September Diary

Sunday September 2

TWO BY TWO: BACH AND VIVALDI DOUBLE CONCERTOS

The Melbourne Musicians

St. John’s Southgate at 3 pm

This is what I call putting your guests to work.   Frank Pam and his chamber orchestra play hosts to violinists Miki Tsunoda and Anne Harvey-Nagl in a wealth of concertos, and not just the famous double ones from Vivaldi and Bach, welcome though these are.   The Bach coupling is the famous D minor BWV 1043 – to my generation, coloured by the Olympian security of the 1962 recording by Oistrakh father and son.   The Vivaldi double in A minor Op 3 No. 8 will be familiar to organists as that transcribed by Bach for their instrument as BWV 593.   Also being aired is Bach’s Overture in A minor, possibly taken from an earlier version of the Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, only with solo violin rather than solo flute.   The Vivaldi fest continues with the Concerto for two violins and cello in D minor.  And there’s more: a Concerto ripieno in C (possible RV 115), a sinfonia in G (RV 146? 147? 149?) and individual concertos (presumably for violin and strings) in E minor (take your pick of 10 possibles) and A Major (18 potentials here).

 

Sunday September 2

SCHUBERT, WALKER AND BRAHMS

Mimir Chamber Music Festival

Faculty of Music, University of Melbourne at 3 pm

The last in this fine if brief series of masterclasses and concerts begins with the Schubert Quartet in E flat; yes, I don’t know it, either.  A student work, this quartet has been referred to as ‘No. 10’, which infers a preceding job-lot that remain pretty well unplayed these days.  As for Brahms, Mimir presents the Piano Quintet in F minor, a masterpiece of the form and one of the composer’s towering chamber music achievements.   As well, Mimir fleshes out our knowledge of American music with the String Quartet No. 1 by George Walker, a composer/pianist/academic of high distinction with a sackful of ‘firsts’ to his name, including being the first African-American to receive a Pulitzer Prize and various professorships at several US universities.  This quartet’s second movement has enjoyed the same fate as Barber’s Adagio in being arranged for strings and thereby gaining considerable popularity and performances.

 

Thursday September 6

ESPANA

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm

Five big names in Spanish music feature in this program, which is conducted by Michael Dahlenburg.   The group begins with Turina’s La oracion del torero; originally written for four lutes, it enjoyed a transcription for string quartet before expansion to string orchestra costume.   Then the afternoon’s soloist, guitarist Christoph Denoth, will emerge to perform two standards of his repertoire: Albeniz’s Leyenda (Asturias to you and me) and Torre Bermeja.  He follows up with Joaquin Malats’ perky Serenata which Denoth has arranged for himself and string orchestra.  The MCO’s go-to man for custom-made material, Nicholas Buc, is enriching the occasion with some arrangements for the group: another Albeniz in Espana, originally for piano and here its six movements have all been treated except for the fourth, another Serenata; and then come three of Granados’ twelve Danzas espanolas – No 3 (Fandango), No 5 (Andaluza/Playera) and No. 6 (Rondalla aragonesa).  Finally, Denoth takes the central role in Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez which will give us a through-composed entity in an evening of Iberian scraps.

This program will be repeated on Sunday September 9 in the Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm.

 

Saturday September 8

BENJAMIN BRITTEN & THE STRING QUARTET 2

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

For this review of the British composer’s output, the Australian String Quartet is joined by some ANAM musicians.   On the preceding evening, the ASQ plays the first of the quartets, as well as the Phantasy Quartet for oboe (ANAM director Nick Deutsch) and string trio, as well as the rarely-aired Three Divertimenti for string quartet (10 minutes’ worth of March, Waltz, Burleske), with a filler of a Movement (Moderato con molto moto) for wind sextet – your basic four woodwind plus horn and bass clarinet.  This second night holds the two later quartets and the composer’s first international calling card: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, which shows what an extraordinary command of both utterance and technique had been developed by the 23-year-old composer.  Frankly, I’ve never been that keen on the final quartet’s Death in Venice debts, probably because the opera is obsessed with its own sounds, but its C major predecessor, in particular the Chacony finale, stands at the core of English compositional character.

 

Saturday September 8

IN MEMORIAM: MOZART REQUIEM

Melbourne Bach Choir

Melbourne Recital Centre at 8 pm

While the Mozart torso stands as the fulcrum of this concert, the in memoriam theme comes through more clearly in two works by that name: Stravinsky’s short twelve-tone In memoriam Dylan Thomas for tenor, string quartet and four trombones, and Part’s equally brief Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten for strings and bell.  The choir will also sing Bach’s Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen cantata for three soloists (alto, tenor, bass), choir and small orchestra including three wind.  To compensate the soprano soloist for missing out on a role in the cantata, conductor/artistic director Rick Prakhoff has programmed Mozart’s early aria in B flat, Kommet her, ihr frechen Sunder, the composer’s last piece connected with the Passion but, sadly, not particularly memorable.   Oh, the actual singers taking on principal roles throughout this melange are soprano Jacqueline Porter, mezzo Sally-Anne Russell, tenor Andrew Goodwin, and baritone Andrew Jones.

 

Monday September 10

TRANSFORMING STRAUSS AND MOZART

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Well, you can predict the transformed Strauss:  Metamorphosen for 23 strings that laments World War II, arranged from the composer’s short score for string septet by Rudolf Leopold.   The new-and-strange Mozart is the warm-hearted violin/viola Sinfonia Concertate reshaped by the composer into a string sextet: the Grande Sestetto Concertante.  Around these come some odd bedfellows: Dowland’s Lachrimae antiquae (first of the Lachrimae pavans collection) for five lines, the Ricercar a 6 from Bach’s A Musical Offering (the one that Webern arranged so astonishingly) and the Tristan Prelude arranged by Sebastian Gurtler – presumably the one for string sextet, not the ones he did for string orchestra or 23 solo strings.  As for participants, the scheduled violins are Helena Rathbone and Aiko Goto, viola Nicole Divall, cellos Timo-Veikko Valve and Melissa Barnard, with Maxime Bibeau on double bass.  This body can handle all the above scores except the Strauss, which needs another viola.  You can’t say the recital won’t live up to its title’s first word.

 

Wednesday September 12

INTERNATIONAL WOODWIND ALL-STARS

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

In the middle of a very active month for ANAM, the administration has assembled a quintet of notable wind players for this taxing night’s operations.   Director Nick Deutsch, contributes his oboe to the mix; the flautist is Wally Hase, from next month Professor of Flute at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna; Icelandic citizen Dimitri Ashkenazy, son of Vladimir, is on clarinet; Australian-born Lyndon Watts, principal bassoonist with the Munich Philharmonic, takes the bass line; Marie-Luise Neunecker, notable academic and soloist, is the group’s horn and an expert in contemporary music.  The night opens with Harald Genzmer’s Wind Quintet of 1957, moves to Hindemith’s three-movement Sonata for 4 horns of five years earlier, then takes an up-to-the-mark challenge with a new work by Israeli-Australian composer Yitzhak Yedid.   A more senior element emerges with Frank Bridge’s late Divertimenti for woodwind quartet – Prelude, Nocturne, Scherzetto, Bagatelle – and, finally, Strauss’s B flat Major Suite for 13 winds – pairs of woodwind, four horns, and a tuba or contrabassoon working away at the bottom of it all.   We’ve had the ANAM strings labouring away at Britten over the weekend; here come the wind.

 

Friday September 14

MOZART’S JUPITER & MORE

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

It’s hard to know what to make of this grab-bag.   The MSO under luckless Benjamin Northey starts with Stravinsky: the Pulcinella Suite which makes a virtue out of just avoiding grating dissonances and which probably works better in the theatre where it came from.   As well, Stravinsky also features later in his arrangement of the Bluebird pas de deux from Act III of Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty; 1941 wartime restrictions-determined that this re-scoring is for flute, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, pairs of trumpets and trombones, a horn, timpani, piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass.  That’s a lot of chair-moving for 5 minutes’ worth of music.   Guest artist, pianist Andrea Lam, fronts the Mendelssohn Concerto No. 1 in G minor which is full of notes.  And the night ends with Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, teetering on the last legs of Classicism but ebullient and intellectually invigorating from first note to last.   How it fits in with what’s gone before is anyone’s guess.

 

Friday September 14

THE CAPULETS AND THE MONTAGUES

Victorian Opera

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

The company is very proud of its forays into the Bellini oeuvre: Norma in 2014, I Puritani in 2015 and last year’s La Sonnambula.  All have been concert versions and tonight is no exception.   The company’s artistic director, Richard Mills, will conduct and the main roles feature familiar faces.   The trousers part of Romeo is entrusted to mezzo Caitlin Hulcup; the company is fortunate to attract a singer with her high reputation.  Giulietta will be taken by Jessica Pratt, who had considerable success with last year’s Bellini effort, I’m told.  Teddy Tahu Rhodes has the senior’s role of Lorenzo, the Capulet family doctor (stepping in for Friar Laurence) who concocts the idiotic sleeping potion plan.   Capellio, Juliet’s father, will be sung by David Parkin, most well-known for his 2006 triumph in Operatunity Oz, while Carlos E. Barcenas has the task of playing Tebaldo (substituting for Shakespeare’s Paris).

 

Saturday September 15

MEDITERRANEO: MUSIC FROM THE COURTS OF SPAIN

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Baroque violinist Daniel Pinteno is the central artist on this program which has  geographical and temporal limits, most welcome after the ABO’s disappointing trans-Asian ramble of Karakorum.   Much of the music being performed is completely new to me but it comes from the Brandenburgers’ home territory, so high hopes are flapping in the breeze.   Pinteno will direct two Australian premieres and one world premiere, this last a sinfonia by Felix Maximo Lopez, born before Mozart but living well into the 19th century and best known as a court organist.   As for the other premieres, Vicente Basset’s eminently forgettable 5-minute Overture a piu stromenti gives the players a useful tune-up; Italian-born Caetano Brunetti’s Sinfonia in C minor is subtitled Il Maniatico, and the designated maniac is a solo cello that suffers from a musical monomania, an idee fixe from which the other orchestra members try to distract him/her.   There are two concertos from that well-known Spaniard, Vivaldi: La Notte for flute – in this instance, Sydney musician Melissa Farrow – and the Op. 3 No. 9 in D Major (one of the several that Bach transcribed), with Pinteno as soloist.   Another Italian-born musician who, like Brunetti, wound up in Spain, Giacomo Facco wrote his own L’estro armonico called Pensieri Adriarmonici from which Pinteno will perform the Concerto No. 3, notable for its 25-bar central Adagio.   And, for a further cosmopolitan touch, the ensemble plays two movements from Englishman Charles Avison’s Concerto grosso Op. 6 No. 6.   How much of this was played at the Spanish court?   I don’t know, but the aristocracy were very keen on their music, home-grown or not, and it was probably impossible in the 18th century to avoid Vivaldi the Prolific.

This program will be repeated on Sunday September 16 at 5 pm.

 

Sunday September 16

MORE THAN OPERA HITS RIPPON LEA – SOPRANO ARIAS AND DUETS

Team of Pianists

Rippon Lea at 6:30 pm

Team senior Darryl Coote is in for a long night as he accompanies soprano Rebecca Rashleigh and mezzo Victoria Lambourn in a series of 16 operatic excerpts.   Some of them are more than familiar: Rusalka’s Song to the Moon, Liu’s Tu che di gel sei cinta, the Offenbach Barcarolle, the Madama Butterfly Flower Duet, Humperdinck’s Evening Prayer, Tchaikovsky’s None but the lonely heart (not opera, but let it ride), and the Seguidilla from Carmen.   A few are on the cusp of arcane: Zeffiretti lusinghieri, Ilia’s aria from Mozart’s Idomeneo; Susannah’s Act 1 aria Ain’t it a pretty night from Carlisle Floyd’s popular work; Olga’s Akh, Tanya, Tanya from  Act 1 of Eugene Onegin, and the Uzh Veder duet for Lisa and Polina from the same composer’s The Queen of Spades.  But you will also hear some true rarities: Come ti piace, imponi – the duet at the opening of La clemenza di Tito; and four Rossini pieces including a duet from Bianca e Falliero, Cruda sorte marking the title character’s entry into L’Italiana in Algeri, and two non-operatic songs in Canzonetta spagnuola and its contemporary, Belta crudele.  It all adds up to four soprano solos, six for the mezzo and the same number of duets; lots of fun for everyone   –  except the hard-worked artists.

 

Friday September 21

SUITE BERGAMASQUE

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

The Debussy celebrations continue at ANAM, if nowhere else.   An expert in the composer’s piano music, Roy Howat, is sharing the labours on this night with Timothy Young and some other ANAM musicians, although I don’t know how many others will need to be involved unless the Academy pianists have been invited to take part alongside their two seniors.   But more of that below.   The program begins with the Violin Sonata, and two other duets have been scheduled: Marche ecossaise sur un theme populaire in the original piano 4-hands version, and the two-piano three-movement suite, En blanc et noir.  The rest of the content is a collection of well-known solos: the eponymous suite, the catchy Danse, as well as the Valse romantique, Ballade, Mazurka, and the musical picture-postcard triptych of Estampes.   Now, speaking of extra ANAM instrumentalists, what sticks out from this sequence is the Sonata No. 3 (after Debussy) by Lyle Chan, who is engaged in writing those three sonatas that Debussy didn’t live long enough to compose, although he projected their instrumentation.   According to the authorities, ‘Sonata No. 3’ is, in fact, Debussy’s own Violin Sonata; the Australian Music Centre cites this recital as premiering Chan’s Sonata No. 4, which follows the French composer’s projected plan by being written for oboe, horn and harpsichord.

 

Friday September 21

NEW WORLD SYMPHONY

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

No surprises here: a good old-fashioned overture-concerto-symphony format of works in the central Romantic tradition, all written within 50 years of each other.  The MSO’s Cybec Assistant Conductor Tianyu Lu gets to handle the overture, that to Smetana’s The Bartered Bride; when are we going to hear that mellifluously melodious opera again?  Then Xian Zhang takes over the podium: a triumphant night for female conductors.   As well as taking the orchestra through Dvorak’s sterling final symphony, she also will assist Benjamin Grosvenor work his way through the Schumann Piano Concerto.   Here’s hoping he has as much success with this work as he did here three years ago with that even more hard-worn warhorse, the Grieg which, like the Schumann, is a gift to young performers.

This program will be repeated on Saturday September 22 at 7:30 pm and on Monday September 24 at 6:30 pm.

 

Saturday September 22

Borodin Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Path-setters for many works and a representing a formidable chamber music tradition, this body’s personnel have changed but the style remains.   Appearing once again for Musica Viva, this superbly honed ensemble is presenting a Shostakovich work in each of its two programs: No. 9 tonight and No. 15 – the last in the series – a week later.  Program 1 also holds Haydn in B minor Op. 33 No. 1 and Beethoven No. 13 in B flat for that essential infusion of gravitas.   The second night audience is treated to Tchaikovsky No. 1 with its melting Andante cantabile slow movement, while Wolf’s Italian Serenade serves as brilliant comic relief.   These are red-letter nights for enthusiasts of quartet playing and I’d expect a venue as small as the Murdoch Hall to be packed to the gills.

The Quartet will present its Program No. 2 on Saturday September 25 at 7 pm.

 

Saturday September 22

A HIGH RENAISSANCE CELEBRATION

Ensemble Gombert

Our Lady of Victories Basilica, Camberwell at 8 pm

Concert No.2 out of three being given this year at the imposing Catholic church in Camberwell,  this endeavour by the Gomberts explores a rich mine of polyphony composed in the years before things got over-complicated.  The four composers programmed are Josquin, Pierre de la Rue, Verdelot and Compere – all contemporaries, imposing presences in the French and Franco-Flemish compositional worlds.   Josquin is represented by one work, the motet Absalon fili mi, which has been attributed to de la Rue – but never mind: it’s all in together for  this night’s family.   Verdelot also features with only one work: another six-voice motet, Ave sanctissima Maria which has also been attributed to that gadabout, de la Rue.   The real de la Rue compositions are the six-voice Pater de caelis Deus and the canon-crazy Missa Ave sanctissima Maria.   Compere’s Galeazescha, written for Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan, is another form of mass, but one comprising Marian motets rather than following the usual Ordinary format.   Here is the sort of music-making in which this exemplary ensemble shines: scholarly and transporting.

 

Thursday September 27

BEETHOVEN, 11 BAGATELLES

Paul Lewis

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Taking his place in the Recital Centre’s series of Great Performers, British pianist Lewis is giving us yet another of his highly individual recitals which, although featuring great composers, head towards the more arcane stretches of their output.  The Bagatelles are not problematic in the same fashion as Beethoven’s late sonatas are; for one thing, they’re comparatively pithy.   But that’s part of the reason why most pianists ignore them – no long melodic spread in which to bathe your listeners and not enough amplitude of brusqueness to keep them satisfied.   As for the Brahms Four Piano Pieces Op. 119, most of us would find it hard to remember when last we heard the first three of them, all intermezzi, while the concluding Rhapsody is a tremendous challenge in distributing the weight between the fingers, let alone the hands; most interpreters are happy enough to belt the pages, making a single-minded virtue out of their risoluto direction.   In between these, Lewis plays two Haydn sonatas: Hob XVI. 49 and Hob XVI. 32, both of which he has recently recorded for Harmonia Mundi as part of a project to set down the composer’s total sonata output.  Still, this all adds up to a bit over an hour’s worth of performance time.

There’s another similar recital on October 1, of which more details later.

 

Friday September 28

MOZART 39, 40 & 41

Australian National Academy of Music Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

They don’t come more focused than this.   Guest conductor Douglas Boyd led the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra through the complete Beethoven symphonic cycle at the Town Hall six years ago in a memorable series, and he has been a pretty regular visitor since that time.   Here, he takes the ANAM forces through the final three symphonies of Mozart, all from 1788 and foundation stones of the Western musical tradition.  Yes, of course the musicians can play the scores but it will be a burning question as to how far Boyd can take his (mainly) young charges in produndity of interpretation, especially considering the brief period that he has to work with them, although he won’t have to be concerned with imparting broad technical details.   A feast for the intellect, being confronted by works that set off sparks from first bar to last.   As well, the dedicated can compare this reading of No. 41 with the MSO’s version on Friday September 14.

 

Sunday September 30

GRINGOLTS PLAYS PAGANINI

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

In 1998, the 16-year-old Ilya Gringolts won first prize at the Genoa Paganini Competition.  Naturally, we’ll all be more than a little interested to hear what he makes of the Italian master-violinists’s Concerto No. 1, even if it comes in an arrangement by Bernard Rofe which will probably reduce the score to fit the ACO string personnel, leaving out the original’s six woodwind and five brass.   As well, Gringolts will participate in Vivaldi’s Concerto for violin and 2 cellos in C with ACO principal Timo-Veikko Valve and his long-time second, Julian Thompson, as co-sharers of the work’s limelight.   Gringolts begins his afternoon/evening with a C.P.E. Bach String Symphony in C, presumably the third of the Wq. 182 series of six    The program ends with Bartok’s Divertimento of 1939, which was part of the first ACO concert in 1975; will be interesting to see what the guest director/soloist makes of it.

