toils of his own self-manufactured web now.   When is he going to present the Symphony No. 8?   I know it sounds like carping, but how can you set up a Mahler cycle and not get round to The Big One?   As a makeweight, the MSO will perform this final version of the composer’s sketches by Deryck Cooke, a rendition which has come to dominate the scene in the face of competition from other completions and arrangements.   Still, a fair number of Mahler expert conductors won’t touch this re-working, so we’re lucky to hear it – I suppose.  As he’s done previously, Sir Andrew will give us a helping of supplementary material before the playing gets underway, having actor/director Tama Matheson step up to read some words by the composer to contextualise the work for us.   Sounds like vamping: the symphony lasts over 80 minutes and stands on its own merits, despite the purists’ rejection.

This program will be repeated on Friday March 22 in Costa Hall, Geelong at 7:30 pm and on Saturday March 23 in Hamer Hall at 2 pm.

 

Sunday March 24

RED, WHITE, AND BLUE

Trio Anima Mundi

St. Michael’s Uniting Church, Collins St. at 2 pm

Allons, enfants.  The tricolor flies proudly through the first work in this recital: Ravel’s Piano Trio.  This exhilarating masterpiece is fast becoming a chamber music cliche, even if it is irresistible for every ensemble with this make-up.   It’s curmudgeonly to cavil at interpretations of the slow movement  –  hard to get wrong, I would have thought – but getting the balance right in the finale can prove a disaster for many pianists and the Pantoum second movement can all too often have its spikes blunted.  After this, the TAM will play Harry  Waldo Warner’s 1921 Piano Trio which won that year’s Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Prize, 20 years before Britten also received a Coolidge Award.   Warner, an Edwardian/Georgian composer and violist, is one of the chamber music writers being resurrected in this ensemble’s Piano Trio Archaeology project.  Let’s hope the field excursion is a rewarding one for us all.

This program can also be heard at Montsalvat, Eltham on Saturday March 23 at 2 pm.

 

Tuesday March 26

NEW WORLDS

Acacia Winds

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

The personnel of this excellent ensemble is as expected for tonight’s recital: flute Kiran Phatak, oboe David Reichelt, clarinet Lloyd Van’t Hoff, horn Rachel Shaw, bassoon Matthew Kneale.  They are juxtaposing works by American and Australian composers, the native-born works so new that, at the time of writing, they don’t have titles.  The Acacians have performed Lachlan Skipworth’s Echoes and lines quintet over the past two years.   I heard Sam Smith’s work for orchestra interior cities at an MSO Cybec concert in 2016, but no chamber music so far.  As for the US scores, we’ll hear Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Higdon’s Autumn Music, a homage to Samuel Barber’s seasonal masterpiece for the same combination; and David Maslanka’s Wind Quintet No. 4 in three movements of 1985: a fine illustration of this writer’s facility at creating idiomatic, informed music for wind instruments.

 

Friday March 29

BEETHOVEN, MOZART AND SIBELIUS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Sir Andrew conducts a straight overture-concerto-symphony program with absolutely no surprises.   Except, possibly, the soloist –  pianist Alessio Bax who, as far as I can detect, isn’t related to Sir Arnold.   However, he has won two significant prizes: Leeds in 2000 and the Hamamatsu in 1997.   Here, he plays Mozart’s last concerto, No. 27 in B flat.  Preceding this, Davis and the MSO give us Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, packed with nobility and pregnant pauses.   To end, we hear Sibelius No. 1, long overshadowed by its successor but just as fine a composition and it doesn’t lay on the dominant-founded heroic suspense as much as the D Major work.  Expect extensive perorations in the outer movements.

This program will be repeated on Saturday March 30 at 7:30 pm and on Monday April 1 at 6:30 pm.

 

February Diary

Sunday February 3

THE FLYING DUTCHMAN

Melbourne Opera

Regent Theatre at 5 pm

Continuing its underlying program of Wagner promulgation, the city’s opera company is heading for the first so-called masterpiece, the doorway in the received canon.  We have seen this opera recently – three years ago, almost to the day, down at St. Kilda’s Palais  presented by Victorian Opera with 3D scenery.   A good way further back, I seem to recall the Victorian State Opera mounting the work at the State Theatre in 1987, following an earlier season at the Princess Theatre in 1978.   The only controversy that hit any of these preceding interpretations was at the 1987 season when an attempt to present the opera in its original form – in one continuous three-act swoop – came up against union demands for consideration of the musicians on OH&S grounds, so that an enforced interval came just at the point where Senta and the Dutchman confront each other for the first time. Anyway, this production finds the company in the Regent Theatre and the enterprise will be conducted by Anthony Negus who directed last year’s Tristan from Melbourne Opera.  British bass-baritone Darren Jeffrey has the most significant role of his career so far as the doomed hero.   Lee Abrahmsen sings Senta,  Rosario La Spina will probably take on Erik;  Roxane Hislop brings years of experience to Mary, Senta’s nurse; and Steven Gallop takes up the challenge of Daland.   For all its youthful status in the canon, this work is unforgettable for its brisk simplicity of action, mighty marine suggestiveness and intensely sympathetic vocal writing.

 

Tuesday February 5

THE ITALIAN GROUND: MUSIC FOR DANCING

Ludovico’s Band

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6:30 pm

As far as I can tell, the content of this recital comprises much of the CD that this ensemble produced for the ABC in 2007:  suites by Sanz, Kapsberger and Gianoncelli; a set of three compositions by Ruiz de Ribayaz; Mudarra’s Fantasia in the Ludovico manner; Castladi’s Quagliotta Canzone; Alessandro Piccinini’s Chiaconna; Murcia’s Gaitas y Cumbees; and the anonymous work that gives this night its title.   Still, it’s been 12 years or thereabouts since the recording was issued and ,although some of these pieces have emerged in Band outings across the intervening years, it’s always worth hearing the ensemble work through pieces that they have relished enough to endow with a sort of permanence.

 

Friday February 8

GERSHWIN & FRIENDS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sidney Myer Music Bowl at 7:30 pm

Back we come for the annual trilogy of free concerts under the stars, complete with picnics and light-hearted revelry on the lawn, while the senior citizenry takes its entertainment more seriously in the seating under the Bowl canopy.   Tonight, Gershwin is the presiding genius with the effervescent raucousness of the Cuban Overture, that jazz-civilizing tone-poem An American in Paris, and Australian-based-in-New-York pianist Daniel Le taking the spotlight in Rhapsody in Blue, one of music’s great ad hoc amalgams that still jolts you with the arrival of each episode on the underlying train journey it depicts.  The friends, apart from conductor Benjamin Northey and Le, also number Olivia Chindamo who will take part in her father Joe’s Fantaskatto, written for the singer and showcasing her talents at scat singing.   Chindamo premiered this work two years ago at the Brisbane Powerhouse; it has been described as ‘a concertante work with jazz, contemporary and operatic flavours.’   A sort of thematic mix-up, then – which is a fair description of these go-with-the-flow nights that are usually packed out.