This program is repeated on Monday October 1 at 7:30 pm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August Diary

Friday August 3

SAINT-SAENS GREAT ORGAN SYMPHONY

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

It’s never been the same since Nigel Westlake appropriated it as a sonorous backdrop to the 1995 Babe film.  Whenever this symphony’s fourth movement’s rippling main theme flows out, people automatically recall James Cromwell and Magda Szubanski putting their bucolic best feet forward for farce.   Anyway, as this concert is sold out, there’s not much point in singing the praises of anything or anyone connected with it.   But, for the sake of completeness, here goes.  To begin, Benjamin Northey conducts Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta, a collection that enjoyed much airing in the 1950/60s.  Piers Lane holds centre-stage as soloist in the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1, which will be interesting as this populist sort of thing is not Lane’s bag at all.   The evening winds up with the big symphony, Calvin Bowman doing the honours yet again on our Town Hall’s colossal instrument; here’s hoping he blasts a satiated full house out onto Swanston St at night’s end.

 

Saturday August 4

KARAKORUM: A MEDIEVAL MYSTERY JOURNEY

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

You can never be sure with these cross-fertilizations.  Jordi Savall can carry them off, although half the time I think it’s reputation that does a lot of the work for our acceptance of these hybrids from him.  This program is based on the travels and findings of William of Rubruck, who was ordered to travel to the court of Mongke Khan, which he did in 1253-4 and subsequently wrote a celebrated account of his experiences in Mongolia and his attempt at converting the kingdom to Christianity.  The medieval world-music group La Camera delle Lacrime – a sextet, as far as I can tell –  combines with the Brandenburg Choir and Orchestra, actor David Wenham serving as narrator for this musical journey, one that takes in ‘Mongolian melodies, Buddhist hymns, Sufi chants and more.’   It’s a 90-minute feast that runs without an interval.

This program will be repeated on Sunday August 5 at 5 pm.

 

Saturday August 4

DUDU CARMEL: OBOE VIRTUOSO

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

Carmel is oboist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and is here to take some of the ANAM musicians through an unusual program that starts and finishes with Mozart.  He kicks off with the Quintet in C minor K 406a, a score that began life as a wind serenade which Mozart rearranged for strings.  Somewhere along the line, oboists have taken to playing the top violin line; God knows why.   Jolivet’s Serenade for wind quintet was originally an oboe/piano composition that the French composer reconstituted for an ensemble while still maintaining the oboe’s primacy.  Carmel then leads a reading of Berio’s Chemins IV, a re-examination of the composer’s Sequenza VII for solo oboe with the supporting power of 11 strings.   Finally, we hear the Nannerl Divertimento in D, K. 251 for oboe, two horns and string quartet/orchestra (no cello/s).

 

Sunday August 5

GOLDBERG VARIATIONS

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

Bach’s monument in the keyboard repertoire is being re-created with increasing free-handedness in this piping time of pusillanimity.  Latest in a long line of revisionists, the ACO’s Richard Tognetti commences his re-conception with Canons on a Goldberg Ground, ascribed to Bach so you can only assume that the canons referred to are the nine that occur regularly throughout the original work.  Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet follow, presumably in an un-orchestrated form; their presence is a welcome deviation from the afternoon’s Baroque framework.  British composer Thomas Ades is represented by Nightfalls, the first and major movement of The Four Quarters, a work that was heard in its original form twice during the recent Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition; here, it has been arranged for string orchestra but by whom is not apparent. Finally, we reach the Variations, in a string orchestra version by Canadian-born Baroque expert Bernard Labadie.   But you have to ask yourself: the whole thing?  With repeats?

This program will be repeated on Monday August 6 at 7:30 pm

 

Thursday August 9

BACH & BRAHMS

Ensemble Gombert

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

Continuing its MRC series, the Gomberts are again coping with the non-existent echo of the Salon through music that is better suited to a high-ceilinged un-carpeted church.  The Bach comprises three motets.  Two of these are authenticated: Komm, Jesu, komm and Singet dem Herrn; the middle one, Ich lasse dich nicht, is now thought to be an early work.  All three are for double choir which, in terms of the Gomberts’ personnel distribution, means about 2 singers per line.  The Brahms works are the three Fest- und Gedenkspruche and the brief Three Motets.  These also require a double choir, the latter set being the composer’s final essays in the form and somewhat difficult for singers to pitch; not that you’d expect this singular body of musicians to have too much trouble.

 

Thursday August 9

DALE BARLTROP

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Concertmaster Barltrop (where is his one-time co-principal Eoin Anderson these days?  Haven’t sighted him all year and Sophie Rowell is now credited in the MSO programs as the alternate concertmaster) is directing and leading a mainly-strings program.  The night begins with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, always welcome as long as the approach avoids the hefty.  Carl Vine’s Smith’s Alchemy follows: the Australian composer’s String Quartet No. 3, written for London’s Smith Quartet and re-configured for Richard Tognetti’s Australian Chamber Orchestra.   Latvian writer Peteris Vask’s Vox amoris, the composer’s second violin concerto, continues the all-strings format with Barltrop the soloist.  The concluding Brandenburg No. 1 breaks new ground as it asks for a concertino group comprising two hunting/natural horns, three oboes, a bassoon and a piccolo violin; you’d assume that Barltrop would take the string solo but the other six supernumeraries will have had a lot of waiting around before they get to show their wares.

This program will be repeated in Robert Blackwood Hall on Friday August 10, and in the Mary Mount Centre, Loreto College, Ballarat on Saturday August 11.

 

Saturday August 11

IMAGES (BOOK 2)

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

Visiting virtuoso Richard Osborne, the pride of Scotland, is visiting our ANAM corridors for a brief tutelary stint and finishes this recital with the afore-mentioned volume, its three constituents not as well-known as the Book 1 gems.  Indeed, it’s hard to recall a live performance of Cloches a travers les feuilles, let alone one of Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut;  but Poissons d’or has tempted quite a few executants.  Filling out the night with more Debussy, Osborne has an as-yet-unknown associate for the piano 4-hands 6 Epigraphes antiques, entrusts the G minor String Quartet to some ANAM musicians, then returns for the two-piano Lindaraja, a five-minute bagatelle whose title comes from a room in the Alhambra rather than having any Far Oriental reference.  Back to the cosy piano 4-hands format for Printemps, a product of Debussy’s Prix de Rome experience, and then the four-movement Petite suite which reaches its peak in the opening En bateau – one of those lyrics that never ceases to give delight.

 

Sunday August 12

VIVALDI’S VIOLINS

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm

Something you automatically associate with the Venetian master is a violin; all those lucky girls in the Ospedale della Pieta would have played the composer’s extraordinary chain of concertos for strings, one hopes, with delight at the changes that their Mr. Music would have rung for them.   Sophie Rowell, the MSO’s co-concertmaster, is heading four Vivaldi works: the four-violin solos special in E minor, the B flat Major RV 368 (one of the 26 or so in this key), the double violin concerto RV 514 in D minor (the only one in that key), and an old friend in the Grosso Mogul RV 208.  That’s a lot of Vivaldi, but wait: there’s more.  William Hennessy and his players open with a Geminiani scrap: the final 3-minute Allegro from the Concerto Grosso Op. 3 No. 3,  pops in Respighi’s simple-looking but taxing Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 3, and prefaces the Grosso Mogul with Verdi’s Andantissimo, co-opted for string orchestra from the composer’s solitary string quartet and somehow re-christened up to a superlative from Andantino along the way.

This program will be repeated on Thursday August 16 in the Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm.

 

Tuesday August 14

Ray Chen with Julien Quentin

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

29-year-old Chen is an Australian favourite and we have the nerve to lay a kind of claim to him, in the same way that some of us profess that Russell Crowe and John Clarke are our own.   He was schooled in Brisbane before taking off at about the age of 17 for an achievement-packed career in America and Europe.  He is appearing for Musica Viva, along with regular collaborator, pianist Julien Quentin who is about 15 years his senior.  In the first of two programs, the pair work through the rarely-heard Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 1, followed by Grieg’s Sonata No. 2, the middle one in G Major.  Before resorting to the flamboyant with Monti’s Czardas and Falla’s Popular Spanish Suite in Paul Kochanski’s famous (and approved) arrangement from the original Seven Popular Spanish Songs, Chen and Quentin will perform a new Matthew Hindson work commissioned for Musica Viva: Violin Sonata No. 1, Dark Matter.

On Saturday August 15, Chen and Quentin will perform a second program:  Vitali’s Chaconne in G minor, the exhilarating Franck A Major Sonata, Ysaye’s Sonata No. 3 for solo violin (Georges Enescu), Ravel’s Tzigane showpiece, and the new Matthew Hindson new score from Program 1.

 

Wednesday August 15

BERNSTEIN CLASSICS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Bramwell Tovey has form as a Bernstein authority.   In 1986, he filled in at short notice to direct a London Symphony Orchestra Bernstein Festival opening night, with Bernstein present.   Back in Melbourne to help celebrate the American master musician’s birth centenary, Tovey is at the MSO helm for a night better called Bernstein and His Influences.  We start with Copland’s 1957 Orchestral Variations, a re-working of the composer’s Piano Variations which Bernstein admired immensely.  Another favourite composer was Mahler, so we’re hearing the five Ruckert Lieder with contralto soloist Liane Keegan.  As for original works, one is the three-movement Symphony No. 1, Jeremiah, which the composer recorded three times but was untouched by anybody else until he died; Keegan is also the soloist for this 1942 score.  To finish, Tovey conducts the Chichester Psalms with Tasmanian Nicholas Tolputt the countertenor soloist – and that’s a voice you don’t want to miss.  Bernstein calls for four other vocal soloists for this work but I can’t find any details about them.  The MSO Chorus will be hard-pressed in this psalm sequence but the work’s timbre-scale is extraordinary: 6 brass, 6 percussion, 2 harps and strings.   And the vocal forces are required to sing in Hebrew.

 

Saturday August 18

BERNSTEIN ON BROADWAY

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Another one-night stand in honour of Lenny, this will be also be directed by Bramwell Tovey, a pianist/conductor with an affinity for music more commonly known as ‘light’.  He will probably be conducting the MSO as well as offering some piano accompaniments.  Just like a performance of Messiah, there will be four soloists: British soprano Sarah Fox making what I think is her first appearance here, mezzo Liane Keegan, tenor Brenton Spiteri and Canadian-born baritone Brett Polegato.  As far as I can learn, none of these has made any name for himself/herself in Bernstein’s output, but we are promised excerpts from Wonderful Town, On the Town, Candide, Peter Pan, Fancy Free and West Side Story.  In other words, a collection of material we don’t know at all, and other lyrics that we know all too well.

 

Sunday August 19

MOZART AND DONIZETTI

The Melbourne Musicians

St John’s Southgate at 3 pm

Director Frank Pam’s beloved Mozart features at this concert through soprano Elena Xanthoudakis who will sing three of the composer’s most well-known operatic arias: the Countess’s Dove sono from Act 3 of The Marriage of Figaro, Susanna’s Deh vieni from the opera’s last garden act of the same work, and Pamina’s Ach, ich fuhl’s from Act 2 of The Magic Flute.  The singer also takes on some Donizetti with one of Adina’s arias from L’elisir d’amoreDella crudele Isotta or Prendi, per me sei libero although the first requires a chorus and the second doesn’t really end convincingly.   As a built-in encore, Xanthoudakis will also contribute a reading of Schubert’s Ave Maria to the afternoon’s progress.  The other Donizetti comprises the Concertino for cor anglais, an Allegro in C and the Introduction for strings.  Celebrating a senior Australian composer who died in February this year, the Musicians are also performing Colin Brumby’s 1988 Scena for cor anglais and strings; as with the Donizetti Concertino, Anne Gilby is the soloist.  Despite all this string-heavy content, suitable for the Musicians’ personnel make-up, the Mozart and Donizetti arias call for extra instruments – flute, oboe(s), bassoon, horns; added expense but in a good cause.

 

Sunday August 19

SIMONE YOUNG CONDUCTS BRAHMS

Australian National Academy of Music

Melbourne Recital Centre at 5 pm

Following her success with the MSO in realizing Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 last month, Young makes what has become an annual visit to the National Academy to take that body’s young players into the bowels of the European repertoire.  Tonight, it’s the turn of Brahms’ Symphony No. 3, the most free-ranging and dynamically turbulent of the four, although it has a marvellously consolatory final page or two.  This is paired with Strauss’s Metamorphosen for 23 strings which, for this usually ebullient composer, constitutes barely relieved depression at the state of the composer’s country in 1944/6.  To open, Young presents Wolfgang Rihm’s flute-less, trumpet-less, violin-less Ernster Gesang of 1996 with some obvious throwback to Brahms except that Rihm employs no singer.

 

Sunday August 19

THE TWO ROBERTS  –  MUSIC FROM RUSSIA, FRANCE AND SPAIN

Team of Pianists

Rippon Lea Ballroom at 6:30 pm

In its penultimate recital at the National Trust home, the Team is represented by Robert Chamberlain, who partners local cellist Robert Ekselman.  The French strain comes from two historical spectrum ends: Couperin’s Five (Cinq?) Pieces en ConcertPrelude, Sicilienne, La Tromba, Plainte, Air de Diable – and Debussy’s Cello Sonata which tests every duo’s dynamic balance.  The Russian flavour comes through Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata which is just as much a piano sonata and was the composer’s last chamber work.  And from Spain will come Falla’s Suite populaire espagnole, presumably in Maurice Marechal’s arrangement; nice to hear this again, so soon after Ray Chen and Julien Quentin’s reading five days previous.   There’s a nice symmetry to this program with little scraps set alongside major works, although the Debussy flies past all too rapidly.

 

Wednesday August 22

TORMENTED SOULS

Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, MLC at 7:30 pm

Kathy Selby enlists the company of violinist Natalie Chee and cellist Julian Smiles for the piano trio parts of this night’s work, both musicians she has brought into this series several times in previous years.  They begin with Beethoven’s  G Major Trio, the one subtitled Kakadu Variations because that’s all there is to it, all twelve of them on a theme that obviously tickled the composer’s adaptation bone.  You’ll find more of the promised torment in Schumann’s last Piano Trio, that in G minor, although the passion is negligible in a happy finale.  Lloyd Van’t Hoff brings his clarinet to the mix for Messiaen’s Quartet for the end of time which assaults the listener with an overwhelming mix of stasis and plunging energy.  This is music that is totally individual, brilliantly organized and emotionally draining;  in the right hands, it can be a transformative experience, in particular the aspiring last violin/piano duet.

 

Saturday August 25

DIE WALKURE ACT 1

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

I recall that Markus Stenz programmed this Ring lump in 2012, but did he partner it with something else?  Yes: it was Beethoven’s Pastoral and I still don’t understand why.  In any case, here we go again, thanks to the insatiable desire of Sir Andrew Davis to give us opera without theatrical constraints.  He builds up to one of opera’s great storms and most ardent love-through-nature duets with that tender trifle, the Siegfried Idyll .  .  .  after which 20 minutes, we go out for interval, returning for the opera excerpt’s 65 minutes.  Eva-Maria Westbroek takes on Sieglinde, a role she has sung in Bayreuth, London’s Royal Opera House, and the Metropolitan Opera.   Her husband, Frank van Aken, partners her as Siegmund which he has presented in Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera and Teatro del Liceu.   The killjoy husband, Hunding, will be Australian bass Daniel Sumegi, who sang the part in 2012 and was seen here last year in Davis’s concert performance of Massenet’s Thais.   Doubtless, the MSO will enjoy the opportunity to play a good stretch of Wagner; my major reservation is that we have to eschew the delights of Acts 2 and 3.

 

Wednesday August 29

CONCERT 1: BRAHMS, BEACH AND MENDELSSOHN

Mimir Chamber Music Festival

Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne at 7:30 pm

Returning once again to show us how it’s done  –  and they really do  –  eminences from the Fort Worth original festival conduct classes in and hold recitals of chamber music while collaborating with Conservatorium of Music Faculty in three central exercises.  Participants include some familiar US friends in violinists Stephen Rose and Jun Iwasaki, violist Joan DerHovsepian and cellist Brant Taylor.  Locals include mezzo Victoria Lambourn, the Conservatorium’s Head of Strings, Curt Thompson, and pianist Caroline Almonte.   Along the way, patrons will hear two imported pianists: Italian Alessio Bax and American John Novacek.   This first recital offers the Brahms Two Songs for Alto, Viola and Piano – one of the composer’s shorter glories – then Amy Beach’s F sharp minor Piano Quintet of 1908, followed by Mendelssohn’s early and Beethoven-struck  A Minor String Quartet.  This is a repeat, with two personnel changes, of  Concert No. 2 at this year’s Texas Mimir Festival, given on July 5.

 

Thursday August 30

HOLST’S THE PLANETS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Sir Andrew brings us yet another great British masterpiece in Holst’s seven-movement suite, presumably in its original form without the addition of Colin Matthews’ Pluto the Renewer or the Rattle-commissioned Asteroids quartet.  No: Neptune will take us into the void – well, actually, the ladies of the MSO Chorus will have that pleasure.  Preceding this orchestral show-piece,  Davis conducts the premiere of Carl Vine’s new Symphony No. 8; this is the major product so far of the composer’s residency with the orchestra.  Its title The Enchanted Loom, refers to a metaphor coined by British neuroscientist Sir Charles Sherrington to describe the brain awakening from sleep.  Vine’s five movements are: the loom awakens, the social fabric, sheer invention, euphoria, and imagining infinity; the score has a duration of about 25 minutes.

This program will be repeated at 7:30 pm in Costa Hall, Geelong on Friday August 31, and again in Hamer Hall at 2 pm on Saturday September 1.

 

Friday August 31

CONCERT 2: SIBELIUS, RACHMANINOV AND BEETHOVEN

Mimir Chamber Music Festival

Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne at 7:30 pm

For the second of these masterly exercises, the night begins with the slight G minor String Trio by Sibelius, followed by Rachmaninov’s Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos – one of those products of the composer’s recovery and return to composition after three years’ silence and hypnotherapeutic and psychotherapeutic treatments – while the evening takes on an appreciable if lightly-administered gravitas after interval with Beethoven’s String Quartet in E flat Major Op. 127 – the first of the great chain of five that engrossed the composer in his final, intensely unhappy years.  The Sibelius and Beethoven are repeats of the content for Fort Worth’s Mimir July 7 Concert No. 3 where, instead of the Rachmaninov, patrons heard a four-hand piano version of Stravinsky’s Petrushka – presumably the unpublished arrangement that the composer used during rehearsals prior to the ballet’s first staging in 1911.

 

 

 

 

 

July Diary

Sunday July 1

Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition

South Melbourne Town Hall at 10 am, 2 pm and 7:30 pm

Off we go once more on a week of wall-to-wall piano trio and string quartet music as young ensembles from everywhere compete for several glittering prizes.  It’s a marvellous time for chamber music devotees and their relish in the events is patently clear: everybody who performs enjoys affirmative, if not rapturous, applause.

In the first recital, the Netherlands/Belgium Mosa Trio plays Haydn in E Hob XV 28 No. 44, the E minor Shostakovich and Dutch writer Sam David Wamper’s Portrait of Light from 2015; it probably will help that the group has recorded these last two works.  Then the Idomeneo String Quartet  – a Belgian/Hungarian/Spanish combo – is listed to play Haydn No. 15 in D minor K. 421 (which makes me suspect somebody has the wrong composer although, in a different incarnation, this could be one of Mozart’s Haydn quartets), Janacek’s Kreutzer Sonata, and Thomas Ades’ The Four Quarters of 2011 which boasts, in its finale, the unusual time signature of 25/16.

After lunch, the Bukolika Trio from Poland gives us Haydn in C Major Hob XV No. 27; then, beating the nationalistic drum, Gorecki’s 6 Bagatelles.  The South Korean Baum Quartet follows with the Mozart D minor – probably the second performance of this score that we’ll hear today – and Szymanowski No. 2.  To end comes the Amatis Trio – another hybrid: Netherlands/Germany/UK – with the same Haydn as the Bukolikas, the same Shostakovich as the Mosas, but a real novelty in Iranian composer Kaveh Tayaranian Azimi’s Fragmented Impulses II.

Leading off the evening recital, the Quatuor Agate attempts Mozart’s Dissonance No. 19 in C, the terse Bartok No. 3, and Bernadette Clozel’s Volutes, written for the 2013 Festival quatuors a l’Ouest and the composer’s first essay in this form.  Australia’s own Clarendon Trio finishes off the first day with Haydn in E minor Hob XV No. 12, resurrects the Alexander Tcherepnin Trio Op. 34 (not 35, as on the MICMC web-site), and airs Stanhope’s (which one? Paul) Dolcissimo Uscignolo tribute to Monteverdi; yes, we can flaunt the chauvinistic banner as proudly as anybody else.

 

Monday July 2

Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition

South Melbourne Town Hall at 10 am, 2 pm and 7:30 pm

First up, the Austrian/Russian/German Eliot Quartett, taking its name from Thomas Stearns, performs Haydn Op. 71 No. 2, Bartok No. 3 (hello, the lads from Agate), and the same Ades as yesterday’s Idomeneo group.  This morning’s trio is the French/Latvian Sora who break no new Haydn ground with the same Haydn as yesterday’s Bukolikas but then move off the predictable path with Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Op 24 Trio of 1945.

The afternoon brings us the United Kingdom’s Gildas Quartet in Haydn’s Fifths Op. 76 No. 2, followed by – what else? – Britten’s last, No. 3.   The Australian/US Merz Trio, taking  inspiration from the unlikely figure of Kurt Schwitters, presents the festival’s first Beethoven in the flashy Op. 1 No. 2, with an off-setting pendant Shostakovich (third rendering so far, after the Mosa and Amatis versions).  The Thaleia Quartet of Japan sets up a direct challenge to the Eliots with Haydn Op. 71 No. 2, throws down the gauntlet to yesterday’s Idomeneos through Janacek’s Kreutzer Sonata, finally offering a real original in Akira Nishimura’s 2013 Quartet No. 5, Shesha – written for Irvine Arditti as a 60th birthday present from another sixty-year-old.

The Trio Marvin (Russia. Kazakhstan and Germany – hence the name’s inversion[?]) launches our evening with the competition’s first Mozart piano trio, the B flat K. 502, before vaulting the centuries to senior Latvian composer Peteris Vasks’ Episodi e canto perpetuo, an 8-movement homage to Messiaen from 1985.   Then the all-German Goldmund Quartet plays a different Haydn in the G Major first of the Tost Op. 54 set, runs off-centre with Serbian-born Canadian-resident Ana Sokolovic’s Commedia dell’arte III centred on the characters Brighella, Signora, and the Innamorati, and pulls back a historical decade or four with Wolfgang Rihm’s lop-sided Quartet No. 4

 

Tuesday July 3

Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition

South Melbourne Town Hall at 10 am, 2 pm and 7:30 pm

The morning session completes the first round for all ensembles.  Trio Gaon, a German/South Korean fusion, complements the Merz initiative with Beethoven’s Op. 1 No. 1 in E flat.  An unusual direction comes through Jean Francaix’s late Piano Trio from 1986, followed by Simone Corti’s two-year-old Musica discreta.  Round One concludes with the American Callisto Quartet offering a difference from the Eliot and Thaleia groups with  Haydn’s No. 1 in B flat from the Op. 71 set, then aiming for the stars with Bartok No. 6.

At 2 pm, the competition moves into Round 2 where everyone has to perform a compulsory Australian work:  Holly Harrison’s Balderdash for the quartets, Paul Stanhope’s Pulses for the trios.  Hearing each of these commissioned pieces eight times will give aficionados plenty of space to exercise their standards of comparison, although I fear people will follow the easier road of slagging the works themselves.   Anyway, for its second attempt, after Balderdash enjoys its first airing, the Baum Quartett essays Mendelssohn No. 6 in F minor, his last completed major work and a requiem for his recently departed sister Fanny.  Then, attention turns to German phenomenologist/composer Elmar Lampson through his Quartet No. 3, Canzone.   The Clarendon Trio follows with the Stanhope, then puts its faith in Mendelssohn in C minor with the big chorale finish.  Finishing this ample afternoon, the Quatuor Agate couples its Harrison insights with Debussy – a real show of self-confidence.

Night brings back the Amatis Trio with Stanhope and Mendelssohn in D minor, bare hours after the Clarendons have worked through the ‘other’ one.  The Idomeneo players couple their Harrison with Mendelssohn in F minor, setting up a juxtaposition with the Baums earlier in the day.

 

Tuesday July 3

BEETHOVEN WIDMANN

Australian String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

In an unfortunate bit of untimely scheduling, the ASQ is appearing in the middle of a chamber music orgy; perhaps something went wrong in the planning stage but somebody must have known about the chamber music competition.  Will people be happy to forego the pleasures of the Amatis Trio and Idomeneo Quartet for our home-grown musicians? Let’s hope so.  The title tells it all: the last Beethoven and one of his first – Op. 18 No. 3 in D – surround the Hunt Quartet, the third by German contemporary Jorg Widmann.  In this, the group apparently hunts down and kills (musically, one expects) its cellist, the work based on that repetitive rhythm dominating the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A.  Well, it’s a connection of sorts and Widmann’s opus lasts for a bit over 10 minutes – a quick homicide, then.

 

Wednesday July 4

Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition

South Melbourne Town Hall at 10 am, 2 pm and 7:30 pm

First out of the blocks comes the Bukolika outfit with Stanhope, and Dvorak’s Trio Op. 49 No. 1 in D minor which has me beat because it’s not in the catalogue.   Perhaps Mendelssohn is the intended composer but his Op. 49 is self-contained – no individualizing numbers.  At all events, the ensemble finishes up with Kaija Saariaho’s Light and Matter, a 2014 commission from the Finnish-born composer for the Bowdoin International Festival (a college in Maine that offers an annual summer music school and concerts).  The Gildas Quartet then does its Harrison, finishes with Ravel, these two works bracketing Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s 10-year-old My day in Hell; well, she’s a fellow Brit and a busy writer in her home milieu  .  .  .  so much so that this performance doesn’t rate a mention on her web-site.

After lunch, the Mosa Trio pair their Stanhope with – surprise, surprise – Mendelssohn in D minor.  Then the Thaleias juxtapose Harrison with the demanding Ravel Quartet.  Finally, Trio Marvin matches Stanhope with the last Brahms in C minor, as well as Thorsten Encke’s Trio No. 2, written last year and commissioned by the Felix-Mendelssohn-Wettbewerb Berlin but which conceals its mysteries from this writer.

Ending the day’s labours, the Eliot Quartett, like the Agate boys, sets up Harrison and then hopes that Debussy doesn’t suffer in comparison.  On the other hand, the Trio Gaon puts its Stanhope alongside Brahms No. 1, the noble B Major masterpiece.

 

Thursday July 5

Melbourne International Chamber Music Festival

South Melbourne Town Hall at 10 am and 2 pm

The penultimate Round 2 event opens with the Callisto Quartet opting for Debussy alongside Harrison, then offering a difference from the Eliot and Agate people with young Spanish trombonist Francisco Coll’s 5 minutes’ worth of Cantos, written for the Cuarteto Casals last year and with a barrel-load of effects inside its small frame.  The Merz collageists follow Stanhope with Schumann’s last Trio in G minor Op. 110 No. 3 – great to see this being aired – and Johannes Maria Staud’s 10 miniatures ofrom 2007, Fur Balint Andras Varga, a homage to the prolific Hungarian commentator on contemporary music and this composer’s ‘mentor and advocate’.

To finish the round, the Goldmunds break no new ground, putting their Harrison beside Ravel, just like the Thaleia Quartet.  Last cab off the rank, the Trio Sora give their Stanhope before Mendelssohn in C minor, then take on Kagel’s Trio No. 2, In einem Satz; seems to me like overkill if you consider the length of this last work which may be in one movement but is a solid and unusually enervating score.

 

Thursday July 5

SIMONE YOUNG AND KOLJA BLACHER

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

The very popular conductor and splendid violinist collaborate in a simple program that makes little sense on paper if you’re looking for logic.  Regardless, I think that Melbourne people have a lot of time for the Sydney-born musician, especially after the inane and inept treatment afforded her by the national opera company.   Blacher was first sponsored here, I believe, by Markus Stenz and his repertoire mastery continues to impress on each visit.  Tonight, he fronts Britten’s Concerto, a pretty early work but a fine example of the composer’s genius at walking a distinctive line between bracing neo-modernity and piquant sweetness.   As a counterweight, Young conducts Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6, a work you hear very rarely but, to my mind, refreshingly uncluttered – the only one that the composer didn’t subject to revisions.

The program will be repeated in Costa Hall, Geelong on Friday July 6 at 7:30 pm, and back in Hamer Hall on Saturday July 7 at 2 pm.

 

Friday July 6

Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition

South Melbourne Town Hall at 9:30 am, 11:30 am, 2 pm, 4 pm, 7:30 pm

It’s semi-finals day.  Each of these recitals features a quartet and a trio that have one final chance to impress the audience and jurors.   Five recitals mean five of each ensemble, so by this stage only three in each competitive formation have been eliminated.  It makes for a long day and the only assurance is that competitors can only stay on-stage for an hour maximum.

At this level, the repertoire is limited to Beethoven or Schubert.  Which may explain why these composers barely feature on preceding programs; in Schubert’s case, not at all, which avoidance you can certainly understand with regard to the piano trios who will all have been thinking of this round’s single limitation.

 

Sunday July 8

Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition

Melbourne Recital Centre at 1 pm and 6 pm.

We’ve moved up-market to the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall for the competition’s grand final.  The earlier recital features three piano trio ensembles, the last men and women standing.  Their mission is to play a work that they have not performed so far at MICMC.

Obviously, the evening event is for the quartets.  The same situation applies: they can play anything they want but it can’t have been part of their Rounds One or Two programs.

You can wait around for the jury to file out to give its verdict.  Or, if you’re time-poor, you can listen to the results on ABC FM which is broadcasting this event, while 3MBS has been taking responsibility for all of the other recitals over the preceding week-plus.

The prizes seem to grow in number every year, but the pity is that either a trio or a quartet wins the top Grand Cash+Tour Bonanza; a choice between apples and oranges, once again.

 

Saturday July 14

WILLIAM TELL

Victorian Opera

Palais Theatre, St. Kilda at 7:30 pm

It’s been 140 years between performances in Australia, but now the state company is taking the plunge into Rossini’s final opera.  As you’d expect, it will be given in abridged form, but it has rarely been staged in its original length, shortened even during the composer’s life-time.  VO is presenting a three-hour version, which is long enough for those of us who have a powdered coffee acquaintance with the score.  The cast is heavily local, with a few major imports: Argentinian  baritone Armando Noguera takes the title role; Swedish soprano Gisela Stille sings the love interest, Mathilde; Italian bass Paolo Pecchioli will be the villain, Gesler.  Teddy Tahu Rhodes, a sort of import, plays Melcthal, the unfortunate patriot who lasts for only one act.  In the vocally pivotal part of Arnold, Melcthal’s son, Carlos E. Barcenas has his work cut out for him; Jeremy Kleeman serves as Tell’s off-sider, Walter; Alexandra Flood has the young-pants role of Tell’s son, Jemmy; Liane Keegan will suffer as Tell’s pressurized wife, Hedwige.  Jerzy Kozlowski appears as Leuthold who sets the whole story in motion by killing one of Gesler’s guards; Timothy Reynolds’ tenor enjoys the opera’s first solo as the fisherman Ruodi.  Company artistic guru Richard Mills conducts; Rodula Gaitanou directs and here’s hoping she can improve on last year’s Cav/Pag double from Opera Australia.

The opera will be repeated on Tuesday July 17 and Thursday July 19 at 7:30 pm.

 

Sunday July 15

ESPANA

The Melbourne Musicians

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

Rada Tochalna is Frank Pam’s soloist for this concert.  Living up to the title’s expectations, she will sing the well-known Seven Spanish Folk-Songs by Falla which give a rich all-embracing view of the country’s music in encapsulated form.  The chamber orchestra also plays Albeniz, a Carmen suite, and pieces by Shostakovich (Salute to Spain? Spanish Dance?  Some or all of the six Spanish Songs?)  and Waldteufel (the Espana Waltz?).  All this Iberian frivolity will eventually give way to a brief birthday greeting for Australian composer George Dreyfus who turns 90 a fortnight from today.  Horn player Tom Campbell takes the melody line in Larino Safe Haven, and the whole ensemble revisits the composer’s most popular piece: the main title for the mid-70s TV series Rush.

 

Sunday July 15

VIENNESE MAGIC

Team of Pianists

Rippon Lea, Elsternwick at 6:30 pm

Rather than the collation of short-breathed pieces that have speckled TOP programs so far this year, this recital has only two works scheduled.  A senior Team figure, Darryl Coote, provides the keyboard line for Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E flat K. 493, then does double duty with Schubert’s A Major Piano Quintet – yes, the happy Trout.  His collaborators are all current MSO members: violin Kathryn Taylor, viola Christopher Cartlidge, cello Rohan de Korte, and double-bass Benjamin Hanlon.  Like every performance of the Schubert, this will come from an ad hoc ensemble but it’s hard to strike a misfire with such a benign score.  The Mozart is another story, notable for its hard-hitting directness and oh-so-revealing clarity of texture.

 

Friday July 20

BEETHOVEN & BRAHMS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Here’s an unusual set-up from the programmers; something that gives you a lot to chew on.  Tonight’s conductor is Joshua Weilerstein – brother of cellist Alisa, son of pianist Vivian Hornik and violinist Donald.  He is currently artistic director of the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne.  His first task is not that challenging: escorting Dalby-born pianist Jayson Gilham through the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3, which has always struck me as being the simplest of the five, technically and intellectually.  After this has been done with, the MSO plays a Klengel arrangement of the soothing Brahms Intermezzo No. 1 from the Op. 117 set;  I assume it’s Paul’s and not Julius’ orchestration because Weilerstein has recorded the former with the BBC Philharmonic.  Following this near-lullaby, the orchestra plays what is called the ‘orchestral version’ of Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor; again, I’m into presumption territory. thinking/hoping that this could be Schoenberg’s celebrated transcription of 1937 which is hard to surpass for mouth-watering textural richness.

This program will be repeated on Saturday July 21 at 7:30 pm, and again on Monday July 23 at 6:30 pm.

 

Sunday July 22

MIDSUMMER MENDELSSOHN GALA

Flinders Quartet

Upper Gallery, Montsalvat at 2:30 pm

As you could probably guess, we’re hearing music for the Shakespeare play, arranged for string quartet by Iain Grandage, with the MSO’s principal viola, Christopher Moore, declaiming a sequence of extracts from the text.  I once saw Joel Edgerton carry out the same task with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the results were top-notch.  Moore further builds on his spoken-word duties by narrating Michael Leunig’s texts for The Curly Pyjama Letters, with music by Calvin Bowman; all the whimsy you could possibly desire.  The recital continues its gala quality with the buoyant Brahms String Quintet in G Major Op. 111, which requires two violas and which the composer intended to be his final work – that was, until he heard Muhlfeld’s clarinet.  For this, Moore closes his mouth and partners Helen Ireland’s tenor line.   The Flinders’ first violin position is changing occupants throughout the year; this afternoon, it will be taken by Thibaud Pavlovic-Hobba, whom I’ve only seen/heard in the  ranks of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

 

Tuesday July 24

Joyce Yang

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

The South Korean-born pianist has appeared here with the MSO but I think these are her first Melbourne recitals.  Appearing for Musica Viva, she is playing two separate programs here and in Sydney; the common element to both is a newly commissioned Piano Sonata by young Australian composer Elizabeth Younan.  Tonight, she begins with Five Lyric Pieces by Grieg; don’t know which ones but she has 66 to choose from.  Then come the three Debussy Estampes, Chopin’s Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante, Younan’s sonata, and Schumann’s Carnaval for a weltering finale.   In the second program, Yang opens with three of Rachmaninov’s preludes from the catalogue’s 25; moves forward with the Janacek Piano Sonata; brings us a blast from the past in Liszt’s Spanish Rhapsody – it’s been years since I heard this finger-twister; follows the Younan sonata with one of the greatest in the form – Liszt in B minor.  She’s a fine pianist (judged from her concerto appearances) with a welcome level head on her shoulders.

Yang will play her second program on Saturday July 28 at 7 pm.

 

Friday July 27

OSBORNE TOGNETTI VALVE IN RECITAL

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

A fine combination: the ACO’s long-time artistic director Richard Tognetti and that cellist-for-all-seasons Timo-Veikko Valve make chamber music of the purest kind with Scottish pianist Steven Osborne.  Mind you, they’re not bringing any surprises to this event, playing just two repertoire staples: Dvorak’s Dumky E minor Piano Trio and the Brahms No. 1 in B Major.  This is a one-night stand between Perth and Brisbane appearances and, like some other ACO small-group programs at the MRC, could be so-so or a night to relish for months to come.