 

Wednesday February 13

TREBLE HELIX UNLOCKED

The Song Company

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

The Sydney vocal ensemble which seemed to hold its members intact for many years, is tonight singing parts of the Eton Choirbook, a collection of Catholic liturgical music that survived the excessive destructive penchant of the longer-lived Tudor monarchs.  The Song Company will position itself around a focal point and sing at each other; we are invited to watch and marvel.   Of the 64 compositions available (well, 62: a couple are incomplete), we are promised a Magnificat (one of the 9 available),  Richard Davy’s Passio Domini, a swag of motets and the Jesus autem transiens/Credo in Deum 13-part canon by Robert Wylkynson who was Master of the Choristers at Eton from 1500 onward.   The personnel of the Company appears to have altered radically since I last heard them, but that was back in the Roland Peelman days; this ensemble has acquired a new director in Antony Pitts since Peelman hung up his non-existent baton in 2015.  The night’s title is bound to be meaningful but all it suggests to me is the three-strands of English composition that the Choirbook contains.

 

Wednesday February 13

CHINESE NEW YEAR

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

The MSO has ventured its arm in many ventures over the years but this night promises an exceptional welcome to the Year of the Pig.   The Mongolian group Hanggai is advertised as a ‘traditional-meets-rock band’, one which adapts folk tunes for a modern format.   Now, even with no knowledge of the music of the steppes, I’m prepared to guess that numbers like Swan Geese and Horse of Colours could be traditional songs; about The Transistor Made in Shanghai, doubt rears its none-too-credulous head.   But, as usual, what do I know?   It’s probably been sung for decades across Ulaanbaatar and in trend-setting yurts for miles around.   Tan Dun conducts, of course, and introduces us to his Double Bass Concerto, The Wolf Totem, with MSO principal Steve Reeves the soloist, and the composer’s Cellphone Symphony Passacaglia (Secret of Winds and Birds) which involves the audience playing an app of birdsong which we have all downloaded prior to the concert and which turn on at a specific point in the work.  Audience participation indeed, and a neat turning of the tables on those morons who cannot conceive of existing socially, even in mid-concert, without the assistance of their own audio-visual life-support systems.

 

Wednesday February 13

Grigoryan Brothers and Wolfgang Muthspiel

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

This recital was to have involved Muthspiel, Slava Grigoryan and Ralph Towner, but the last-named master-guitarist has had to cancel – hence, the substitution of the other Grigoryan guitarist, Leonard.   Not much detail has been published about what the trio will play; nothing as dreary as a set program.   But we are assured of a variety of guitars and lots of improvisation, which is all to the good.  Still, Cassandra-like, I predict that the extempore stuff will be very predictable and you can forget any experimentation of a challenging nature.   Don’t believe me, then.   But Muthspiel is a fine jazz musician and he works within that genre’s limitations, which have become more and more obvious since the 1960s.

 

Saturday February 16

SATURDAY NIGHT SYMPHONY

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sidney Myer Music Bowl at 7:30 pm

The second of the free Myer Bowl concerts from the MSO features the organization’s assistant conductor, Tianyi Lu, and violinist Leon Fei who is, I think, 14 years old.   This program has no symphony on its bill of fare, but a bewildering sequence of the popular and the unknown.  The menu, that originally was to open with Berlioz’s Le corsaire overture, now starts with Saint-Saens’ Samson and Delilah (no, it can’t be the whole thing – I suspect we will hear the Act 3 Bacchanale only).  Faure’s Pelleas et Melisande Suite is the solitary French work of the night, which originally included Debussy’s Prelude a l’apres-midi d’in faune and his orchestration of one of Satie’s Gymnopedies.  The rarely heard Pohjola’s Daughter tone poem by Sibelius enjoys an airing; complementing this Lapland vision is Iain Grandage’s Deep: A Silent Poem for Sir Douglas Mawson that memorializes the explorer’s 1912 solo Antarctic trek.   Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture enjoys yet another Myer Bowl performance and the night centres on The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto by He Zhanhao and Chen Gang, with Fei as the soloist.

 

Saturday February 16

PURCELL’S KING ARTHUR

Gabrieli Consort & Players

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

For this tour, the ensemble comprises nine singers and seventeen instrumentalists under director Paul McCreesh who co-edited the edition used of Purcell’s opera-of-sorts.   I can only recall one performance of King Arthur from the distant past; I believe it was at the National Theatre in St. Kilda and vague memories also stir of Richard Divall directing the pit operations.   Regardless of the reliability or otherwise to these memories, here we are with a concert performance which may approach the superlative quality of Les Arts Florissants working through Dido and Aeneas; or it may be very authentic and as interesting as an exegesis on Pascal from Barnaby Joyce.   This will be the Gabrielis’ first Australian tour and, for all one’s reservations about getting tangled up in the scholarship, you can hardly imagine a body better placed to illuminate this score which holds the effective Act 3 Frost Scene as well as the aria Fairest Isle towards the end.   The original has a considerable amount of dialogue from Dryden which you’d expect to be excised here.

This program will be repeated on Sunday February 17 at 2 pm.

 

Wednesday February 20

PARSIFAL

Victorian Opera

Palais Theatre, St. Kilda at 4:30 pm

Hard to imagine, isn’t it?  The month begins with the earliest of Wagner’s works that is part of every opera house’s repertoire and, a few weeks later, we can experience the last product from the composer’s pen.   This slow-moving interpretation at several removes of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s poem has rarely been played in Melbourne and should be an unmissable undertaking for those dedicated to the Wagner myth.  If it weren’t for the venue, I’d be happy to pay my way but parking is impossible, the locals inspire no confidence, and you can’t be enthusiastic about walking along Marine Parade to get your car after 10:30 pm.  The title role is taken by German tenor Burkhard Fritz, who sang the first Parsifal in China and goes from here to sing the same role in Munich.   Incidentally, he looks nothing like any of the figures shown in the VO publicity.   Katarina Dalayman (Kundry) has recorded her role and has a veteran’s experience in it.   British bass Peter Rose also brings a wealth of experience to one of opera’s masters of tedium, Gurnemanz. Amfortas, the endlessly complaining, will be sung by Australian-born baritone Peter Roser.   Derek Welton, who has sung the part at Bayreuth, is Klingsor and Teddy Tahu Rhodes makes a welcome appearance as old Titurel, presiding over the whole welter. Company artistic eminence Richard Mills conducts to Roger Hodgman’s direction and the Australian Youth Orchestra will welter around the slow-moving, sonorous edifices that delineate the work’s geography.