 

Friday July 27

WEST SIDE STORY

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Another of the live soundtrack efforts from the MSO, this also serves to amplify local efforts to observe the centenary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth.  A revelation when it first appeared, this film is almost standing the test of time; only the acting is occasionally over-melodramatic (George Chakiris) or ineffectual (Richard Beymer).  But you’d come along for the music, wouldn’t you?  And its dance sequences will be a test of the MSO’s responsiveness to changing rhythms and the brassy assertiveness that radiates from the original, even though Bernstein didn’t approve of the arrangements made by Irwin Kostal.  Above all, in this era of ditzy stupidity in musical theatre, West Side Story has a dramatic and musical clarity that set it as one of the high watermarks of the art – and  that’s exactly what Bernstein made of it.

The program will be repeated on Saturday July 28 at 1 pm.

 

 

 

 

 

June Diary

Thursday June 7

THOMAS HAMPSON SINGS MAHLER

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Well, he’s here at last if not exactly in what you could call the heyday of his career.  Still, other singers have managed to keep going well into their 60s, so the best thing is to wait and see.  Hampson, the famous American baritone, is fronting Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer; not exhausting himself, then, with about 15 minutes’ worth of not-too-demanding work in a cycle that he has recorded twice.  Probably of more interest is a rare outing for Mahler’s stand-alone symphonic movement, Totenfeier.  Another rarity is Messiaen’s Le tombeau resplendissant, an assuredly idiosyncratic score from the composer’s early 20s, while conductor Andrea Molino  – to whom we owe thanks for a splendid King Roger last year – takes us all a bit further into the transfigured death stratum of musical experience through Strauss’s Tod und Verklarung.

This program will be repeated on Friday June 8 in Costa Hall, Geelong at 7:30 pm.

 

Saturday June 9

HANSEL AND GRETEL

Victorian Opera

Playhouse, Arts Centre at 11 an, 2 pm and 5 pm

First thing to note is that this is not a complete performance of Humperdinck’s opera; it comes in at about 55 minutes, so expect highlights only.  This version, previously presented by the company in 2014, is sung in German and may feature translations on side-screens.   Elizabeth Hill returns to direct, and Simon Bruckard, assistant to Fabian Russell four years ago, stands at the podium this time.  As far as I can tell, the cast is a completely new one: Shakira Dugan (Hansel), Cleo Lee-McGowan (Gretel), Tomas Dalton (Witch), Kirilie Blythman (Mother/Angel/Child), Stephen Marsh (Fairy/Angel/Child), Michelle McCarthy (Dew Fairy), Matthew Thomas (Angel/Child), and Douglas Kelly (Sandman).  Ross Hall’s set and costumes return, as does Peter Darby’s lighting set-up.  When you think of the voluminous breadth of the original, a less-than-an-hour experience sounds pretty attractive.

This performance will be re-presented on Tuesday June 12 at 1 pm.

 

Wednesday June 13

LISZT AT THE OPERA

LESLIE HOWARD

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

The Australian expatriate pianist has been a Liszt authority for many years and, in recording everything that the composer wrote, he has unearthed many a long-forgotten score.  Despite most people’s experiences, Liszt didn’t stop with Rigoletto and Tristan but took liberties with a whole range of other operas.  On this program, Howard brings to life forgotten corners from the large treasury of transcriptions and arrangements that Liszt wrote and put beyond the scope of most pianists.  There’s a sarabande and chaconne based on themes from Handel’s Almira; the final act of Aida is handled with remarkable thrift; a double-whammy emerges with a fantasia on themes from both Don Giovanni and Figaro; Howard performs one of the three arrangements that Liszt produced on Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, the generous Reminiscences; further recollections come from Bellini’s Norma; and the composer takes a motif or six from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette for his Les adieux – Reverie.

 

Friday June 15

L”ENFANCE DU CHRIST

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Anyone who has sung in a half-decent church choir will know the Shepherds’ Farewell from this oratorio, but the rest of the score is generally unfamiliar territory.  Thanks to Sir Andrew Davis and his concern to fill in certain gaps in our musical experience, this state of affairs will be changed, just as he did for us with Massenet’s Thais.  Sasha Cooke, an American mezzo who appeared here in Davis’ 2015 review of the Mahler No. 3,  sings Mary; British tenor Andrew Staples, also here three years ago for a Davis performance of The Damnation of Faust,  will be the Narrator; Roderick Williams, a British baritone who has collaborated with Davis on two CDs of Elgar and Vaughan Williams, takes on Joseph; local boy Andrew Goodwin scores the role of the Centurion, lucky fellow with his eight bars of recitative; Melbourne-born Shane Lowrencev enjoys the role of Polydore, commander of the patrol in Jerusalem and embarrassed with the riches of two sets of recitative; and we go back to Britain for the plum part of Herod, to be taken by baritone Matthew Brook whom I last heard in a 2013 MSO Messiah. The MSO Chorus gets to sing the afore-mentioned shepherds’ near-lullaby and a lot more besides: angels, soothsayers and a moving final set of pages supporting Staples.  Not to be missed because you’ll probably never get another opportunity to enjoy this gentler Berlioz live.

This program will be repeated on Saturday June 16 at 7:30 pm and on Monday June 18 at 6:30 pm.

 

Saturday June 16

LAWRENCE POWER: SHOSTAKOVICH

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

Making his debut appearance at ANAM as a resident teacher, Power was last heard here, almost two years ago to the day, playing Bartok’s Viola Concerto with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.    Tonight, he takes his ANAM string charges through Biber’s Battalia a 10, although the work rarely uses that many lines; at least, not in my score.  Mozart’s String Quintet No. 1 follows, the one with a bass line rather than a specific cello one and a treat for those of us who revel in the composer’s unexplored catalogue.  The promised Shostakovich is the Chamber Symphony, that arrangement by Rudolf Barshai (a violist, among other things) of the composer’s largo-rich String Quartet No. 8.  Before we get there, Power and his forces present British writer John Woolrich’s 1989 Ulysses Awakes, a meditation of sorts for solo viola and string decet that revolves around the hero’s initial aria, Dormo ancora, from the criminally under-performed Monteverdi opera.

 

Thursday June 21

MOZART & THE CLASSICAL AGE

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm

Pianist Anna Goldsworthy is soloist at this event which comprises mainly Mozart and Haydn, with an unexpected oddity at the night’s start.  William Hennessy directs/leads his orchestra in Mozart’s Symphony No. 30 to round out the program, possibly with the missing timpani part inserted – or an attempt at what it might have sounded like.  The other Mozart components are an arrangement of the String Quartet No. 7 for the MCO players; I assume this is the E Flat K. 160, fairly close in time to the D Major Symphony. Goldsworthy takes up the cudgels for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 6 in B flat, which has somehow escaped my notice – remarkable, considering the score’s substance.  This program’s genuflection to Haydn comes with his popular D Major Piano Concerto which dates from some years after the Mozart we are hearing.   The overture that German-born, Swedish-resident and almost-exact Mozart contemporary Joseph Martin Kraus supplied to precede a performance of Voltaire’s Olympie in 1792 begins the MCO’s endeavours.

This program will be repeated on Sunday June 24 in the Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm.

 

Saturday June 23

MID-SEASON GALA

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

For one night only, Anne-Sophie Mutter appears in this MSO mid-season celebratory concert, playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.  Sir Andrew Davis conducts the program, opening with Stravinsky’s homage to his great compatriot, Le baiser de la fee; not the complete ballet, but the 25-minute Divertimento of extracts from the original.  Davis closes out his celebrations with Nielsen’s Symphony No. 3, the Sinfonia espansiva and most striking of the composer’s six essays in the form.  Mutter is also playing host for Markings, a work for solo violin, strings and harp by the popular and active film-score composer John Williams that was premiered last year at Tanglewood, at which concert this gifted musician also worked her way through the Tchaikovsky concerto – as she will have done at three concerts, a week prior to this, in the Sydney Opera House.

 

Sunday June 24

STEVEN ISSERLIS PLAYS SHOSTAKOVICH

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

As usual, nothing if not varied fare from the ACO.  At the core of the program sits the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat Major, one of the most famous in the repertoire, and a taxing piece to negotiate – at least, for the soloist.  The other pillar of orthodoxy comes at the end with Richard Tognetti taking his orchestra through the last Haydn symphony, No. 104, the London; thereby adding to our limited exposure to any of the last twenty or so in the composer’s output.  Alongside these come two world premieres.  Elena Kats-Chernin wrote A Knock One Night as a commission by Mirek Generowicz to commemorate his family’s fraught migration path to Australia.  Movements (for us and them) was composed by Samuel Adams, son of the American composer John Adams, to a commission from the ACO and Stanford Live; so far, I can’t find out anything about the rationale behind the work, which retains the mystery behind its enigmatic title.

This program will be repeated on Monday June 25 at 7:30 pm.

 

Sunday June 24

BREATH-TAKING AND FOUR HANDS

Team of Pianists

Rippon Lea at 6:30 pm

Well, the performers may be puffed by the time they reach the end of this very varied night’s work.  Veteran oboist Anne Gilby  is partnered by one of the Team’s senior partners, Darryl Coote. as they wander all over the place.  Their tour takes in the Poulenc Oboe Sonata, one of the last pieces that the composer completed; Arnold’s Sonatina of 1951; Gabriel’s Theme from Morricone’s score for that spirit-numbing 1986 Roland Joffe film, The Mission; Schumann’s solitary composition for oboe, the Three Romances; Margaret Sutherland’s 1958 Sonatina; cellist/composer Caerwen Martin’s brief The Native Garden; and Carolyn Morris’s A Day in the Brindabellas.  As a leavening for this fare, Coote and Max Cooke play a couple of four-hand piano works: Mozart’s B flat Sonata and the Andante and Variations K.501.

 

Wednesday June 27

A HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE ROMANTIC

Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, Methodist Ladies College at 7:30 pm

For this reversion to the normal after the organization’s previous excursion into transcriptions/arrangements, Kathryn Selby is joined by violinist Andrew Haveron, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster, and that orchestra’s co-principal cello, Umberto Clerici.  Both of these guests have appeared in previous years, so they would be well-informed about what Selby requires in her collaborators.   Each of them gets a duo showcase: Haveron plays the Mendelssohn F Major Sonata of 1838, the mature one; Clerici has the joy of taking us through Brahms’ F Major Sonata No. 2.  When the players combine after interval, they aim for the heights with the Schubert Piano Trio in E flat: one of the last of the composer’s completed works and an ever-welcome, ever-moving experience.

 

Thursday June 28

KOLJA BLACHER

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

These events have been taken over in previous years by the MSO’s concertmasters, but this time round, regular guest Blacher has taken on the task of curating and leading this particular MRC program.   He will play the solo violin line for Beethoven’s G Major Romance No. 1 of 1802, then directs a reading of the same composer’s Symphony No. 1, published in the preceding year.  Blacher begins with what I hope is the overture only to Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream; as the publicity stands, there is no specificity about what piece(s) will be performed from that rich score which conditioned reactions to the play for generations.  Blacher really hits his front-of-band straps for the Bernstein Serenade, which the composer built on Plato’s Symposium, that personality-rich celebration of love; the composer’s five movements take their inspiration from dialogues and monologues spoken by seven of the characters who attended Agathon’s famous 4th century B.C. celebratory party.

 

 

 

 

 

May Diary

Wednesday May 2

ALCHEMY

Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, MLC Hawthorn at 7:30 pm

Appearing with Kathryn Selby on this tour are violinist Vesa-Matti Leppanen, concertmaster of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and cellist Timo-Veikko Valve, principal with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and a regular at these recitals.  Escorted by this Finnish-born duo, Selby brackets her night with arrangements, the more intriguing a transcription of the Brahms B flat Sextet for a piano trio combination.  This was carried out, I believe, by Theodor Kirchner of whom the composer said, ‘Not I, and certainly no one else, can make arrangements of my works as well as Theodor Kirchner.’ In fact, Selby & Co. give us a double dose, beginning their operations with another Kirchner arrangement, this one of Schumann’s Six Pieces in Canonic Form which were written for that odd hybrid, the pedal piano.  The ‘pure’ component in this program is Arensky’s Trio in F minor, the second of the composer’s pair in this form and much less well-known than its D minor predecessor.  This rarity fleshes out one of the year’s more recherche exercises in the Selby and Friends season.

 

Friday May 4

AN EVENING IN VIENNA

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

It’s all operetta tonight, with Benjamin Northey conducting the MSO and its Chorus in scraps from the Strausses and Lehar.  Details are sketchy but we are promised The Beautiful Blue Danube and Voices of Spring waltzes from The Son, the second of these calling for a soprano soloist while the first, in its original format, required a male chorus.  On this occasion, the soprano will be Emma Matthews, who will also sing arias from Die Fledermaus and The Merry Widow; I’m guessing she’ll be launching into Mein Herr Marquis or/and Klange der Heimat from the former, and Es lebt’ eine Vilja’ from the latter.  Oddly enough, Viennese music of this school seemed to be part of this country’s aesthetic DNA in the first half of the last century and it still retains many enthusiasts who will probably pack the Town Hall.   Perhaps I have a lingering surfeit from my mother’s family, all of whom were addicts, but I get more impatient than most with contemporary performances of these well-worn pages.  Does anyone remember Willy Boskovsky’s visit here many moons ago?  After that, much of the Strauss we now hear live seems pedestrian.

 

Saturday May 5

RICCARDO MUTI

Australian World Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

This time around, the AWO plays two nights in Sydney before coming to Hamer Hall – poor loves.  No soloist is scheduled and the organizers are pinning their publicity on Muti’s participation.  Well, I suppose it will be interesting to see the formidable Italian opera conductor just as he is approaching his final active years.  The program will comprise the Brahms D Major Symphony and Tchaikovsky No. 4: two solid bulwarks of the symphonic repertoire that you can hear pretty much annually during the normal run of MSO concerts.  Also, we are promised a ‘Verdi surprise’, which can only refer to one of the composer’s three neglected sinfonias because there’s nothing else in the catalogue written for orchestra.   But wait: could we be treated to an operatic scrap?  Say, the Triumphal March from Aida? Or the Overture to La forza del destino?  Yes, my money’s on that sort of ‘surprise’ – a theatrical extract to sit comfortably alongside (or between) the two symphonies.

 

Sunday May 6

THE FOUR B’S

Team of Pianists

Barwon Park, Winchelsea at 2.00 pm

If you’re in the neighbourhood, you could do worse with your day in the country than visit this stately if isolated home where senior Team artist Robert Chamberlain tours music’s Four Big B’s with the assistance of Robert Schubert’s clarinet and the cello of Josephine Vains.  Bach is represented by one of his gamba sonatas, the D Major BWV 1028 – yet another of those works we know about but rarely hear.  Naturally, Beethoven’s Gassenhauer Trio gets a hearing – one of the few well-known works for this particular combination of instruments.   As well, the group plays Brahms’ Clarinet Trio in A minor, one of those superlative late flowerings in the composer’s life that came into existence because of his friendship with Richard Muhlfeld.   And, in the centenary year of his birth, we will be treated to music by the last great B.   Not, it’s not Boulez but Bernstein: his Variations on an Octatonic Scale, unpublished in the composer’s lifetime and originally written for recorder and cello but available in a B flat clarinet/cello arrangement. . . which is what you’ll probably get here.

 

Monday May 7

JAZZ & BLUES

Markiyan and Oksana Melnychenko

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

A fine Melbourne University faculty violin talent and his pianist mother are taking the high road in a tribute to the influence that jazz has had on 20th century music .  .  .  some of it.  There’s no arguing about the blues and Ravel’s Violin Sonata No. 2, mainly because of the title that the composer gave to his strutting second movement.  And at least two of Gershwin’s Three Preludes have strong jazz connections, even if the last one seems to me more reminiscent of a Latin American dance; the Melnychenkos play the Heifetz arrangements of them all.   Speaking of the Heifetz-Gershwin connection, the program also offers some selections from the great violinist’s appraisals of Porgy and Bess: take your pick from Summertime, My Man’s Gone Now, A Woman Is A Sometime Thing, Bess, You Is My Woman Now, It Ain’t Necessarily So, and a Tempo di Blues which may be based on There’s A Boat That’s Leaving Soon For New York.  The program’s odd man out is Korngold, whose incidental music to Much Ado About Nothing has some splendid moments but nothing that strikes me as jazzy, although I could be wrong.  In the composer’s own violin/piano suite, there are only four movements out of the original 14: The Maiden in the Bridal Chamber, Dogberry and Verges, Scene in the Garden, and Masquerade: Hornpipe.

 

Thursday May 10

BEETHOVEN’S EROICA

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Tonight we are being treated to Sir Andrew Davis’ interpretation of the epoch-making Symphony No. 3.   Is there anything new to find in this score?   Well, never say never but I think we should be resigned to a decent run-through, at best.   Keeping the tone upbeat and triumphalist, Moye Chen will be soloist in Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1; the Chinese pianist won the George Frederick Boyle Prize at the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition – in other words, he came third.   Setting the orchestral ball rolling is Carl Vine’s Concerto for Orchestra.   Vine is the MSO’s Composer in Residence for 2018; this work is not one written during his term of office but a 21-minute score composed for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra four years ago.

This program is to be repeated on Friday May 11 in Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, and in Hamer Hall on Saturday May 12 at 2 pm.

 

Saturday May 12

THE HARPIST: XAVIER DE MAISTRE

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Yes, the Frenchman is a harpist; it remains to be seen if he is the one.  What the ABO is presenting to make the case for de Maistre’s superiority amounting to absolute pre-eminence is a mixed bag.   We’ll hear Boieldieu’s Harp Concerto in C from 1800 and a collection of Basque/Spanish encore pieces/transcriptions.  There’s Ravel’s piano solo Pavane pour une infante defunte, the orchestral Spanish Dance from Falla’s La vida breve opera, and the Recuerdos de la Alhambra that Tarrega wrote for guitar.  The ABO itself contributes the Mozart Symphony No. 20 and C. P. E. Bach’s 10-minute Symphony No. 1.  At the end, I thought that the orchestra was going to take on Smetana’s Moldau but this magnificent symphonic poem is a de Maistre solo specialty: he has recently recorded a late 19th century transcription of it by Czech harpist Hanus Trnecek.

This program will be repeated on Sunday May 13 at 5 pm.

 

Thursday May 17

FRENCH ARIAS: GRETA BRADMAN

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm

A soprano who impresses more each time you hear her, Greta Bradman will be soloist at this concert which contains no real arias as far as I can tell.  I hope she is presenting Debussy’s Verlaine setting Clair de lune (Votre ame est un paysage choisi) and the MCO is not going to treat us to an orchestral version of the too-familiar Suite bergamasque piano solo.  Without doubt, Bradman will sing the six Ariettes oubliees, also Verlaine texts and strong indicators of the composer’s vocal music character.   Chausson’s Poeme for violin and orchestra will most probably be headed by artistic director William Hennessy;  Faure’s delectable Dolly Suite in Henri Rabaud’s orchestration also appears, as does more Debussy: La soiree dans Grenade from the Estampes triptych, and some selections from the Children’s Corner Suite – all of which piano music is being arranged for the MCO forces by someone as yet unidentified.   On top of this melange comes the premiere of Calvin Bowman’s Ophelie, which brings Bradman back into play; other details are currently not available although the title suggests more Harriet Smithson than Shakespeare.

This program will be repeated at the Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm on Sunday  May 20.

 

Friday May 18

INTERNATIONAL BAROQUE

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

This celebration bounces off with some of the dances from Terpsichore, that excellent collection by the versatile Michael Praetorius.  Director/cellist Howard Penny then takes his young players and ANAM enthusiasts on a (mainly) Baroque tour d’horizon with a Sonata a 10 by the Moravian writer Pavel Vejvanovsky, the Sonata No. 2 from Georg Muffat’s Armonico Tributo, the startlingly-titled Hipocondrie a 7 concertanti and the Sinfonia from the oratorio I penitenti al sepolcro de Redentore by Zelenka, the Balletto No. 1 di zingari by Schmelzer, C. P. E. Bach’s Symphony in F Major (Which one?  There is a choice of three) and a Sinfonia from his father’s Christmas Oratorio (I presume the G Major gem from the second cantata with the quartet of oboes da caccia and d’amore, ho ho).  Handel is heavily represented by his Concerto a due cori No. 2 in F, the overture to his oratorio Jephtha, and selections from the second Water Music Suite, although why only selections puzzles me because the whole collection lasts less than ten minutes.

 

Sunday May 20

A FRENCH CONNECTION

Team of Pianists

Rippon Lea at 6:30 pm

For a recital directing us north of the Pyrenees, this one starts with a geographical clanger.  Violinist Elizabeth Sellars and Team member Rohan Murray begin the night with Beethoven’s A Major Violin Sonata; no, not the Kreutzer, nor the No. 2 from Op. 12, but the Op. 30 No. 1 that many of us have never heard in live performance.  Where the link-up with France lies, I can’t fathom.  Anyway, the musicians then move into Faure’s Op. 13, another A Major Sonata and the more popular of the composer’s two in the form.  Georgy Catoire’s Elegie may have a French title but the composer was Russian, albeit one with French heritage.  The night ends with two Debussy arrangements: the art song Beau soir from the composer’s mid-teens, and La fille aux cheveux de lin that brightens up the first book of Preludes for piano.

 

Tuesday May 22

BACH AND HIS WORLD

Tafelkmusik Baroque Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

The Canadian ensemble is back for its third Musica Viva-backed tour, this time concentrating its efforts on the Baroque giant.  What distinguishes Tafelmusik’s presentations is the organization’s use of screen projections, as well as a spoken commentary, the which combination provides both a visual and a verbal environment.  All very nice but what counts is the music and, last time these musicians were here with their  House of Dreams project, I found the playing capable enough but bland.  Tonight, the players are offering the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 – all 12 minutes of it; the Orchestral Suite No. 1, most stolid of the four; and excerpts from the Goldberg Variations, which I’m guessing will not be left to a solitary keyboard player for negotiation.  You’d have to go along with a benign predisposition if only because of the music’s quality but I’m hoping the backdrop doesn’t take over to the extent that it did back in 2015.  Oh, the group has a new director/first violin: Elisa Citterio.

This program will be repeated on Saturday May 26 at 7 pm.

 

Monday May 28

BACH & DISTLER

Ensemble Gombert

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

The Bach is the motet Jesu, meine Freude: one of the most complex of the six works in this form by the composer and a test of any choir’s precision of pitch and differentiation in choral colour.  With Hugo Distler’s Totentanz, the singers take us into a less assured spiritual landscape but one that would be at least slightly familiar to Ensemble aficionados because the organization presented this work at the Xavier College Chapel in September 2016.  It presents a striking sequence of choral and spoken scenes, the crux of the matter being Death’s invitation to his dance, extended to rich and poor, young and old, the musical complexion dissonant but disarmingly aphoristic.

 

Thursday May 31

Thomas Hampson

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Heading towards his middle 60s, American baritone Hampson is here to take part in the Recital Centre’s Great Performers series.   Is this his first Melbourne visit?   I can’t recall his name emerging from the lists of visitors over previous decades.   While next Thursday he will sing Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra under Andrea Molino, thus giving us a sample from his most highly acclaimed field of operations, this MRC recital program is yet to be finalised.  Among the composers to enjoy the singer’s services (and those of his accompanist, Maciej Pikulski) are Rossini, Schubert, Saint-Saens, Mahler, Copland  –  ‘and others’.  Which sounds to me as though the bones of a program have been assembled, and space has been left to add some artificial limbs or whatever comes to hand between now and May 31.

 

 

 

 

 

 

April Diary

Thursday April 5

Debussy & Brahms

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

There’s a sort of safety in programming easily imbibable matter at the start and end of a concert.   Conductor Jun Markl has recorded both the Debussy Nocturnes that open this program and the Brahms Symphony No. 4 which closes it; in  other words, he’s not being stressed.  Nor are the MSO or the Ladies of the orchestra’s chorus who get to ooh-aah in the third of the Debussy collection, Sirenes.  The occasion’s real interest comes in the middle with a premiere: Australian composer Mary Finsterer’s Double Concerto Missed Tales III – The Lost.  This work asks for viola and cello soloists; the MSO’s principal viola, Christopher Moore, is on board but apparently the orchestra’s cellos were unable or unwilling to take up the challenge as the lower-string soloist is Timo-Veikko Valve from the Australian Chamber Orchestra.  There’s a Missed Tales I – Lake Ice for orchestra but I can’t track down a middle one in the series, although Finsterer’s trend in this regard appears to involve concertos for string/s.

This program will be repeated in Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, on Friday April 6 at 7:30 pm

 

Saturday April 7

PRELUDES (BOOK 1)

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

The Debussy observances continue at ANAM with a solid recital headed by visiting guru Roy Howat in collaboration with some of the Academy’s bright young things.  For example, a cellist will be required for two rarities: a very early Nocturne and Scherzo which appears to have no nocturne, and an Intermezzo from the same year (1882) which should involve an orchestra behind the cello.  Before the complete Book 1 Preludes, we hear a grab-bag of stand-alone piano solos: the Ballade, La plus que lente, Masques, and D’un cahier d’esquisses.  You’d have to assume that the fare on offer will be shared around, or will Howat take on the lot?

 

Monday April 9

James Ehnes

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

This very personable Canadian violinist is next in the MRC’s Great Performers series, justifiably so.  He is focused on Bach for this solo recital and begins with the composer’s blockbuster Partita No. 2 in D minor, the one that ends with the massive Chaconne that  impressed a generation of pianists so much that they re-vamped it for their own instrument – Brahms for the left hand alone, Busoni and Siloti for the keyboard’s full range; not to mention Segovia’s guitar transcription or Stokowski’s orchestration.  Ehnes ends with the Partita No. 3 that starts with the Preludio familiar as the Sinfonia from the Wir danken dir, Gott cantata and holds the well-known Gavotte en rondeau among its pages.  Speaking of the centre, Ehnes uses the two partitas to bookend the Sonata in C, notable for its gripping and lengthy Fuga.  In essence, what he’s playing is the second half of Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas.  He’s also up for a masterclass the following night in the Salon at 6 pm.

 

Monday April 9

NICOLE CAR

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

This pair of Melbourne appearances from the ACO is temporally out of whack; the Monday second-night comes first and the usual Sunday first Melbourne concert appears a fortnight later.   Whatever the scheduling ins and outs, the program revolves around Australian soprano Car and Richard Tognetti has done his best to match her solos with some relevant or comfort-inducing orchestral surrounds.   For example, the night begins with Handel’s 1728 opera Alcina – the Overture and Dances; then Car emerges for Mozart’s 1778 Basta/Ah, non lasciarmi concert aria.   Satu Vanska uses her Stradivarius for Beethoven’s salonesque F Major Romance before the soprano launches into the composer’s own concert aria,  Ah! perfido – almost contemporaneous with the violin solo.  Hildegard’s response Ave Maria, O auctrix vite should also employ a lot of Vanska in its transcription for strings, but then we make a ludicrous jump forward 700 years for Car to sing Desdemona’s Ave Maria from Verdi’s opera Otello.  The evening ends with more Mozart: another concert aria – Misera/Ah! non son io – and the Symphony No. 27, although why we couldn’t have heard the aria’s almost-contemporaneous Haffner Symphony No. 35 beats me.

This program will be repeated on Sunday April 22 at 2:30 pm.

 

Friday April 13

TCHAIKOVSKY 5

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

James Ehnes features in this series from the MSO, fronting a violin concerto by a Pulitzer Prize winner.  Conductor for the three concerts will be Muhai Tang who was active with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra for some years but, as far as I can recall, did not venture south of the Murray.  He opens his account with the Brahms Tragic Overture, and sends us all home with the Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony’s resounding triumphalism to keep our spirits up.  The concerto comes from Aaron Jay Kernis, a Yale-connected composer/academic whose vocabulary is described as eminently agreeable with something to please everybody.   Not the best encomium but I warmed to him when I learned that he took on a complaining Zubin Mehta who was whingeing about the lack of detail in one of Kernis’ scores, to which the young composer responded, ‘Just read what’s there.’   In other words, do your job – an instruction that should be etched into the music-stand of every musician prepared to posture at the podium.

This program will be repeated on Saturday April 14 at 7:30 pm and on Monday April 16 at 6:30 pm.

 

Saturday April 14

Avi Avital & Giocoso Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

The popular mandolin virtuoso has the good fortune to be playing at this Musica Viva recital in collaboration with the group that won the Musica Viva and Audience Prizes at the last Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition in 2015.  Sharing the load, the Giocosos start the ball rolling with Schumann’s String Quartet No. 1 in A minor.  Avital joins them at night’s end for American-born writer David Bruce’s Cymbeline from 2013, written for this particular mandolinist.  Apparently, the composer means no reference to be made to Shakespeare but to the meaning of the word itself: Lord of the Sun.  Someone is playing the Chaconne from Bach’s D minor Violin Partita; I’m assuming Avital will undertake his own transcription, rather than Sebastian Casleanu or Teofil Todica putting on an extra-ensemble solo.  Elena Kats-Chernin’s Orfeo will enjoy its first performances on this tour; it also is written for the mandolin/string quartet combination.

This program will be repeated on Tuesday April 24.

 

Tuesday April 17

LA TRAVIATA

Opera Australia

State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7:30 pm.

Elijah Moshinsky’s production is back for yet another outing with Michael Yeargan’s sets and Peter J. Hall’s costumes.  But who cares?  It’s the singing that counts and, as Violetta, the company is offering Corinne Winters, a young American soprano who sang the role last year at the Royal Opera; well, it’s a start.  Alfredo falls to Korean tenor Yosep Kang until the last two performances when another Korean, Ho-Yoon Chung, takes over; Kang has sung the role at Deutsche Oper Berlin, Chung in Verona.   OA regular Jose Carbo enjoys the ultimate in spoiling roles as Germont pere; Dominica Matthew has the thankless task of Flora and John Longmuir takes Gastone. The season is conducted by Carlo Montanaro who has directed this opera at La Scala, Warsaw, Oviedo and Cincinatti; he probably has much to bring to the work – he’ll need to.  Why this insistence on previous experience?  Hard to explain but I’m hoping for a cast that doesn’t simply go through the motions; a shame as this stilted production works against any performing liberties.  And we wait with bated breath for the Act 2, Scene 2 Spanish/Gypsy dancing!

The opera will be repeated on Saturday April 21, Monday April 23, Saturday April 28. Monday April 30, Wednesday May 2, Friday May 4, Tuesday May 8 and Friday May 11. All performances are at 7:30 pm except for Saturday April 28 which is a 1 pm matinee.

 

Thursday April 19

METROPOLIS 1

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University at 7:30 pm

Has the MSO taken these contemporary music concerts to Monash before?  Not sure and am even more unsure how individual works will sound in this hall made for large-scale music.  This year, the festival’s guest is South Korean composer Unsuk Chin, whose Su will enjoy its Australian premiere; a concerto for sheng, the soloist will be Wu Wei whose playing persuaded Chin to write for Oriental instruments.   And she does herself proud with an impressive percussion battery as well as a normal-sized orchestra, although some of the strings are positioned around the auditorium.   Chin’s ParaMetaString for string quartet and tape dates from 1995, one of the earlier works in the composer’s catalogue; it will call on the services of the Australian String Quartet which is headed by the MSO’s concertmaster, Dale Barltrop.  The ASQ will also play Ligeti’s String Quartet No. 1, Metamorphoses nocturnes, to begin this program, which also contains the world premiere of young Australian Ade Vincent’s Hood Yourself in Stars.   American/British musician Clark Rundell conducts

 

Saturday April 21

METROPOLIS 2

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Robert Blackwood Hall at 7:30 pm

Tonight, an even heavier dose of Unsuk Chin with three Australian premieres of her music.  The MSO under Clark Rundell begins with the South Korean composer’s Rocana, Sanskrit for ‘room of light’ which asks for a large orchestra and a massive percussion battery.  Then, Puzzles and Games, written last year, which is based on Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland and, as well as the percussion-heavy orchestra, asks for a soprano soloist; in this instance, Tasmanian-born Allison Bell.   Ligeti’s Atmospheres, memorable for its use in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, will also enjoy an outing, nearly 60 years after its premiere.   And Chin winds up the night – and these concerts (only two?)  –  with her Violin Concerto, American virtuoso Jennifer Koh as soloist.  I’m not sure how the festival is expected to survive this spatial division, with the two major orchestral concerts at Clayton while the smaller recitals remain at Southbank.  Or perhaps the MSO’s annual, shrinking gestures towards music of our time are becoming too expensive to run.

 

Sunday April 22

SCHUBERT OCTET

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm

More chamber than most MCO concerts, this afternoon boasts the rarely-performed Octet by Schubert, which calls for a string quintet and three wind.  The strings are MCO personnel: violins William Hennessy and Markiyan Melnychenko, viola Merewyn Bramble, cello Michael Dahlenburg and bass Emma Sullivan, while the three wind will be Lloyd van’t Hoff on clarinet, Matthew Kneale’s bassoon and the horn of Anton Schroeder.  The string quartet format isolates itself for Beethoven’s Serioso Op. 95 and the occasion is spiced up by a new work from pianist/composer Christopher Martin which bears the not-exactly-revolutionary title of Passepied.  Eventually, the program will be played in  Daylesford on Saturday April 21 at the Anglican Christ Church in that sleepy hamlet, but you can also hear it in the Salon – well, the Octet only, it seems – with canapes and wines on Tuesday April 24, although this is only for the seriously well-heeled MCO enthusiast as admission comes in at $199 a pop.

 

Tuesday April 24 

TOSCA

Opera Australia

State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7:30 pm

The national company is not exactly breaking the originality bank so far this season.  Here comes Puccini’s melody-rich and popular sample of opera noir with American soprano Latonia Moore as the heroine and Diego Torre as her lover Cavaradossi.  Moore sang the title role in the Lincoln Centre two years ago, while Torre has sung his part every year since 2013 with Opera Australia, or Florida Grand Opera, or at the Saarlandisches Stadtstheater in Saarbrucken, or in the Teatro Communale di Bologna.  Scarpia brings Marco Vratogna to the State Theatre, another Royal Opera House bass-baritone who has sung this role there twice and also notably in Baden-Baden under Simon Rattle.  So far, so good.  The filler roles are company regulars: Gennadi Dubinsky (Angelotti), Luke Gabbedy (Sacristan), Benjamin Rasheed (Spoletta), Michael Honeyman (Sciaronne), Tom Hamilton (Jailer).  Andrea Battistoni conducts and he has the opera in his considerable repertoire, surprising for a musician who is barely over 30.   John Bell directs the production set in Nazi-era Germany, last seen here in 2014.

The work will be repeated on Thursday April 26, Saturday April 28, Tuesday May 1, Saturday May 5, and Thursday May 10.  All performances are at 7:30 pm except for Saturday May 5 which is a 1 pm matinee.

 

Friday April 27

A BERNSTEIN CELEBRATION

Australian National Academy of Music

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

The ANAM Orchestra is making a splash with this concert, moving to the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall at the MRC and having no soloists so that attention focuses on conductor Jose Luis Gomez, music director of the Tucson Symphony.  As you’d hope, there’s some Bernstein on the program – the Divertimento for orchestra, an 8-movement flamboyant suite written for the Boston Symphony’s centenary; and the Overture and a 5-movement suite from Candide.   The night begins with my favourite Ginastera construct, the Variaciones concertantes of 1953, then dips its lid to other Americans through Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) and Barber’s Adagio for Strings (1936).  What all these have in common with Bernstein’s output escapes me; everything could be related, but I can’t see how.  Still, it’s all calculated to keep the young ANAMers on edge.

 

Sunday April 29

A FAMILY AFFAIR: WORKS BY J.S. BACH AND SONS

The Melbourne Musicians

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

Casting an eye over the father of Western music and his sons, Frank Pam and his orchestra begin with what I assume will be the Dissonant F Major Sinfonia by Wilhelm Friedemann, F.67, notable for his eccentric trail-blazing.  Then Carl Philipp Emanuel’s Flute Concerto in A Major H. 438 will be headed by Sydney flautist Bridget Bolliger.  Bach Senior is represented by arias from the Coffee Cantata; as the only soloist advertised is soprano Sarah Lobegeiger de Rodriguez, you’d have to assume that these will be Ei! Wie schmeckt der Kaffee susse and Heute noch, lieber Vater; the first of these requires a flute to flesh out Pam’s string ensemble.   Johann Christian Bach, the family’s semi-success, appears with a Sinfonietta in C Major which I can’t trace at all in the long list of the composer’s orchestral works although there are three likely possibilities.  Finally, we hear from Johann Christoph Friedrich, a Sinfonia in D minor that must be the Wf 1:3: the manuscript of this piece was one of the few orchestral works by this composer that survived the World War II bombing of Berlin.  It all makes for an excellent chance to hear the source and his products together in one place.

 

 

 

 

March Diary

Thursday March 1

ROMANCE

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm

Two soloists feature in this season-opener for the MCO.   The major contributor is pianist Konstantin Shamray, who, you may recall, won the Sydney International Piano Competition ten years ago; he’s on board to play the Schumann concerto. The other guest is Markiyan Melnychenko, a top-notch violinist  whom we are lucky to have working here; his contribution is Dvorak’s Romance, which is a stranger to me.  Book-ending the night is the Overture to Act III of La Traviata where Verdi urges out a large amount of tubercular angst in a couple of minutes, and Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony in A: that infectious and totally delightful sequence that depicts a country that might have presented to the composer’s non-jaundiced eye but which sits uncomfortably alongside the modern-day reality that stretches from Turin to Bari.