This opera will be repeated on Friday February 22 at 4:30 pm and on Sunday February 24 at 3 pm.

 

Wednesday February 20

A SYMPHONIC CELEBRATION

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sidney Myer Music Bowl at 7:30 pm

The MSO administration is once again wielding the symphony label, and tonight’s program gives justification for this.   It all concludes with the Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 which requires an organ.   I don’t think that they’re going to ship in a true instrument with actual pipes for Calvin Bowman to use for those big blazoning chords that open this work’s finale, used to devastatingly mundane effect in Chris Noonan’s 1995 film Babe.  What’s the betting on an electronic sound-source?   Before this grand finale,  Benjamin Northey takes the p[layers through Dvorak’s Carnival Overture, Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and A Hero’s Journey by the MSO’s Cybec Young Composer in Residence, Mark Holdsworth; oddly enough, this last work is listed on the composer’s own website as Fanfare, although the two titles aren’t mutually exclusive even if the latter points to a short career.   The night’s soloist is violinist Veriko Chumburidze, a 22-year-old Turkey-born musician from Georgia who won the Wieniawski Competition in 2016.  She is taking the brilliant and fun-filled leading line in Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy.

 

Wednesday February 20

Satu Vanska and Kristian Chong

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

This is the opening gambit in the Recital Centre’s Great Performers series, the specific Great being applied to Vanska, one of the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s leading violinists.   She’s enjoyed a couple of solos with the ACO and they’ve been worthy enough but you’d be hard pressed to put her up there with Ehnes and Vengerov.   The collaborating artist, Chong, is apparently not great; nevertheless, he’s more than capable of dealing with this program.   Lutoslawski’s 5-minute Subito was written for an American violin competition and lives up to its title by swerving from one episode to another.   Vanska then performs the first half of the Bach G minor solo Violin Sonata and fleshes out her night with the complete Beethoven A Major Sonata Op. 30 No. 1 and Ravel’s sprightly G Major.   Before the rousing, sophisticated crudity of the Tzigane finale,  Vanska performs another solo: Kaija Saariaho’s . . . de la Terre which involves atmospheric electronics.

 

Sunday February 24

3MBS DVORAK MARATHON

Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra et al

Melbourne Recital Centre at 10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 4 pm, 6 pm, 8 pm

This appears to be following the same pattern as last year’s Bach orgy sponsored by the radio station.   Along with these six major concerts, some others are occupying younger patrons in the Primrose Potter Salon space.   For an opening comes the Stabat Mater from the RMP forces under Andrew Wailes.   Mid-day has the Streeton Trio in the Dumky, Calvin Bowman performing the 8 Preludes and Fugues for organ (on what instrument?), three of the Slavonic Dances in two-piano format, and the delectably nationalistic Op. 100 Violin Sonatina.   At 2 pm, the Sutherland Trio with violist Christopher Moore play the Piano Quartet No. 1, Dindin Wang and Rhodri Clarke outline the Op. 11 violin/piano Romance Op. 11, Benjamin Martin gives us the Eclogues, and the Orava Quartet play the American in F Major.   Next, an all-star cast takes on the Piano Quintet No. 1 – pianist Stephen McIntyre, violinists Wilma Smith and Elizabeth Sellars, violist Caroline Henbest and cellist Christopher Howlett; the Australian Children’s Choir sing five brief melodies; then ANAM musicians and Arcadia Winds will bound through the Serenade Op. 44.   At dusk, Stefan Cassomenos plays the hour-long Poetic Tone Pictures for piano, members of the Australian Octet following up with the A Major String Sextet.   Finally, Elyana Laussade airs the twelve short Op. 8 Silhouettes, soprano Zara Barrett sings Rusalka’s Song to the Moon with the Corpus Medicorum under Keith Crellin, orchestra and conductor bringing the marathon to a close with the E minor Symphony.

In the Potter Salon, a youth program is also on offer; introductions to Dvorak at 11 am and 12:30 pm, followed up by masterclasses at 2 pm, 3 pm, and 4 pm.

 

Monday January 25

ORAWA

Orava Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

The boys from Brisbane form part of the 2019 Southbank Series and aim for an exemplary purity in Haydn’s Op. 33 No. 1, the first and less well-known of the composer’s two quartets in B minor.   Later, in this hour-long Salon event, we hear Mendelssohn In F minor. an elegy for his recently deceased sister Fanny and his last major composition.  In the centre the group plays Orawa, Woljchiech Kilar’s string orchestra work of 2001 reduced for quartet and from which the group took inspiration for its name.   Kilar was best known as a film composer and you can discern the travelogue elements in this tri-partite vision of the Tatra Mountains and River.

 

Tuesday February 26

NATALIE CLEIN & KATYA APEKISHEVA

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

To start Musica Viva’s subscription series this year, the combination of cellist Natalie Clein and pianist Katya Apekisheva offers two programs that teeter on the brink of over-familiarity.   I don’t know Clein and wonder if she has played here previously; a superficial bit of research revealed that she has played in Perth as a member of the Belcea Quartet but is not listed on their bio as a former member.   She has certainly performed in New Zealand but, for the most part, her activities are pretty home-grown and English.   Moscow-born Apekisheva is a close contemporary but also a novice to Melbourne; neither artist seems to have had close connections with the other in the past.  Whatever, they start tonight with Kodaly’s Sonatina, then a new work by Natalie Williams for these artists commissioned by Musica Viva, which is followed by the last Beethoven sonata in D Major and Rachmaninov’s G minor Sonata

Clein and Apekisheva will play a second program on Saturday March 16 at 7 pm. Natalie Williams’ new score will be repeated; the Beethoven is the D Major Sonata’s Op. 102 companion in C Major; another novelty comes in the vignette-length Six Studies in English Folk-Song by Vaughan Williams. Bloch looms large with the 1956 Suite No. 1 for solo cello and the inevitable From Jewish Life, written over 30 years prior.  And patrons will also hear British composer Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata for Viola or Cello and Piano of 1919.

 

Wednesday February 27

HAYDN WINKELMAN SIBELIUS

Australian String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Cellist Sharon Grigoryan is still away on parental leave and her place is being taken tonight by the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s principal Timo-Veikko Valve.   As with the Orava Quartet’s program from two days ago, the ASQ is beginning with Haydn Op. 33; in this case, No. 3 yclept The Bird.   To end, the players take on Sibelius in the Voces intimae score, the solitary product in this form from the composer’s mature years.  As is becoming the practice with chamber music recitals, the ensemble deviates from the norm in the program’s centre.  Here, they will play Papa Haydn’s Parrot by Helena Winkelman, a Swiss-Dutch violinist who has composed a paraphrase in 8 movements on the Haydn work that precedes it in this night’s offerings.   For a violinist, Winkelman has an impressive catalogue of compositions; my loss, probably, but I’ve heard none of them.  You’d anticipate a paraphrase in the style of Liszt on Rigoletto.  But can you carry it on for so many movements?   Here’s hoping for something more substantial than simple-minded frivolities.