This program will be repeated on Sunday March 4 at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

Saturday March 3

SEASON OPENING GALA

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Sir Andrew Davis is using his two guest artists to fine effect in this standard-unfurling event.  Nelson Freire has returned quickly for an appearance in the Recital Centre’s Great Performers series and the MSO has taken the opportunity to have him appear in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto; still a great challenge, especially keeping your head in the modulations of the first movement’s development.  Also on the bill will be tenor Stuart Skelton who complements Freire’s Beethoven with the opening to Act 2 of Fidelio: Florestan’s Gott! Welch Dunkel hier! He then moves to Wagner, specifically Siegmund’s outpouring, Wintersturme wichen dem Wonnemond – one of the few light moments in Die Walkure.  Balancing this will be the final aria from Verdi’s Otello, the Nium mi tema where everything becomes clear to the noble, misguided hero.  As for purely orchestral matter, Davis conducts Carl Vine’s Symphony No. 1, Microsymphony (Vine is the MSO Composer in Residence for 2018); some bleeding Gotterdammerung chunks – Morgendammerung and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey; and Verdi’s Ballabile from Otello, an interpolated Oriental ballet that even the composer realised was a waste of space and time.

Wednesday March 7

AUTUMN AIRS

Evergreen Ensemble

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

This group has swum under or over my radar.  It comprises a wealth of musicians, some of them well-known from other ensembles – violinist Ben Dollman, cellists Rosanne Hunt, Josephine Vains and Rachel Johnston, baroque guitarist/theorboist Samantha Cohen, bassoonist Simon Rickard;  others are half-recalled, like gamba expert Jennifer Eriksson, violinist/violist Anna Webb, oboist Jessica Foot and double bassist Miranda Hill.  Then there are some I don’t recognize: the group’s artistic director and violinist Shane Lestideau, Celtic harpist and vocalist Claire Patti, and Uillean piper and percussionist Matthew Horsley.  The obvious playing field is folk and art musics, exemplified by this entertainment containing a Purcell trio sonata in G minor, and Scottish composer James Oswald’s 96 Airs for the Seasons – well, extracts from them.  As chamber composer to George III, Oswald was very productive, more so than his attributed catalogue attests, it seems.  The pieces in his two sets of Airs are all named after different flowers or shrubs, divided into their annual times of florescence.  As both listed program elements are negotiated by a trio, it would seem obvious that not all the Evergreens will be involved.

Thursday March 8

THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Here’s another masterwork that Sir Andrew is bringing back into the light.  As his soloists, the MSO’s chief conductor has tenor Stuart Skelton as Gerontius, Catherine Wyn-Rogers as his escorting angel, and bass Nathan Berg doubling as the Priest and the Angel of the Agony.  Once popular in England and select colonies, as well as parts of Europe, Gerontius has slipped into choral backwater territory; in these piping times of short attention spans, it doesn’t have much going for it.  But Newman’s overwrought poem and Elgar’s seamless and challenging score make a splendid combination to create something that comes as close as music can to depicting a bearable afterlife, if such a thing exists, particularly as shown in the cardinal’s poem which so exercised that sad segment of the Anglican clergy who insisted on bowdlerizing its text to bring it into line with British cathedral-close orthodoxy.

This program will be repeated in Costa Hall, Geelong on Friday March 9 at 7:30 pm, and back in Hamer Hall on Saturday March 10 at 2 pm.

Saturday March 10

BOHEMIA

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

This first concert for the year at ANAM features music by three composers from the Czech Kingdom, as it was once called: Janacek, Smetana and Suk.  The night begins with the Fanfare that kicks off Janacek’s Sinfonietta, a bracing brevity involving 9 trumpets, 2 bass trumpets and 2 euphoniums supported by an active timpanist.  Smetana’s Sonata and Rondo for 2 pianos, 8-hands is a piece you won’t hear on a regular basis but it’s brilliantly written for its forces.  Suk’s popular Serenade for Strings ends the event but before that comes an arrangement for wind octet of The Bartered Bride – bits of, you’d hope, otherwise it could be a long night.  Speaking of which, it’s been a fair while between performances of the Smetana opera; the last I can recall from the national company must have been well over 40 years ago.  A pity as it’s loaded with superb melodies and highly appealing vocal writing.  The cast list for this operation features many of the ANAM instructors: Nick Deutsch, David Thomas, Saul Lewis, Tristram Williams, Timothy Young, Sophie Rowell, Robin Wilson, Caroline Henbest, Howard Penny and Damian Eckersley as well as a slew of young ANAM Musicians – the raison d’etre for this excellent finishing school.

Tuesday March 13

ROMANCE AND REVOLUTION

Orava Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

The Oravas – violinists Daniel Kowalik and David Dalseno, violist Thomas Chawner, cellist Karol Kowalik – are here playing content from their first CD for Deutsche Grammophon.  We hear the Tchaikovsky D Major Quartet with its memorable, lilting Andante cantabile;  Shostakovich No. 8, the original of the popular Chamber Symphony arranged by Barshai; and the Rachmaninov String Quartet No. 1, all two movements of it.  The bonus track from the CD is an arrangement by Richard Mills for double string quartet and soprano of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise; Greta Bradman recorded it with the Oravas and sings the piece tonight although how they’ll arrange for another string quartet to participate remains to be seen . . . you’d have to anticipate some pre-recorded magic, wouldn’t you?  As a novelty, the ensemble opens with Haydn Op. 33 No. 2, known as the Joke, with its side-splitting stop-start finale.

Wednesday March 14

IN THE HOUSE OF ROSSINI

Domenico Nordio and Massimo Scattolin

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

Violinist Paganini and guitarist Giuliani did meet in Rossini’s house and set up a sort of partnership-rivalry that resulted in several fine works for both instruments as a duo. Giuliani’s Grand Duo Concertant is a regular in recitals of this make-up, as is the Paganini Sonata No. 1 from the 18 sonatinas that make up his Centone di sonate.  As well, the players will present the Paganini Cantabile duo and Sonata Concertata.  Which is enough to be getting on with as the composer wrote an incredible amount for the combination, much of which is ringing slight changes on amiable material, but a little goes a long way.  Guitarist Scattolin I know from the Ballarat Organs Festival; Nordio is a new name to me but he is well-known enough to violin aficionados as a virtuoso with a wide repertoire.

Wednesday March 14

BEETHOVEN BY BALLOT

Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, Methodist Ladies College at 7:30 pm

To begin her 2018 season, Kathryn Selby is working her piano trio magic with violinist Grace Clifford and cellist Clancy Newman, who is a regular contributor to this series.  I don’t know who voted in this Beethoven poll but most of the results are predictable.  Newman works with Selby through the most popular of the cello sonatas, that in A Major;  Clifford has the chance to radiate benignity in the Spring Violin Sonata; the trio eventually assembles for the Archduke.  By way of a preface, the group plays another B flat Major trio, WoO 39, a one-movement Allegretto where the keyboard rarely surrenders primacy for its five-minute length.  A well-contrived exercise with well-spaced samples across the composer’s career, this will be given in Selby & Friends’ new venue in Hawthorn/Kew.

Thursday March 15

THE DEBUSSY PROJECT

Melbourne Art Song Collective

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

This recital contains some Debussy – selections from the first book of Preludes, performed by Eidit Golder – and works by four young Australian composers, written as responses to either Debussy or these Debussys.  It’s unclear what form these homages will follow but something of an indication comes through in that Lotte Betts-Dean is not billed as a soprano but as ‘voice’.  The specific preludes are Ce qu’a vu le vent de l’ouest, Les sons et les parfums tournent dans  l’air du soir, La serenade interrompue, and La cathedrale engloutie.  The contemporary variants are Matan Franco’s This story wants to be told in bed . . . ,  Lisa Illean’s Women love a project . . . , Charlie Sdraulig’s Rushing sounds like blood . . . ,  and Jack M. Symonds’ Tomorrow I shut down.  Of these four, Sdraulig is the only one whose work I’ve heard. probably through the Cybec 21st Century Australian Composers Program.  Bringing up the rear, Dean will sing Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis, three songs to poems of Pierre Louys that were originally credited to a contemporary of Sappho who turned out to be an erotic figment of the poet’s imagination.

Thursday March 15

THE MAGIC PUDDING

Victorian Opera

Playhouse, Arts Centre, Melbourne at 6:30 pm

This one-act opera, based on Norman Lindsay’s children’s book, with music by Calvin Bowman and libretto by Anna Goldsworthy, enjoyed its premiere in October 2013 at the hands of this company and is now being resuscitated for the pleasure of those among us who missed it the first time around.  Fabian Russell conducts and Cameron Menzies returns to direct.  Nathan Lay reprises the role of Bunyip Bluegum, Timothy Reynolds returns as Bill Barnacle, Brenton Spiteri takes on Sam Sawnoff, Jeremy Kleeman persists as the Pudding, and Carlos E. Barcenas again plays the Judge.  The VO chorus will contribute and I suppose certain roles – like Watkin Wombat and Rooster, Possum, Henderson Hedgehog and the Constable, and Benjamin Brandysnap, not to mention the Narrator – will be allocated from their ranks.

The opera will be re-presented on Friday March 16 at 6:30 pm, and on Saturday March 17 at 1 pm and 5 pm.

Friday March 16

MAHLER 9

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

And then there were two.  Getting a tad out of sequence, Sir Andrew Davis nears the end of his Mahler symphonic cycle and takes the MSO through the large-framed No. 9, although he’ll probably have a go at the completed-by-several-hands No. 10.  Still, we’re all waiting for No. 8, and will go on doing so: we won’t be getting it this year.  There’s been no attempt to couple this Symphony No. 9 with a filler, which is just as well as most performances of a traditional nature last about 1 and a 1/2 hours, even if some more recent ones have clipped the score back by about 10-15 minutes.  The last time I heard this Ninth was in Costa Hall, Geelong, where the MSO played under Markus Stenz; not the best space for such an experience whereas Hamer Hall gives the symphony room to flower, particularly that long final Adagio.  This score is possibly the most extended passage of focused play from the orchestra all year, something to anticipate for its tremendous concentration of emotional gravity.

The symphony will be performed again on Saturday March 17 at 7:30 pm and on Monday March 19 at 6:30 pm.

Saturday March 17

THE BEAUTIFUL BLUE DANUBE

Hoang Pham

Melbourne Recital Centre at 5 pm

The title of this recital from one of our more enterprising (in a business sense) pianists comes from the Strauss/Schulz-Evler Arabesques on The Beautiful Blue Danube, to give the famous waltz its proper title.  A magnificent display piece of five waltzes and a coda, this is the last word in extended encores and Pham is giving it to as a built-in component.  Before it will come Beethoven  –  the Polonaise, Pathetique C minor Sonata and some of the six Op. 126 Bagatelles – alongside Schubert’s C minor Sonata, one of the formidable final three.  Here’s a big program that takes the young musician on a long odyssey across the Beethoven repertoire, cutting to the Schubert chase with a Beethovenian challenge – and the real technical fireworks to finish.

Sunday March 18

ALINA IBRAGIMOVA: DEATH AND THE MAIDEN

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

Guest director and solo violinist Ibragimova is presiding over a notably dark collection of works, reaching its apogee (or nadir)  in the great Schubert quartet as arranged for string orchestra.  The afternoon begins with Barber’s Adagio: that sinuous score that is always brought out for broadcast at moments of national tragedy in the United States.  Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue continues the muscular depression mode before Ibragimova fronts the Concerto funebre by Hartmann, a work that she recorded with the Britten Sinfonia 11 years ago.  And the comatose cat among these pigeons is Arvo Part’s Silouan’s Song, as atmospherically stagey and static as you’d expect, based around a religious text by Father Silouan, a Russian mystic who died in 1938; still, the good news is that it lasts only about six minutes.

The program will be repeated on Monday March 26 at 7:30 pm.

Monday March 19

NADIA’S INFLUENCE: WORKS BY STUDENTS OF NADIA BOULANGER

Inveni Ensemble

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

Boulanger seems to have educated most of the 20th century composers whom we’d have to class as creditable place-getters in the ranks; some of them on this program are surprising, most of them well-known, none of them (in my book) enough to get you out on a cold autumn night – with the honourable exception of Elliott Carter.  The Inventis begin with a Nocturne for flute and piano by Lili, Nadia’s younger sister and sometime student; this is probably to be played by Melissa Doecke and an unknown pianist.  Then, one of the ensemble – probably Ben Opie – gives an airing to Carter’s Inner Song for solo oboe, an in memoriam for Stefan Wolpe.  Thea Musgrave’s works are recital rarities; good on the Inventis for programming her Narcissus for solo flute (Doecke again?) and digital delay  –  a relatively substantial composition, it lasts about 17/18 minutes.  The compositional standard dips with Piazzolla’s Tango Etudes for solo flute (the hard-worked Doecke); there are six of them and they take about 25 minutes to get through.  Suddenly, the recital’s one hour length could be a close-run thing, if you consider that the Boulanger lasts 3 minutes, Carter’s piece 6 minutes and we still have Berkeley’s Oboe/Piano Sonatina to go (about 14 minutes) and Bacharach’s Alfie theme (in an Inventi arrangement) which could stretch out beyond 3 minutes.  It’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast but still a creditable exercise.

Tuesday March 20

THE VOICES OF WOMEN

Ludovico’s Band

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6:30 pm

This richly-coloured period music ensemble heads for waters that most of us have never plumbed by means of a night of music by female composers.  Only one of the three names programmed so far is a familiar one: Barbara Strozzi, daughter of Giulio and a solid presence in Baroque-era Venice.  The others are Francesca Caccini, daughter of Giulio and the first woman to write an opera, and the Ursuline nun Isabella Leonarda, a musically fecund contemporary of Strozzi.   But all three women wrote a great deal, so the Band has a wealth of material to work with.  The publicity material promises a ‘selection of songs’; the sole singer listed is soprano Helen Thomson, who has sung with this ensemble previously.

Wednesday March 21

Measha Brueggergosman

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Soprano Brueggergosman has a big reputation in her home country, but I can find little about any extra-Canadian work she has done.  Her surname combines her maiden name and that of her husband, which is an equality-in-marriage gesture, if – in this case – an awkward one.  Tonight, she opens with the Five Popular Greek Melodies by Ravel, followed by some Poulenc – Violon, C’est ainsi que tu es, Voyage a Paris, Hotel – and then back to Ravel for Sheherazade, that sumptuous three-part song cycle which will suffer greatly from the lack of an orchestra.   Brueggergosman opens what I surmise will be her post-interval efforts with four of Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn songs – Rheinlegendchen, Verlorne Muh, Wo die schonen Trompeten blasen, Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? – and balances the opening Ravel with Montsalvatge’s  Cinco canciones negras, then finishes with a selection from the 24 cabaret songs by William Bolcom, which will make a welcome change to the all-too-readily trotted out equivalent songs by Britten.  This is the second recital in the MRC’s own Great Performers series.

Thursday March 22

PASTORAL MELODIES – IDYLLIC & TEMPESTUOUS

Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

I’ve not heard this band so can’t give any indication as to its quality.  Certainly, the list of players is most impressive with a few well-known musicians from the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, the CAMERATA Queensland Chamber Orchestra, and Sydney’s Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra alongside ex- and present-day players with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.   Directed by Richard Gill, the ARCO is not exactly carving out new territory with Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides Overture or Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony No. 6.   But more interest comes in the Brahms Five Songs, Op. 104 where the instrumentalists fall silent and make way for the Polyphonic Voices ensemble for an a cappella set, while both forces collaborate in Mozart’s so-called Spaur-Messe in C K. 258; at about 18 minutes, short and sweet, like every Mass should be, featuring an unknown set of soloists.

Friday March 23

FAITH, HOPE & DEATH

Goldner String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

It sounds like a perversion of the theological virtues but the Goldners’ program follows this title’s path, more or less, if it’s highly dependent on your willingness to accept at least one of the intended musical applications.  You can’t argue with the relevance of the night’s major work: Schubert’s D minor Death and the Maiden, the composer’s idea of mortality covering a world of emotions from the vehement and tempestuous to drear acceptance.  For the Faith part, we are directed to Arvo Part’s Fratres, a three-part work expanded to quartet form in 1989 but heard in all sorts of other arrangements; one of the Estonian composer’s most popular pieces, I can’t be alone in wondering what is has to do with this specific virtue.  As for Hope, that comes through Latvian writer Peters Vasks’ String Quartet No. 3.  Vasks has taken optimism for his country’s future as one of the fundamentals of his work and has been quite specific about the (eventual) upbeat nature of this particular score.

Saturday March 24

TOMBEAU DE CLAUDE DEBUSSY

Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

The day before the centenary of Debussy’s death, ANAM is presenting this tombeau,  a celebratory compendium that arose when Henri Prunieres assembled pieces (mainly for piano solo) by ten composers to memorialise the master’s passing.  Dukas is represented by La plainte, au loin, du faune;  Roussel found a more celebratory note or two in L’acceuil des muses; Florent Schmitt worked common ground with  Dukas in Tristesse de Pan, one of his Op. 70 Mirages; Malipiero contributed A Claude Debussy, Eugene Goossens a Hommage a Debussy.  Bartok dedicated No. 7 of his Improvisations on a Hungarian Peasant Song, Op. 20; Falla moved to the guitar for his well-known Homenaje.  Ravel dedicated his Sonata for violin and cello to the composer and the duo written for the Tombeau became that sonata’s first movement.  Stravinsky contributed the Chorale from his Symphonies for Wind Instruments to Prunieres, later dedicating the completed work to Debussy.  Satie set a poem by Lamartine as the first of his Quatre Petites Melodies and sent that in as his one-page contribution.  Timothy Young is the night’s pianist; ANAM director Nick Deutsch will play his oboe, presumably in the Stravinsky Chorale because I can’t see room for it anywhere else. Richard Mills will conduct the Stravinsky, you’d expect as, like Deutsch, there’s nowhere else  to exercise his talent.

Sunday March 25

LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

It’s hard not to be a tad indifferent to this celebration that Sir Andrew has brought to the Antipodes in recent times.  The British get obvious delight in the written-in-stone second half of these Royal Albert Hall events, complete with Elgar’s first Pomp and Circumstance March, Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs, Arne’s Rule, Britannia! and Parry’s Jerusalem.  If I had my druthers on these last nights, I’d go home at interval.  This year, Sir Andrew opens with Elgar’s In London Town or Cockaigne Overture, has violinist Tamsin Little sparkle through Ravel’s Tzigane, gives space for David Jones to premiere Joe Chindamo’s Drum Kit Concerto, interpolates Carl Vine’s V fanfare lasting, as you’d expect, five minutes, and gains from the presence in Melbourne of Measha Brueggergosman for the MRC’s Great Performers Series (see March 21 above) to have her sing some orchestral songs by Duparc.  There are 8 to choose from but it’s almost certain that the bracket will contain that once-heard-never-forgotten Baudelaire setting, L’invitation au voyage, and the Leconte de Lisle setting, Phidyle.

Friday March 30

BRAHMS GERMAN REQUIEM & SZYMANOWSKI STABAT MATER

Melbourne Bach Choir and Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm

For Good Friday this year, Rick Prakhoff and his Bach forces are deviating from their usual fare and presenting the Brahms Requiem that avoids any religious references as well as Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater, which may turn out to be sung in Polish.  The Brahms score asks for a soprano and baritone soloist, while Szymanowski wants a contralto soloist as well.  Both forces have roughly the same orchestral forces – no low brass in the Stabat Mater but a pretty large percussion force, a piccolo in the Requiem  – but the composers’ language offers a wide contrast.   As well, the hymn lasts less than 30 minutes while the Requiem canters on for well over an hour.   Lorina Gore is the soprano in both works, Warwick Fyfe the baritone and mezzo Belinda Paterson gets to share honours in three of the Szymanowski score’s movements.   It’s a well-devised pairing in that the Brahms is a humanist expression of the inevitability of death and the composer’s preference for a stoic acceptance of it while the Polish composer is more interested in his folk music characteristics than in observing and catering to the Catholic cast of the Marian sequence.

February Diary

Thursday February 1

STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE IN CONCERT

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Here’s the first of the blockbusters in the sterling first trilogy from George Lucas, complete with everything we grew to love over the years since 1977  –  from the looming spaceship taking over the screen at the start to the Saturday afternoon matinee heroics of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, all seeming so much younger than their actual years, but practically amoebas when compared with their craggy re-appearances in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.  This set of screenings more or less kicks off the MSO’s year and you can see from the number of sittings how popular these live soundtrack performances have been/are/will be.  Benjamin Northey, who had an active year with the orchestra in 2017 as Associate Conductor, continues to shine in his role as the organisation’s go-to leader.

This program will be repeated on Friday February 2 and Saturday February 3 at 7:30 pm, as well as at a matinee on Saturday February 3 at 1 pm

 

Friday February 2

TRISTAN AND ISOLDE

Melbourne Opera

Palais Theatre, St. Kilda at 6:30 pm

Back to this dated large shack by the bay with all its time-honoured problems associated with parking and pest-dodging.   I think the last time I was in the Palais was for another Wagner: Victorian Opera’s The Flying Dutchman  –  an enterprise that had considerable merit.   This time, MO has left behind the frivolities of Rienzi, Tannhauser and Lohengrin and heads for the Wagner fulcrum: a score of such power and complexity that it remains the high-water mark of opera, inspired from first bar to last and incomparably crafted.  Lee Abrahmsen sings Isolde, tenor Neal Cooper takes on his fifth Tristan, Sarah Sweeting has the Wagner gift-of-a-role in Brangaene,  baritone Michel Lampard mirrors Sweeting as Kurwenal, bass Steven Gallop broods as King Mark and Jason Wasley does his worst as Melot.  Anthony Negus, a Reginald Goodall graduate, conducts and we can approach the night with an earnest hope that the MO Orchestra will be up to the mark with this exhausting, superlative score.

The opera will be repeated at 6:30 pm on Monday February 5 and Wednesday February 7, and moves to the Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University on Saturday February 10 at 6:30 pm.

 

Sunday February 4

TOGNETTI, TCHAIKOVSKY, BRAHMS

Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

To set an underlying context for the year, Richard Tognetti and his band offer a contrast between the sublime and the also-ran.   For serious music-making, the country’s premier string orchestra will play (yet again) the Tchaikovsky Serenade.  And we’ll have yet another important chamber work in an arrangement for the ACO resources; this time round, it’s Brahms’ Sextet No. 2 in G Major as seen through the vivisectional prism of Kurt Atterberg, I suspect, although Tognetti has never been one to content himself with other people’s organisational talents.  To start, we’ll hear British composer Anna Clyne’s Prince of Clouds from 2012 for two violins (Ike See and Glenn Christensen from the orchestra’s ranks) and string orchestra.  As well, American composer Missy Mazzoli confronts some of us for the first time with her newly-composed Dark with Excessive Bright, a semi-line from Paradise Lost.  The work has been written specifically for the talents of the ACO and its double bassist, Maxime Bibeau.

This program will be repeated on Monday February 5 at 7:30 pm.

 

Wednesday February 7 

ROMANCE AND CLASSICS

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sidney Myer Music Bowl at 7:30 pm

No rush to originality in the first of three very popular Myer free concerts from the MSO.   Associate Concertmaster Sophie Rowell takes centre-stage for the Bruch G minor Violin Concerto No. 1; you’ll never hear the composer’s other two at this venue, but there’s surely a case for dusting off that jolly, satisfying Scottish Fantasy.   The night ends with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor, one of your great psychological summative works with loads of lyricism and an exciting finale to send everyone home happy.  The only novelty comes at the start in Dutch composer Wagenaar’s Cyrano de Bergerac Overture, the only work by the composer/organist that you ever hear and probably included here as a repertoire specialty of the night’s conductor, Antony Hermus who has positions with the North Netherlands Orchestra and the National Youth Orchestra of the Netherlands.  Seems like a sort of justifiable payback for all those Australian conductors who took Sculthorpe scores to Finland and Britain.

 

Saturday February 10

HOT SUMMER NIGHT!

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sidney Myer Music Bowl at 7:30 p,m

This second and solitary weekend concert in the MSO’s free series can attract a spill-over crowd if the atmospheric conditions reflect this program’s title.  For some reason, the music is almost all Spanish or Iberian/Latin-inflected, beginning with Ravel’s ambiguous Alborada del gracioso –  a morning serenade with a difference.  Conductor Antony Hermus moves to Falla’s El amor brujo but I can’t imagine that he’ll be working through the whole ballet.  Still, you can’t be sure; he has Chilean-Swedish mezzo Luciana Mancini at his disposal as the night’s soloist and she’d be ideal for the score’s three songs.  Danzon No. 2 by Mexican writer Arturo Marquez is packed with colour, something of a thematically concise dance suite.  Mancini then sings the program’s odd-man-out: Berio’s Folk Songs, all eleven of them and a surprisingly euphonious collection from this 20th century master but I suspect a bit of a puzzler for this audience.  By the way, these Folk Songs have not a Spanish text in sight.  Finally, to wipe away all suggestions of the eclectic, Hermus gives the snare-drum(s) right of way for Ravel’s Bolero, that mindless symphonic wheeze.

 

Wednesday February 14

FROM MSO, WITH LOVE

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sidney Myer Music Bowl at 7:30 pm

Ending three free Myer concerts, the MSO goes Puccini-mad, bringing to the fore Australian opera regulars soprano Natalie Aroyan and tenor Rosario La Spina.  They begin with Mario! Mario! Mario!, where Tosca bursts in on Cavaradossi’s nonchalant attempts at painting.  They end the night with the Act 1 finale to La Boheme, probably from Che gelida manina up to the spellbinding O soave fanciulla duet conclusion off-stage.  Benjamin Northey conducts Strauss’s Don Juan to give Bowl patrons another aspect of love, and three pieces with tenuous links, at best, to the night’s intended amatory motif:  Martucci’s 1891 miniature Notturno, Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien for no other reason than the nationality of everything else on the program, and Puccini’s 1882 student work, Preludio sinfonico, which reveals Wagner’s influence; a predictable presence in an aspiring composer’s aesthetic life during those formative years.

 

Friday February 16

GLASS, DEAN, MENDELSSOHN

Australian String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

No smart title here: what you read is what you’ll get.  The ASQ begins its MRC series with Philip Glass’s Third String Quartet, subtitled Mishima because the music comprises part of the sound-track that the composer supplied for Paul Schrader’s film which is based on the Japanese novelist’s last bloody day.  The middle work, Brett Dean’s Eclipse String Quartet No. 1, is underpinned by the Tampa outrage of 2001 that displayed with searing clarity the contemptible ethical degeneracy of the Howard government, its leader lying and lying and being a villain.  To end, the players  –  violinists Dale Barltrop and Francesca Hiew, viola Stephen King, cellist Sharon Grigoryan  –  play Mendelssohn in D, first of the 1838 Op. 41 set of three, although the last written.  This ensemble has settled remarkably well after its years of personnel disruptions and the behavioural immaturity of former members; now it has a distinctive personality and rarely disappoints.

 

Sunday February 18

3MBS BACH MARATHON

Melbourne Bach Choir and Orchestra et al

Melbourne Recital Centre at 10 am, 12 pm, 2: 15 pm, 4: 15 pm, 6: 30 pm and 8: 15 pm

Going for the big-time, the Abbotsford-based classical radio station has booked a day at the MRC.   The first concert begins with the opening two preludes and fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 – no idea who’s playing but quite a few pianists appear during the day – then abruptly progresses to C.P.E. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, the one written in 1777 for the composer’s duties in Hamburg.  This will involve the Melbourne Bach Choir and Orchestra with some fine soloists: bass/baritones Michael Leighton-Jones and Nicholas Dinopoulos, tenors Andrew Goodwin and Timothy Reynolds, and soprano Kathryn Radcliffe.

The mid-day recital features the E flat minor Prelude and D sharp Major Fugue from Book 1, partnered with the Violin Sonata No. 4 in C minor, Grace Wu outlining the string part.  Then somebody will surge through Liszt’s voluble Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen; another pianist will present the happy and difficult French Suite in G; the program ends with the Double Violin Concerto in D minor featuring – I think – Robert Wilson and his student Christian Li.

At 2:15 pm, a pianist leads off with the G Major Prelude and Fugue from Book 1, followed by the G minor Prelude and Fugue from Book II, all capped by the great Italian Concerto solo.   J. C. Bach enters the scene with a piano quartet in G and a gamba sonata in the same key.  Somewhere in these works the Sutherland Trio and early music specialists  Latitude 37 will appear. Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue K 404a/3 for violin, viola and cello is a piece of real arcana where Mozart supplied the first work and then arranged a Bach fugue – in this case, the F sharp Major from Book II.  To end, the Violin/Oboe Concerto in C minor appears to be bringing Nick Deutsch and Kristian Winther to the crease as soloists.

3MBS’s next recital opens with the B flat Major and minor Preludes and Fugues from Book I, coupled with the motet Jesu, meine Freude from the Australian Boys Choir.   W. F. Bach’s Dissonant Sinfonia for strings highlights yet another of the talented sons, the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra doing the honours.   Seven of the Inventions – presumably in two-parts – come next and the program ends with Timo-Veikko Valve outlining the last of the Cello Suites.

At twilight, the Book II D Major Prelude and Fugue begins proceedings, followed by the Fantasia super Christ lag in Todesbanden, another Fantasia super Jesu, meine Freude and the chorale prelude on Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein; the first two are manuals only, but the second seems to need a pedal-board – that’s assuming Calvin Bowman will play them on a specially imported organ rather than all three pieces being given as piano transcriptions.   A definite arrangement comes through Busoni’s transcription of the D minor violin Chaconne, probably played by Gintaute Gataveckaite, and matters end with the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 from a combination of the Flinders and Melba Quartets with double bass Emma Sullivan as well as viola Merewyn Bramble somewhere in the mix for the third viola line, I guess.  Oh, and inserted just before this concerto comes the aria Schlummert ein from the Ich habe genug Cantata BWV 82 but no bass soloist is specified.

Finally, the 8:15 pm program kicks off with the F minor Prelude and Fugue from Book II before Stephen McIntyre and a swag of his ex-students  –  Caroline Almonte,  Stefan Cassomenos, Kristian Chong, Lachlan Tan and Peter de Jager  –  all contribute their particles to a run-through of the Goldberg Variations.

 

Wednesday February 21

FOLIAS ANTIGUAS Y CRIOLLAS: FROM THE ANCIENT WORLD TO THE NEW WORLD

Jordi Savall, Hesperion XXI & Tembembe Ensemble Continuo

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

A fellow critic found little to like last time Savall and his Hesperions were here as he disapproved of the fusion that the Spanish violist constructed between the medieval/Renaissance and the folky/contemporary.   Just shows that you can’t trust us: I found the mix irresistible.   The only descriptor to be found concerning this particular program is: ‘The cosmopolitan music of Spain and Latin America from the 16th to the 18th centuries.’   Hesperion we know from previous visits although its membership can vary considerably.  Tembembe specializes in the Spanish Baroque and Mexican-plus-Latin American music, finding links with African and American sources.  Part of a tour, Savall and his forces will appear at the Perth International Arts Festival, then Melbourne before Sydney and Brisbane; useful to know if you plan on being interstate in the second half of the month.

The performers will present another program – Folias y Romanescas: The Golden Age of the Viol on Thursday February 22 at 7:30 pm.

 

Saturday February 24

THOMAS TALLIS’ ENGLAND

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

The title is sort of true if you’re flexible.  One of the pillars of this program will be Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis from 1910, which is some distance away from the Tudor musician who died in 1585.  And I’m not sure where Purcell fits into this landscape – or Handel, for that matter  .  .  .  both coming into existence a century or so after Tallis’ death.  Paul Dyer and his ABO are on firmer ground with music by Byrd and Gibbons.  Soloist is countertenor Maximilian Riebl and the Brandenburgers come in two forms: Orchestra and Choir.   So far, details of what the groups are attempting remain elusive, apart from the Vaughan Williams work for strings which has brought to grief many another body more attuned to the Edwardian era’s bucolic suggestions and more tolerant of facile English transcendentalism.

This program will be repeated on Sunday February 25 at 5 pm.

 

Saturday February 24

EAST MEETS WEST

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

The Occidental is represented by Schumann’s Spring Symphony No. 1; how this will help celebrate the Chinese Year of the Dog’s arrival boggles the mind but doubtless Lu Jia, Chief Conductor of the China National Centre for the Performing Arts Orchestra,  will elucidate all.   A notable collaboration of composers from 1959, the Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto by Chen Gang and He Zanhao will be fronted by Lu Siqing and the program includes two other Chinese works: Chinese Sights and Sounds: Dialogue on Flowers by Bao Yuankai, which is a ternary form piece of pentatonic frou-frouism and the last of the composer’s four Heibei Folk Songs Suite; and Shepherd Girl in the Tianshan Mountains by pianist/composer/pedagogue Yang Liqing.  Somewhere in the latter work, erhu player Ma Xiaohui will emerge to generate one of the country’s trademark sounds.

 

Monday February 26

Nelson Freire

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

I thought the well-known Brazilian pianist was here only a few months ago.  And he was, fronting the Schumann A minor Concerto for an MSO series in September/October.  He pops up again for this solo recital which takes in a lot of ground.  For your Classical, Freire plays Mozart’s Ten Variations on a Theme by Gluck K. 455, a nice four-square tune put through some increasingly entertaining paces.   Then straight to the deep Romantic by way of Schumann’s turbulent Fantasie in C and a couple of the less frivolous Chopins: the F sharp Impromptu and A flat Ballade.   Freire will work through a selection from the Debussy Preludes Book II and winds up with an Albeniz brace: the Evocacion from Iberia, and Navarra, which I’ve not come across before in live performance but which serves as a none-too-subtle invitation to solicit encores.

 

Tuesday February 27

Sabine Meyer & Alliage Quintet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

One of the great clarinet players of our time is touring for Musica Viva and brings with her a saxophone quartet plus pianist.   As you could easily predict, the program content is all arrangements with a complementary emphasis on light classics.  The ensemble begins with Bernstein’s Candide Overture before moving into Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Across the evening, Meyer and her Alliages play a double Shostakovich bracket – the Prelude and Gavotte from Five Pieces for Two Violins and Piano originally arranged by Lev Atovmian, and then the other three of the suite’s five scraps – Waltz, Elegy and Polka.  Alongside these sharp-edged nebulosities come Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances, Holst’s Venus and Stravinsky’s Firebird (the suite, I’m hoping).  Not a night for the sober-sided chamber music lover.

This program will be repeated on Saturday March 3 at 7 pm.

 

Wednesday February 28

WINGS OF SONG

Flinders Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Obviously, this recital involves a bit of Mendelssohn.  Exactly how much?   The Flinders have commissioned young Bundaberg-born writer John Rotar to arrange four of the composer’s lieder: Op. 57 No. 5, Venetian Gondola Song; Op. 34 No. 2, On Wings of Song (well, that’s a relief); Op. 8 No 8, Witches’s Song; and the 24-bar Beethoven-reflecting Op. 9 No 1, Question.  An original Rotar work also appears: V Vecernih about which I can find out nothing except that it’s short, it had a popular success at the Flinders’  inaugural composer workshop in 2016, and its title seems to be a Slovenian phrase for ‘In the evening’.  At either end of the night come Mozart’s internally compact yet lengthy No. 18 in A, and Beethoven in F Op. 135 – his last and the one with that Muss es sein? questioning in the finale that Mendelssohn took up in his Ist es wahr? phrase-shape that opens Op. 9 No. 1.

 

 

 

 

2017 in review

It seems most unlikely now that the paper for which I am an (increasingly) occasional contributor will be asking for a piece of reportage on what happened throughout last year on Melbourne’s serious music scene.

Rather than leave some extraordinary efforts unremarked, I offer these random observations as a well-intentioned diary of events, supplementing the accounts in this blog of 37 concerts/recitals and 11 operas across 2017.

January

Because of an administrative snafu and an insistence that January was packed with action (rock festivals and reprints of articles from the UK and USA), I got to hear little at the start to 2017;  nothing from the Peninsula Summer Music Festival, for example, and only one concert from the Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields Festival.

It can be a dry month for Melbourne’s musicians, in particular those who specialize in period performances.  But Ballarat’s annual January festival, under the joint aegis of Sergio di Pieri and Judy Houston, offers some relief from drought, no more so than this concluding program at St. Patrick’s Cathedral called The Agony of Hell and the Peace of Soul which celebrated the genius of Schutz, with two diversions into Monteverdi and Schein. Wherever you looked, you could see authorities at work, both in the choral forces and in the Unholy Rackett and Ensemble 642 instrumental combination, all under Stephen Grant’s direction.   It cohered into a joyful song unto the Lord, one of those experiences that you seek in vain elsewhere.  This year’s finale promises to further this pursuit of the monumental in Biber’s 53-line Missa Salisburgensis.

February

The Australian Chamber Orchestra began its national series with Pekka Kuusisto taking the reins for a program based around Janacek’s Kreutzer Sonata String Quartet in string orchestra arrangement.   In another of the ACO’s experimental melding exercises, folk-singer Sam Amidon provided interpolations with some Appalachian melodies that were melodically attractive if textually incomprehensible.  But the afternoon wasn’t wasted, thanks to a sterling performance of John Adams’ Shaker Loops which cut through the obfuscating commentary to the score’s innate clarity of utterance.

As expected, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra gave its three Myer Music Bowl concerts to large crowds, some of whom actually listened.  It was a Russian week with Stravinsky’s Petrushka, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and, to begin, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2  –  the stuff of a thousand Hollywood and Ealing Studios  wartime dramas – while conductor Benjamin Northey finished off the night with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture – the barnstormer that keeps on giving.