 

Thursday February 28

QUARTET FRIENDS

Flinders Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Here’s yet another example of what I just referred to in the previous entry.   The Flinders group starts with Haydn, Op. 64 No. 3 in B flat – one of the Tost group in the process of being composed as the composer finally left Esterhaza.   The night’ conclusion comes in Schumann’s last in A, by which the composer ended his brief (month-long!) labours in the string quartet form – all three of them.   Between these solid poles comes a new work by Matthew Laing, commissioned by the Flinders players.   Speaking of which, the personnel appear to have changed yet again.   Helen Ireland and Zoe Knighton continue in viola and cello spots respectively; first violin is Thibaud Pavlovic-Hobba who was for a time to be seen among the Australian Chamber Orchestra desks; second violin, Nicholas Waters, is a recent ANAM habitue but has been integrating into the Flinders sound for a few years now.

Part of this program will be played in the Collins St. Baptist Church at 1 pm on Tuesday February 26.   Laing and Schumann remain; Haydn disappears.

 

Thursday February 28

JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTRE ORCHESTRA WITH WYNTON MARSALIS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Another of the talented Marsalis brood comes to town, not hiding out in a subterranean bar in authentic 1950s fashion but taking to the concert hall and using the services of the MSO.   Trumpeter Wynton has not been here for 20 years, so his return is big news; on top of which, he is bringing his JLCO musicians with him.   As usual, I’m unsure who is playing what.   We are scheduled to hear some Duke Ellington selections – from both bodies or only one is unclear.   More definitely, we will enjoy Bernstein’s 1949 Prelude, Fugue and Riffs which will feature the JLCO and some guests from the MSO.   But the focal point of the night is Marsalis’ own Symphony No. 4, The Jungle, which is a portrait of New York, has six movements, and is of Mahlerian length.   Yet another fusion of jazz and classical, the symphony has generated generally amiable reactions from American audiences and writers.   Given its predecessors on this night, it faces a huge amount of competition.

This program will be repeated on Friday March 1 at 7:30 pm and on Saturday March 2 at 7:30 pm.

 

Thursday February 28

JOVIAN WORLDS

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

As for Jove, the MCO is going for the pantheonic jugular with Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, the Classical period’s main justification for the key of C Major.   Conductor Michael Dahlenburg, a young man set on an ultra-demanding task, has charge of this interpretation.   As well, the concert begins with a Tchaikovsky scrap: the Moderato e semplice first movement from the String Quartet No. 1 with its  rocking first subject syncopations.   We’ll hear it in a string orchestra arrangement (don’t know whose).   In this conservatively shaped program, the centre-piece concerto is Tchaikovsky in D with soloist Andrew Haveron, concertmaster of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra; seen here at least once a year in Kathryn Selby’s chamber music recital series at MLC in Hawthorn.  It’s a large work for the MCO to take on, asking for a woodwind octet, a brass sextet and timpani as well as a solid soloist-competitive string corps.   There’s a touch of the Jovian about the concerto, particularly in those brave polonaise-suggestive tutti outbursts during the first Allegro; also more than a suspicion of the Mercurial in the finale, with a few shadings of Saturnine grumpiness, not to mention an ongoing Venerian languor in the melting, muted outer stretches of the central Canzonetta.  Sorry: can’t find the Martial, Tellurian, Uranic or Neptunian . . . obviously not looking hard enough.

This program will be repeated on Sunday March 5 at 2:30 pm in the Melbourne Recital Centre.

 

 

2018 in review

January

As usual, this month was dominated by two festivals that marginally overlap: the Peninsula Summer Music and Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields.  Unlike previous years, where you are tempted to speed across the Mornington wastelands a few times during the week-plus stretch of recitals and concerts that artistic director Julie Fredersdorff assembles for the delectation of the district’s well-heeled conservatives, this year I found little tempting, apart from a single day at St. John the Evangelist Church in Flinders.  This small church has been a regular venue of the festival for many years, larger events transferred to the grass outside where, often enough, a large marquee is erected for audience-attracting programs.  This year’s three-recitals-in-one day exercise saw Fredersdorff and harpsichordist Aline Zylberajch powering through half of Bach’s violin sonatas, pianist Stefan Cassomenos mixing Scarlatti  with Australian writers Katy Abbott and Andrew Aronowicz, then violinist Lucinda Moon bringing up the rear with two of the Bach unaccompanied works for her instrument.

Ballarat’s hectic round kicked off with the Missa Criolla, that over-praised sample of contemporary religious composition, given an unexpectedly dour colouring from the Gloriana ensemble with additional percussion, the Mass partnered with Joby Talbot’s The Path of Miracles  –   well, some of it as the Glorianas sang only the final two movements,. but without the persuasive elation that the work’s commissioners, English choir Tenebrae, brought to it a few months before during the Melbourne International Arts Festival of 2017.   The Ballarat festivities ended with a mass from the other end of the historical spectrum in Biber’s massive Missa Salisburgensis, performed by the Newman College and Queen’s College choirs and a multitude of instruments that fleshed out the 53 lines required.   A fair attempt but the physical hurdles presented in getting all participants organized and inter-related sometimes proved too big an ask.

By some organizational holiday accident at The Age, I was asked to review Terence McNally’s Master Class, the play about Maria Callas teaching at the Juilliard School in 1971-2, its engrossing central role reprised yet again by Amanda Muggleton.   Like several similar dramatic essays that make it their business to position musical performance as their raison d’etre (including another Master Class by David Pownall about an imagined  Shostakovich-Prokofiev-Stalin confrontation), the personalities take over and the works heard assume a subsidiary importance.   I got mail after this review, assuring me that the dramatised content of Callas’ classes was based on actual recordings; which merely helped to reinforce my opinion that the diva over-charged the hosting organization for her services..   Of course, it’s hard to get the right balance but every dramatization I’ve seen of serious musicians grappling with their craft has veered towards the ludicrously over-drawn.  Examples are too numerous to detail, but you only have to remember Song of Norway, Song Without End, Magic Fire, Shine Immortal Beloved, and Rhapsody in Blue to see that sentiment wins out over fact time after time.   A great compensation is that most films about musicians these days are to do with rock performers or country-and-western people; here, the musical content is close to non-existent from the outset.

 

February

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is making a big success of its live soundtrack concerts, with a fair number of them held in the huge Plenary space.   In 2018, the organization struck out in a new direction: the Star Wars enterprise, presenting the first-made film in the series,  A New Hope.   A simple tale, before the story-line became too fraught with incestuous and Oedipal detours, the musicians gave a suitably straightforward account of John Williams’ atmospherically brilliant score.   In quick order, the MSO moved to the Myer Music Bowl for its annual series of three free concerts.   Of the two I heard, the first brought co-concertmaster Sophie Rowell to even more central centre-stage than usual for the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, which was followed by a vital Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4  directed by Dutch guest Antony Hermus; for the second, the novel programming of Berio’s Folk Songs, sung by Luciana Mancini, proved a welcome breath of fresh air on a night that began with Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso and concluded with the same composer’s stupefyingly predictable Bolero.

A burst of Brahms generated my enthusiasm in the opening Australian Chamber Orchestra program for the year, a beefing-up of the String Sextet No. 2 that brought into the string orchestra mix some players from the Australian National Academy of Music.  Following a more prescribed path numerically, the Australian String Quartet gave a welcome re-airing to Brett Dean’s First Quartet, Eclipse, which memorializes a national shame in the Tampa crisis yet does so with remarkable restraint.   jordi Savall, his Hesperion XXI players and the Tembembe Ensemble Continuo musicians from Mexico attempted an amalgam of Spanish Baroque compositions and Latin American songs and dances, which experiment didn’t really come off with unquestionable success.

As for reviews in this blog, radio Station 3MBS mounted its annual marathon at the Melbourne Recital Centre, this year featuring J. S. Bach – including music by his sons and works by other composers inspired by, or borrowing from, the master.   C. P. E. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion made an interesting novelty, well-achieved by the Bach Choir under Rick Prakhoff and graced by a fine assembly of soloists.    A trio of pianists gave good value: Tristan Lee accounted brilliantly for Liszt’s Praeludium on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, Elyane Laussade outlined the French Suite in G with some panache; Kathryn Selby showed no fear in a muscular Italian Concerto.

Beginning with a mind-boggling miscellany, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s Thomas Tallis’ England proved to be a good deal more than its title proposed, taking in works by the Elizabethan master but adding music by Orlando Gibbons, Matthew Locke, Purcell, Handel and ending with an overblown account of Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.   Still, it gave us a chance to re-evaluate the merits of countertenor Maximilian Riebl.

 

March

Sir Andrew Davis, drawing near to the end of his reign as the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor, put in time with his players this month.   The season opening gala featured Nelson Freire in an orthodox reading of the Beethoven E flat Piano Concerto,  tenor Stuart Skelton later surging through arias from Fidelio, Die Walkure and Otello.    Sir Andrew determined that we needed to hear The Dream of Gerontius under his tutelage, using Skelton again for the exercise, although  I thought mezzo Catherine Wyn-Rogers the Elgar oratorio’s outstanding contributor.   Closing out – almost – his Mahler cycle, Davis produced a sonorous if woozy version of the Symphony No. 9 and we all wait with optimism for the staging of No. 8, although I can’t see it on the schedule for 2019.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra gave way to tragedy in minimal form with the Barber Adagio, went simply serious for Mozart’s C minor Adagio and Fugue, pursued a vein of  sombre lament with Hartmann’s Concerto funebre, and wound up its joyless afternoon in Death and the Maiden, as usual arranged for string orchestra, and very effectively, too, by Tognetti.

For those essential Good Friday goosebumps, the Bach Choir and Orchestra sounded at their best in Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater; not the forces’ usual stamping ground but clear-edged with only a nagging pitch problem from the upper line.   In Brahms’ A German Requiem, the choral forces under Rick Prakhoff worked diligently but Lorina Gore’s Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit shone out for its calm fluency.

Other smaller-scale events covered in this blog include the Wilma & Friends recital at Scotch College featuring James Bakirtzis’ excellent wind line in the Mozart Horn Quintet and Brahms’ Horn Trio, with another Scotch graduate, Tian Tian Lan, making a highly competent keyboard in the Shostakovich Piano Quintet.   A packed house heard Kathryn Selby and friends violinist Grace Clifford and cellist Clancy Newman presenting Beethoven: the Spring Sonata, the A Major Cello Sonata, and the Archduke Trio – all programmed by popular vote.   Victorian Opera remounted Calvin Bowman’s setting of Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding which often made unexpected sense and enjoyed handling by a fired-up young cast.

 

April

Below, you can find coverage of Avi Avital and the Giocoso String Quartet appearing for Musica Viva and collaborating in a Kats-Chernin piece and British writer David Bruce’s remarkable Cymbeline; the Arcadia Winds giving a new dress to Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin and expanding to a sextet for Janacek’s ardent Mladi;  Opera Australia’s recycling of La Traviata with a leading soprano and conductor unable to decide who’s in charge; and the Australian Octet playing Schubert, bouncing through the score with William Hennessy not concerned to apply the brakes on his youthful collaborators.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under Jun Markl juxtaposed Debussy’s Nocturnes with the Brahms Symphony No. 4, the MSO Chorale ladies carrying out their work with distinction in the French work’s Sirenes finale, and the players giving a compelling majesty to the symphony’s Chaconne conclusion.   For the first of the organization’s Metropolis series, the Korean composer Unsuk Chin enjoyed a prominent position, her sheng concerto Su refraining from giving the soloist total dynamic control, and the Australian String Quartet performed ParaMetaString, written for the Kronos Quartet and mining a rich seam of aural novelties that the local musicians clearly enjoyed articulating.

Celebrating Bernstein’s centenary, the Australian National Academy of Music engaged the services of Jose Luis Gomez to direct their forays into the 1980 Divertimento and the Candide Overture, before attention turned to the American musician’s friends and colleagues – Ginastera, Copland, Barber.

My five-star event for the year came in James Ehnes’ solo Bach recital in which the Canadian violinist swept through the E Major and D minor Partitas and the C Major Sonata No. 3.   This came about as part of the Recital Centre’s Great Performers series and Ehnes fitted into that grouping with an extraordinary demonstration of technical craft and interpretative empathy of the first order.   Here was the kind of night that compensates for a hundred others spent on a lower level of engagement.

 

May

On its third Musica Viva tour, the Canadian early music ensemble Tafelmusik focused on Bach, both the grandiose statements of the Orchestral Suite No 1’s Overture and the refined tortuousness of the Goldberg Variations.   Nevertheless, the organization’s trademark illustrative backdrops proved uncomfortably variable in nature.   Over in South Melbourne, the National Academy musicians did without any visual support but invoked a more recherche Baroque: not in the Handel excerpts but in the rest of a leap-around night that took in some of the Terpsichore dances by Praetorius, a remarkable C. P. E. Bach symphony, and true rarities by Zelenka and Vejvanovsky.

At the venerable Town Hall where the acoustic that we all grew up with continues to exert its sonorous boom, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra worked through an evening of Johann Strauss et al Viennese classics, although the standard moved up and down, both players and soloist soprano Emma Matthews feeling their way through the Emperor Waltz, Lehar’s Vilja and occasionally striking a gold seam as in Meine Lippen, sie kussen and the showy Voices of Spring Waltz.   Further down the track, Sir Andrew Davis took his charges through some content being ventilated on their tour of China: Carl Vine’s Concerto for Orchestra which proved happily to be just that and scintillating to boot; the Liszt E flat Concerto with pianist Moye Chen displaying a confident assurance; and more E flat in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony No. 3, an unflustered account but with every revolutionary point underlined in red.

In the relevant month on this site, you will find coverage of the Selby & Friends (cellist Timo-Veikko Valve from the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Vesa-Matti Lepannen holidaying from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster chair)  recital on May 2 that featured the Brahms Sextet No.1 in a texture-opening arrangement for piano trio format, and the Arensky Trio No. 2, which is a true rarity in live performance.   Adam Simmons and his Creative Music Ensemble were up to a subcontinental exercise on May 6 infiltrated by the Afrolankan Drumming Ensemble, both groups combining for a musical travelogue around Sri Lanka.   Mother and son duo Oksana and Markiyan Melnychenko enjoyed mainly successes in their May 7 night of Heifetz arrangements of Gershwin (Porgy and Bess, Three Preludes), Ravel’s Violin Sonata and some of Korngold’s delicious incidental music for Much Ado About Nothing.   And the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra hosted harpist Xavier de Maistre on May 12, the program culminating in the soloist’s arrangement for himself alone of Smetana’s The Moldau, which rather fell between the two stools of sticking to the original or making a new creature from the Bohemian composer’s raw materials.

 

June

Being even-handed with his oratorios, Sir Andrew Davis balanced his The Dream of Gerontius in March with L’enfance du Christ three months later.   Not that the score from a master-orchestrator presented the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra with taxing problems and Davis was fortunate in that his soloists settled quickly into their parts, Andrew Staples’ tenor a fine linking presence as the work’s Narrator.

Australian expatriate pianist Leslie Howard, a formidable authority on Liszt, played a selection of the composer’s opera arrangements/transcriptions/reminiscences/fantasies. The Recital Centre witnessed a fine exhibition of memory and technique, even if the results impressed as uneven.   Mind you, that would have had a good deal to do with the various works presented ranging from a so-so transcription of two dances from Handel’s Almira to the melting treatment of some love music from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette.

In a Mozart fest, the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra offered light, tripping versions of the Symphony No. 30, the Piano Concerto No. 6 in B flat with Anna Goldsworthy taking on the solo part,  and the String Quartet No. 7 in string orchestra garb.   Alongside this arcana, director William Hennessy set the popular Haydn Piano Concerto in D Major, a pleasant doddle for Goldsworthy.

 

July

Compensating for a June holiday in Cairns with grandchildren, I heard a fair number of concerts in this month.   What scene we have in this city was dominated by the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, now being controlled by Musica Viva.   As usual, the heats took place at the Australian National Academy of Music in South Melbourne – awkward to get to during the day and taxing to find long-term parking that doesn’t cost an uncomfortable amount.   Several of the Round 1 ensembles roused enthusiasm, but they must have dashed their chances in the next hurdle because they disappeared from the finals lists.   Still, it was pleasing to find that the jury at the grand final agreed with me by saluting the Marvin Trio’s reading of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s  Op. 24 Trio.   Just as fortunately, the panel got it right again with the string quartets, rewarding the Goldmund group from Germany for their committed Brahms A minor performance which spoke the right language throughout.

Simone Young conducted the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6, in which the brass impressed for their fortitude and avoidance of error.   It’s a large canvas and Young gave us the full perspective, even if the strings sounded less assured than their exposed wind colleagues.   Kolja Blacher gave excellent service as soloist in Britten’s Violin Concerto which is rejoicing in some favour after years of dismissal and neglect; improbable though this seems, given the convincing stature and maturity of its concluding Passacaglia.

Later, Joshua Weilerstein led two Brahms transcriptions: the late Op. 117 Intermezzo in E flat in Paul Klengel’s orchestration, and Schoenberg’s superlative re-shaping of the F minor Piano Quartet which enjoyed driving treatment from the large forces involved.  Australian pianist Jayson Gillham accounted for the Beethoven C minor Concerto with  enunciative coherence and a dynamic restraint that proved as refreshing as the rest of this remarkably well-coordinated program.

Finally, another Bernstein homage for the composer’s birth centenary year emerged with the live soundtrack performance of the 1961 West Side Story film.  Here is some of the best Bernstein and the MSO came to the party with ferocity and a crisp delivery, best heard in the more frenetic dance sequences; the whole exercise a credit to conductor Benjamin Northey, each of the MSO’s sections, and a painstaking reproduction of the original score and parts after the originals were lost.

As for this blog, I went to four differing recitals.   Joerg Widmann’s Third String Quartet took central position in the Australian String Quartet’s Recital Centre appearance, bracketed by Beethoven:  Op. 135 and  No. 3 of the Op. 18 set.   The modern piece wore out its welcome but gave a refresher course in sound-manufacture techniques of several decades ago.   The Melbourne Festival of Lieder and Art Song at Melba Hall climaxed in an exhibition on July 13 which turned into a lecture with musical illustrations, so tedious that I left at interval.   Pianist Joyce Yang, sponsored by Musica Viva, played a hurtling version of Schumann’s Carnaval, preceded by a subtle, informed Chopin Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante.   And Adam Simmons and his Creative Music Ensemble moved their attentions for the last chapter of their peregrinations to China in The Kites of Tianjin with Wang Zheng-Ting once again displaying his command of the sheng.

 

August

You can read in these pages an appreciation of one of the least successful programs from the Brandenburg Chamber Orchestra in recent times.   Blame can hardly be sheeted home to the ABO itself but more to its guests, La Camera delle Lacrime, who attempted an East/West fusion that managed to be both trying and tiring.   Karakorum: A Medieval Musical Odyssey failed to satisfy on most fronts.   Melbourne Opera put aside its Wagner fixation for a while, presenting Der Rosenkavalier in the tight Athenaeum space.   At the final performance, everyone went home happy if tired – both performers and audience.

Richard Tognetti and his Australian Chamber Orchestra gave us Bach’s Goldberg Variations in orchestral guise, thanks to an arrangement by Bernard Labadie.   Although pretty much all of the performers enjoyed some solo exposure, the main brunt of the labour fell on director Richard Tognetti himself.    In a program rich in transcriptions – the recently-discovered 14 Goldberg Canons, Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet, part of Thomas Ades’ The Four Quarters – the main work enjoyed a bold, informed interpretation.

One of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s chamber-size nights in the Recital Centre enjoyed the direction and participation of concertmaster Dale Barltrop.   Despite the central numbers of the night being near-contemporary – Carl Vine’s Smith’s Alchemy and the Vox amoris of Peteris Vasks – the really convincing music-making came at the start and end: first, in a clean-speaking Brandenburg Concerto No. 3; later, a sure-footed Brandenburg No. 1 with excellent contributions from horns and oboes that allowed you to forget the dangers and just relish the majesty and  warmth of this all too rarely heard Baroque glory.

Intending to give us yet another British gem to savour, Sir Andrew took the MSO on an unsatisfying journey through Holst’s The Planets suite.   It might have been much intrusive heftiness and gratuitous ritardandi; it could have been a lack of interest in the slower movements’ woodwind solos; or it might possibly have arisen from some pitch problems that emerged without reason.  Whatever, an underlying malaise detracted from the score’s friendly splendour.   At all events, I much preferred the night’s only other constituent: Carl Vine’s new Symphony No. 8, The Enchanted Loom.   This is a reversion to top form from the orchestra’s 2018 Composer in Residence – a sterling exercise in novel sonorities with its five movements following a narrative that could be assimilated without much trouble but which seemed of secondary importance to the composer’s manipulation of solo instruments and unusual group matchings.

For Musica Viva, violinist Ray Chen and pianist Julien Quentin showed at their best in Grieg’s Sonata No. 2 which I believe I was hearing for the first time in live performance.  Even if it employed nationalistic tropes, this score gave both executants plenty of room for rich collaboration, at ease with each other’s musicianship.  An especially-commissioned violin sonata by Matthew Hindson left little impact but it didn’t try that hard to mark out new territory.   An obliging audience relished Falla’s Suite populaire espagnole, even more so the violin virtuosity of Monti’s Csardas.

I was able to hear only two of the three major Mimir Chamber Music Festival events at Melba Hall; the second, which engaged the services of local pianist Caroline Almonte, is reviewed in these pages.   Over the last few years, these recitals have been immensely enjoyable, the teaching staff from the American source-festival in Fort Worth putting together programs of well-known repertoire and unusual novelties.   Curt Thompson, the University of Melbourne’s head of strings, co-founded the enterprise and brought it here after his appointment to the Conservatorium of Music.   This year, the festival’s opening recital began with the moving Two Songs Op. 91 by Brahms, Australian mezzo Victoria Lambourn a fine interpreter of these modest, moving lyrics.   Ringing some home-country chimes, violinists Stephen Rose, Jun Iwasaki, viola Joan DerHovsepian and cello  Brant Taylor presented Amy Beach’s F sharp minor Quintet with pianist John Novacek supporting the string players’ enthusiastic proclamatory approach.   Mendelssohn’s A minor String Quartet came over with more firmness than usual, these performers happy to give full voice to the composer’s purple patches of post-Beethovenian aspiration.

 

September

Om the latter half of the year, I failed in an aim to visit one concert a week for this blog, thanks to another  retreat to Queensland.  In fact, I heard only two concerts, and they were in many ways a disjunct reflection of each other.   At Deakin Edge, the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra presented an Espana! night, with a guitar soloist who was indisposed but went on anyway, the exercise culminating in a wretched reading of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez.   In any case, the plethora of arrangements that preceded this effort sounded remarkably tame, hardly justifying the exclamation mark of the program’s title.

But the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra returned to form with a remarkable series of Baroque scores, replacement guest violinist Daniel Pinteno heading a Mediterraneo! program with impressive panache, heard at its finest in Vivaldi’s D Major Violin Concerto from L’estro armonico – a blinder among a happy chain of finely accomplished pieces, only one or two of them familiar.

Rich Prakhoff’s Melbourne Bach Choir Sang Mozart’s Requiem with unsurprising stolidity, the four soloists serving as welcome intruders for their athletic pliancy in phrasing and dynamic changes.   Tenor Andrew Goodwin added yet another sterling accomplishment to our experience of his work with a reflective, unfussed account of Stravinsky’s In memoriam Dylan Thomas; allied with mezzo Sally-Anne Russell and baritone Andrew Jones, he brought animation and light to a chorally bland version of Bach’s Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen cantata.

Back for the umpteenth time, the Borodin Quartet played Haydn Op. 33 No. 1, Shostakovich No. 9, and Beethoven Op. 130.    I didn’t know it at the time but first violin Ruben Aharonian was performing in spite of his being in poor health.   Still, the Haydn came across with an unexpected equable balance of weight and the Russian construct worked best in its two adagio movements where the viola and cello bear the most significant emotional load.   But the group excelled, I thought, in its Beethoven: a reading such as only experience, hard work and collegial insight can yield and one of my top performances of the year.

British pianist Paul Lewis worked for the cognoscenti on this visit, playing an eclectic program of Beethoven, Haydn and Brahms, most of it late period and not the sort of music you hear these days when performers generally ride safely on the confined merry-go-round where the familiar breeds assent.   Beethoven’s 11 Bagatelles Op. 119 proved confronting thanks to the pianist’s unveiling of contrapuntal complexity which most other interpreters ignore.   You couldn’t brush these pages aside as a collection of oddities written over 20 years, the later ones marking  incongruous deviations from the path to illumination of the final sonatas.   Lewis presented them as a broad sweep, sometimes complex, sometimes simple but each emotionally consistent with its surroundings.  Haydn’s late E flat Sonata and his solitary B minor Sonata stripped away any polite salon patina and revealed a rarely heard gruffness and candour.   Then the Four Pieces Op. 119 by Brahms gave us more thickly-blended harmonic progressions in the three intermezzi and an insistent triumphalism in the final Rhapsody that brought to mind the composer’s great sponsor Schumann in its driving, near-manic insistence.

Another impressive visitor was violinist Ilya Gringolts, the youngest winner 20 years ago of the Premio Paganini Prize, who took on the dual roles of director and soloist with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.   Most interest fell on the visitor’s reading of the Paganini Concerto No. 1, given here in its original E flat key.   Gringolts carried all before him with a scintillating, brilliant outline of the work in which the ornamentation was welded into the concerto’s construction.    He’s one of those performers who appears to have absolute control; yes, the work has dangerous moments but this musician works through them without demonstrative effort.   He has insights as a conductor, too,  leading his forces in a C. P. E. Bach symphony packed with dramatic incident and a dissonance-highlighting version of an ACO favourite: Bartok’s Divertimento of 1939.

 

October

Only one recital features on this blog for October.  It’s the final Selby & Friends program for the year at which the well-known Sydney pianist collaborated with WAAPA violinist Alexandre Da Costa-Graveline and Sydney Symphony Orchestra cellist Umberto Clerici.  As is her wont, Selby partnered each of her guests in a duo – the Falla Suite populaire espagnole and Debussy’s Cello Sonata – before a general team-up for Piazzolla’s useless Four Seasons of Buenos Aires and the stalwart Mendelssohn in D minor.

Otherwise, the month’s serious music-making was dominated by the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts.   Before this began, the Australian String Quartet finished its 2018 Melbourne appearances with cellist Blair Harris stepping in for maternity-leave member, Sharon Grigoryan.    The Schubert Rosamunde enjoyed a reading just the right side of sentimental and the Shostakovich No. 10 reflected this pureness of heart at night’s end, here making a welcome appearance following other ensembles’ concentration on earlier works in the genre by this composer.   In the middle, James Ledger’s new String Quartet No. 2, The Distortion Mirror, fed real-time sounds into a computer for manipulation.   Not too complicated, the score enjoyed a pleasing reception, although you’d be hard pressed to find much that was confrontational in its passages of play.

Also off the Festival grid, Jukka-Pekka Saraste directed the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in the complete Firebird ballet, which tended to show how little we miss when subjected to the several versions Stravinsky extracted for his money-spinning suites.  Saraste also aired the newly-discovered Funeral Song, Stravinsky’s in memoriam for his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov.   Several pundits claim this brief score opens a new window on the composer’s early thinking; they may be right but you’d be hard pressed to predict what was coming from the composer’s pen in the coming four years.   In between, Dejan Lasic played a well-considered solo part for Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3, the reactionary virtuosity of its finale coming across with telling artistry.

As for the Festival content that I heard, Van Diemen’s Band offered live performances of excerpts from their 2017 CD, including three cello concertos by Nicola Fiorenza treated with convincing dedication by soloist Catherine Jones.  Not restricted by their recital’s title, Cello Napoletano, the ensemble wandered around with affable ease from both Scarlattis to Boccherini with a Geminiani and a Corelli as make-weights.  The Los Angeles Master Chorale attempted a theatrical splicing-up of Orlando di Lasso’s Lagrime di San Pietro cycle, investing their performance (sung from memory) with stylized choreographic moves and staged groupings to give a visual realization of the verbal content.   When the physical movement died down and the group stood in a semi-circle and just sang, the results proved very moving indeed, especially as the over-blown dynamic contrasts were given a rest and the work’s emotional context shifted from angry self-recrimination to a wrenching despair.

Chinese conductor/composer Tan Dun has built up a firm relationship with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, largely through an annual Chinese New Year event in which he places his own music and/or that of his countrymen alongside well-known gems of Western music.   His Buddha Passion offers an individual take on the Bach Passions with the Indian spiritual leader as its operating fulcrum.   Where Western composers concentrate on the last night and day of Christ’s life, Tan Dun follows a loose path of parables and events from the Bodhi tree enlightenment to the translation to Nirvana.   It made for a remarkable confection of simplicity and explosive bursts of powerful commentary, the MSO Chorus working with indefatigable deliberation through Chinese and Sanskrit texts.

Sir Andras Schiff, playing here for the first time in many years, gave us the Festival highlight, even if his performance was part of Musica Viva’s season.   The pianist foraged through Mendelssohn’s Fantasy in F sharp before a brilliant, curt-and-warm reading of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 24 and an equally revelatory interpretation of Bach’s last English Suite.   Yet the core of this lavish recital came in two Brahms brackets: the Op. 78  Eight Pieces and the Op. 116 Seven Fantasias that I can’t remember hearing complete before.   This was an extraordinarily clean-scoured double sequence, the mutually dependent artistry of technique and consistent intellectual content a clear justification for this pianist’s significant stature among that small band of modern musicians with an open-handed generosity to his audience (some massive Bach encores) and interpretative insights of a high order .

 

November

Finishing its year in solid form, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra presented some well-worn French masterworks – Debussy’s Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe Suite No. 2 – and Brett Dean’s orchestrations of the Debussy Ariettes oubliees, sung by mezzo Fiona Campbell.    Soloist Beatrice Rana fronted the only nationalistic odd man out  with Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, a piece you used to hear all over the place but which has suffered a decline in interest across recent decades.    This was a blazing, confident exhibition from a gifted young artist, well-assisted by the MSO under conductor Fabien Gabel who dropped in for the occasion from Quebec but brought not much individuality along with him.

William Hennessy finished his Melbourne Chamber Orchestra’s annual operations in a Bach-dominated program.   Refraining from burying the material under a thick string blanket, he directed his charges through the Orchestral Suites 3 and 4 without any period-style enervation.   The D minor Double Violin Concerto made a welcome if predictable appearance, matching the premiere of Richard Mills’ Double Violin Concerto which impressed for two-thirds of its length in the sympathetic hands of soloists Markiyan Melnychenko and Aidan Filshie.

One of the more commanding Mahler readings we’ve heard this year came from the Australian National Academy of Music whose staff and some distinguished guests from interstate and overseas played Klaus Simon’s arrangement for 16 players of the Symphony No. 9.    Their disclosure of inner workings and an absence of over-the-top theatricality made the experience elevating and packed with suspense – a far cry from the bombast that many conductors attempt to impose on this wrenching farewell to arms, in this instance discreetly conducted by expatriate Matthew Corey who had the pleasure of dealing with a band of fearless competence.

The only concert covered on this blog was an Armistice Day salute from the Arcko Symphony Ensemble at the Carlton Church of All Nations.  In a series of works written and performed by people, most of whom seemed to have family connections to World War I, we heard music by Rohan Phillips and Andrew Harrison, whose cantata gave this enterprise its title and made a moving impression, despite the meagre written source material on which it was constructed.   And it was an unalloyed delight to hear Helen Gifford’s piano solo Menin Gate given an airing by Joy Lee.

I also heard, thanks to a friend, Opera Australia’s production of Die Meistersinger which was worth sitting through for Daniel Sumegi’s firmly-articulated Pogner and some pleasurable passages from Michael Kupfer-Radecky as Sachs and the Beckmesser of Warwick Fyfe.  As for the situational ambience being translated to a gentlemen’s club, you could understand why it appealed as an idea – the guild is nothing if not as hidebound as any 19th century London establishment like White’s or the Athenaeum – but you also had to wonder at a dereliction of duty during the later acts where the venue became increasingly inchoate and irrelevant.

 

December

The only concert I heard in this month, thanks to renewed bouts of poor health, was the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s Noel! Noel! collation which, this year, was pretty free of inanities.   In fact, Paul Dyer and his players did excellent service in the earlier parts of the program with a Hildegard meditation, two Gregorian chants, a Cruger chorale and a quaint seasonal motet-of-sorts by Johannes Eccard, a Tye carol and a Monteverdi hymn.  The ABO Choir was hard pressed but responded with only a handful of stressful moments and soprano Bonnie de la Hunty should have been given an award for her manifold contributions to the entertainment.   Coverage of this event concludes this blog’s live music activity for the year.