                                                                  Benjamin Northey

Also in this month, the MSO kicked off what used to be called its Town Hall Proms which can’t be named that anymore, particularly as chief conductor Sir Andrew Davis has brought actual Proms concerts to Hamer Hall.  Sponsoring young Australian conductors (well, some of them) to the hilt, the organization presented Nicholas Carter directing Tchaikovsky’s F minor Symphony with plenty of stop-start energy, balanced by a sober Prokofiev Classical Symphony.

                                                                Nicholas Carter

On the month’s last night, the MSO offered a season opening gala – which meant that everything up till now had been just a tease.   Maxim Vengerov played the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with unflappable assurance, plain sailing all the way with Benjamin Northey directing, then Vengerov conducted Rimsky’s Scheherazade as though  accompanying a troupe of elderly dancers.

March

Continuing its almost-unfailingly popular series of soundtrack concerts, the MSO took on the original Jurassic Park with laudable enthusiasm, even if stretches of critical dialogue were swamped under the considerable weight produced by the players under Benjamin Northey.  A week or so later, the disciplining hand of Sir Andrew Davis, took over the reins for a continuation of his Mahler Cycle, this time with No. 7 which is a movement too far as far as I’m concerned, burdened with the most coitus interruptus-suggestive finale in the composer’s symphonic canon.

Young prodigy Daniel Trifonov gave his solitary recital here on March 14 and it turned out to be one of the year’s high points.  His review of Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Toccata and Kreisleriana was remarkable for its continuous rigour, especially the last-named, and he kept his technical brilliance for a sharply-etched selection from Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, and an overpowering version of Stravinsky’s arrangement for Arthur Rubinstein of Petrushka.

Trifonov also graced an MSO concert a week later with the neglected Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 1: again, he played with impeccable fluency, bringing passion and polish to a work that most pianists neglect – either from choice or from management constraints.  Davis continued his residency with an effective Tchaikovsky Pathetique, for once treated as a whole rather than four marvellous units, and fleshed out the month with a Last Night of the Proms that went even more all-British than usual with Piers Lane resuscitating John Ireland’s Piano Concerto for us – the only time most of us will ever hear this one-time acclaimed construct.

                                                                    Daniel Trifonov

At the MSO’s Recital Centre concerts, program control often seems be handed over to either of the body’s concertmasters, Eoin Andersen or Dale Barltrop.  For this end-of-month sojourn, Barltrop directed and also brought on-board the Australian String Quartet (of which he is first violin) for Australian writer Matthew Hindson’s The Rave and the Nightingale.  Taking its inspiration from Schubert’s last quartet, the work was sadly placed alongside a string orchestra transcription of the Death and the Maiden Quartet in D minor which showed the MSO strings to excellent effect.  Try as I might. I still find it hard to warm to much music coming out of Sydney, my home town.  But this piece, attempting a fusion/development of well-known pages, served little other purpose than to show what a brilliant mind this country owns in Brett Dean.

April

Almost 30 years since its last visit, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields came to Melbourne with new director Joshua Bell. who repeated his Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto interpretation last heard here with the Australian Youth Orchestra in 2013.  Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but hardly venturesome programming, the orchestra’s ensemble not satisfactory in the Recital Centre where its strings (too few) were swamped by their wind and timpani colleagues.

The MSO ended its April with Orff’s Carmina Burana, to which the most successful contributor was Warwick Fyfe whose bass-baritone reflected the verses he was singing with excellent interpretative skill; a very welcome factor as the MSO Chorus underwhelmed in the more explosive strophes of the outer movements.

                                                                       Warwick Fyfe

May

Nicholas Carter enjoyed his day in the sun at the February Town Hall concert.  This month, it was Benjamin Northey’s turn, capitalising on his educational background in conducting with the Sibelius Symphony No. 2 and generating a blazoning power throughout, well-complemented by Stefan Cassomenos’ driving encounter with Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto.

British pianist/conductor/raconteur Bramwell Tovey paid a fleeting visit to the MSO to premiere a new piece by composer-in-residence Elena Kats-Chernin and to escort Alexander Gavrylyuk through the Tchaikovsky B flat Piano Concerto, a reading packed with brilliance but nowhere more so than the final double-octave cadenza.

Many of us are happy to turn out for a recital from Nikolai Demidenko who has, in the past, enriched our knowledge of both piano concertos and solo piano works, no matter how well-known.  Appearing in the Recital Centre’s Great Performers series, the master played an all-Scarlatti first half which proved to be a few sonatas too long, even given the player’s individual approach.  Schubert’s C minor Sonata D 958 moved the goalposts and we were treated to a fulfilling and clearly articulated reading of a neglected monument in the literature.

June

Back in Melbourne for his second annual stint as the MSO’s chief conductor, Sir Andrew Davis headed Haydn’s The Creation.  An up-and-down affair for the MSO Chorus, soprano Siobhan Stagg gave the roles of Gabriel and Eve a welcome burnish, lending elegance to this oratorio with a cosmic theme and an often mundane level of utterance.  Later in the month,  Davis conducted Beethoven’s Pastoral with more oomph than Disney pastel, while cellist Daniel Muller-Schott soared through the Don Quixote variations of Richard Strauss.

                                                                      Siobahn Stagg

The Australian Chamber Orchestra mounted one of its intimate recitals with some overworked Schumann surrounding Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 13 with Kristian Bezuidenhout escorted by a bare-bones string quartet.

A few of us latter-day Nathanaels are prone to asking, Can any good come out of Trumpian America?  To our delight, a resounding ‘Yes’ followed the Musica Viva tour by the Pacifica Quartet who gave a sympathetic airing to Westlake’s 2005 String Quartet No. 2, found a solid foundation for the last of Beethoven’s awkward essays in the form, and offered a captivating account of Shostakovich No. 3.

Next in the Recital Centre’s series of Great Performers, Behzod Abduraimov built on the excellent impression he made five years previously.  A controlled reading of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor as arranged by Busoni, some Schubert Moments musicaux and a spacious Beethoven Appassionata were capped by Abduraimov’s memorable insights into Prokofiev’s massive Sonata No. 6.

July

Sir Andrew Davis took a detour from his Mahler symphonies cycle to take in Das Lied von der Erde, working productively with tenor Stuart Skelton and mezzo Catherine Wyn-Rogers.  You can’t help but be moved by the composer’s compelling embrace and abnegation of existence but the MSO’s efforts might have been more carefully harnessed in vehemently scored passages where the soloists were swamped.

For no apparent reason, the MSO mounted a mini-Mozart Festival of three concerts, some recitals, and Milos Forman’s Amadeus film.   What I heard of the symphonic events under Richard Egarr proved generally delightful, ranging from the first catalogued keyboard music played by Egarr himself up to the tensile muscularity of the Symphony No. 40, with Jacqueline Porter’s soprano a lucid delight in the Exsultate, jubilate motet and the MSO strings generating a near-faultless account of the Paris Symphony No. 31.

                                                                     Jacqueline Porter

The live soundtrack underpinning to Amadeus had the orchestra and chorus in laudable synchronicity with the screen, conductor Benjamin Northey pleating the media together with scarcely a seam showing.   But the final orchestral concert woke you up –  if you needed to be  –  to the peerless genius who produced the Clarinet Concerto and the D minor Requiem – well, a good deal of it – in his last, crowded months.  Here was a concert where the spirits looked kindly on Egarr and his forces so that their realizations made for an engrossing, moving experience.

I felt unbridled enthusiasm for the Sitkovetsky Trio after their 2014 tour for Musica Viva.  This time, their cellist, Leonard Elsenbroich, was replaced by Bartholomew LaFollette at short notice.   Nevertheless, the ensemble made exemplary work of Rachmaninov’s Trio elegiaque No. 1, the Shostakovich in E minor and swept us away with that hoary repertoire cornerstone, Mendelssohn in D minor.

A benevolent amalgam, the Australian World Orchestra stretched out to the young musicians of the Australian National Academy of Music for a collaboration in a July 29 one-night, one-work program under Simone Young.  Messiaen’s Turangalila-symphonie asks for a good deal from its executants, none more than its pianist and Ondes Martenot player; on this night, Timothy Young and Jacob Abela gave the symphony’s sprawling canvas both brilliance and emotional heft.

August

Each Takacs Quartet night offers an object lesson in chamber music performance.  This year’s Musica Viva tour opened with the last Haydn in F Major, MV artistic director Carl Vine’s No. 6, Child’s Play, and a penetrating reading of Beethoven’s Op. 127 with an adagio that you didn’t want to end, despite its complexities of construction.

                                                                     Takacs Quartet

Li-Wei Qin offered yet again his interpretation of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, with the MSO under Johannes Fritzsch backing his efforts with balancing zest.  It’s a work you find has an immediate appeal, no matter how often it’s performed, and this soloist impresses for the forceful drive of his sound and his soaring richness of line in the concerto’s many lyrical flights.

Sir Andrew Davis clearly has a soft spot for Massenet’s opera Thais.  He made this work his mid-season gala and it largely succeeded for the quality of his soloists: soprano Erin Wall (Thais), baritone Quin Kelsey (Athanael), bass Daniel Sumegi (Palemon), tenor Diego Silva (Nicias), and mezzo Liane Keegan (Abbess Albine).  Having heard it once, I’d like to thank all concerned but can’t see any need for staging it, despite the opportunities for a set designer/choreographer’s pseudo-Oriental excess.

On the month’s last night, Davis made another side-trip from the Mahler path into Bruckner territory with the Symphony No. 7, preceding the performance with an illustrated lecture.  The MSO’s account found the strings and woodwind in excellent temper, the brass not so much, but the conductor embraced the outer movements’ long paragraphs with gusto.

September

Paul Dyer and his Australian Brandenbuurg Orchestra focused on friends Mozart and Haydn, with Cannabich a handy filler/acquaintance during this visit to composing contemporaries.  A wind octet played parts of the Harmoniemusik from Il Seraglio that Mozart probably arranged himself; the ABO’s principal, Jamie Hey, faced projection difficulties in the Haydn C Major Cello Concerto, but not as many problems as Bart Aerbeydt confronted with his natural instrument in Mozart’s last horn concerto.

Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar atrocity, the Zelman Symphony essayed the Shostakovich Symphony No. 13 which uses Yevtushenko’s poems as a fulcrum. Mark Shiell conducted his orchestra, a bass choir and bass soloist; the singing element sustained the composer’s gravity of expression and the instrumental corps, often deliberate and aware, could have been improved by more assertiveness from the strings.

Ravel’s G Major Piano Concerto with soloist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet made a fine pairing with the Mozart Symphony No. 34 at this month’s concluding MSO concerts, both light and buoyant even in their slow movements.  Conductor Andre de Ridder moved to the dark side with Ravel’s La Valse and Unsuk Chin’s kaleidoscopic Mannequin – one of the year’s more adventurous program choices.

More French material emerged at the month’s end when Otto Tausk conducted the MSO in Debussy’s La mer, the body’s brass section in powerful, accurate voice, before a complete shift in temper when pianist Saleem Ashkar fronted the Brahms D minor Concerto, giving this rumbling rort of a  score its full complement of roaming sensitivity and pounding majesty.

                                                                  Saleem Ashkar

For once not clashing with Fathers’ Day, the Music in the Round Festival at the Abbotsford Convent site was held on September 24 and brought some stirring music-making into play.  I was lucky enough to hear the Arcadia Winds quintet in Barber’s Summer Music and the eloquent Nielsen Wind Quintet; later, violinist William Hennessy, violist Stefanie Farrands, and cellist Michael Dahlenburg – Melbourne Chamber Orchestra core personnel – laboured with pianist Louisa Breen  across the Brahms Piano Quartet No. 2 with excellent results; and pianist Stefan Cassomenos thundered through Liszt’s arrangement of the Beethoven A Major Symphony.

October

Suffering from a publicist’s hyperbole by appearing under the title of ‘the world’s greatest living flautist’, Emmanuel Pahud was guest for this month’s Australian Chamber Orchestra program, a compendium of great variety in which the guest performed most effectively in unaccompanied solos: Bach’s A minor Sonata and Debussy’s Syrinx.  An arrangement for the ACO strings and Pahud of Franck’s Violin Sonata removed most of the original’s chromatic bite and the finale’s sweep from placidity to generous clamour.

Later, Richard Tognetti  brought the full ACO ensemble to the Recital Centre for a singular achievement climaxing in Tchaikovsky’s sextet Souvenir de Florence as you would like to hear it all the time: light textures oscillating with driving blasts, each movement a finely-honed, concentrated vein of gleaming ore.

This year’s Melbourne Festival brought some enriching music to the public ear, starting with A Requiem for Cambodia: Bangsokol which fused Western and Eastern genres into a moving lament for those millions murdered during the Khmer Rouge’s ascendancy.  Local pianist Peter de Jager staggered me with his all-Xenakis program which contained most of the Greek/French composer’s keyboard music for both piano and harpsichord: a stimulating grapple with very difficult material, some of it unplayable.  The British choir Tenebrae brought Jody Talbot’s Path of Miracles to town, a four-part musical tracing of the pilgrim’s trail from Roncesvalles to the shrine of St. James of Compostella.

                                                                          Tenebrae

A Festival finish of high distinction came with the two recitals by Emanuele Archiuli which focused on American modern works, in particular highlighting Thelonius Monk’s ‘Round Midnight.  Despite the pianist covering too much territory and revealing a tolerance for some pretty lightweight matter, he enriched our awareness of near-contemporary pianistic craft with George Crumb’s far-foraging variations on the Monk tune, then performed part of his own vast enterprise which involved 20 composers writing individual takes on ‘Round Midnight.

British conductor Andrew Manze took the MSO through Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C, the first time I can remember hearing this masterpiece live since Gelmetti conducted it at Robert Blackwood Hall many years ago, my review of that occasion eliciting a letter from one of the first violins that indicated how I’d undervalued the stamina required from the strings to get through this score.  Manze pointed to the inescapable influence of Beethoven on Schubert, but also the impact of Rossini’s jauntiness, and that information gave extra colour to what can be a trying experience, especially in the verbose tarantella finale.

November

The MSO has given plenty of exposure to its associate conductor, Benjamin Northey, this year, coming to a head with his being given charge of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.  The young conductor gave his exuberant best to the experience, met with full-throated responsiveness from both orchestra and the MSO Choir and well-served by his all-Australian principal line-up: Jacqueline Porter, Liane Keegan, Henry Choo, Shane Lowrencev.

A tad down-river, the MSO under Nicholas Buc did their live soundtrack thing with the first two Harry Potter films, playing to packed audiences at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre’s Plenary.  The music itself is warmingly familiar, yet another sparkling amethyst in composer John William’s chain of memorable film scores, but both nights were exemplary public occasions: for The Philosopher’s Stone, by the audience’s participation in greeting and groaning at various characters – all encouraged by Buc – to the final explosion of delight when Dumbledore changed the house points at film’s end; for The Chamber of Secrets, you had to be impressed by the audience’s applause at each discrete passage of play, patrons quite happy to drown out the film’s action with approbation of the MSO’s efforts.

                                                                        Nicholas Buc 

Back at Hamer Hall, Stanislav Kochanovsky directed a sonorous but unsatisfying reading of the Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2, one of the MSO’s more memorable successes under Hiroyuki Iwaki.  Possibly the conductor and his band were too focused on exerting a powerful drive throughout; even more probable, the interpretation proved self-conscious, the weight of both outer movements approached with an excessive consideration for inner bulk.

December

My concert of the year for 2013 was the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s revelation of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.  Quite a bit of its success came from the orchestra’s talent at walking a line between opulent modern warmth and period instrument piquancy.  Even more was due to the brilliant Choir of London, a body of about 18 singers, all soloists in their own right who combined for the most lustrous and full choruses and chorales you may ever encounter.  Much the same occurred this time around with many of the same participants back at work, headed by that paragon of Evangelist tenors, Nicholas Mulroy.

                                                                    Nicholas Mulroy

Finishing the Recital Centre’s Great Performers series, British pianist Paul Lewis confronted us with another of his demanding programs, this one comprising late-in-life works by Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms, the last represented by the Six Piano Pieces Op. 118 in which Lewis found a subtle continuity of emotional language to produce one of the year’s most significant and revelatory interpretations.

The MSO’s annual Messiah proved disappointing, in part due to the lack of ginger from conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini.  About two touches of originality aside, this struck me as a pretty pedestrian effort, the MSO Chorus imbalanced by a shy tenor group, the orchestra reduced to an emotionally faceless stratum, and only two of the soloists leavening the drabness, soprano Sara Macliver and tenor Ed Lyon casting light across a dour landscape.

                                                                        Sara Macliver

                                                                            Ed Lyon

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra – some of them – and Choir began their Noel! Noel! concerts in the Recital Centre, moving ever closer to a Carols by Candelight format with young musicals singer Joel Parnis making a hash of Adam’s O Holy Night, set too low for his voice, but coming into his own with Bring Him Home from Les Miserables.  But Paul Dyer followed his customary path of having something for everyone, moving from Palestrina motets to Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, supplementing his string quintet with a trio of sackbuts.

The Australian Boys Choir finished my year with their A Mighty Wonder program.  Director Noel Ancell took as his program’s basis the O sacrum convivium antiphon, beginning with the familiar Gregorian chant, then moving into  settings by Gallus, Poulenc, Ivo Antognini and Ola Gjeilo.  And, aware of the enthusiasm of his choirs’ parents, Ancell also inserted plenty of audience-participation with carols unfamiliar – Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen, albeit in an English translation – and others that are part of our DNA – O come, all ye faithful and Hark! The herald angels sing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

January Diary

As usual, you won’t find much happening in January apart from the two festivals: (Mornington) Peninsula Summer Music and Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields. Unfortunately, advertising for both is firm on performers, venues and times but often vacant on the music being played, so there’s a great deal of speculation in the following calendar

 

Tuesday January 2

Arcadia Winds

St Mark’s Anglican Church, Balnarring at 2 pm

I heard this ensemble at the recent Abbotsford Convent Music in the Round, with a substitute for regular clarinet Lloyd Van’t Hoff.  This recital features the replaced one and two others from the group: oboe David Reichelt and bassoon Matthew Kneale.  What are they playing?  Well, the information I’ve gleaned is vague .  .  . Bach and Mozart are mentioned, then a big jump to Jean Francaix.  If you don’t know any music by the earlier composers for this combination, you’re not alone;  Francaix, on the other hand, produced the Divertissment of 1947 and, in a cornucopia of other music for wind combinations, nothing else for this particular personnel formation.   Great stuff if you’re nearby but for some of us – still – Balnarring is a long way off.

 

Tuesday January 2

ETERNAL FLAME

Bethany Hill, Andrew Byrne, PSMF Academy 2017 alumni

Hurley Vineyard, Balnarring at 5 pm

Soprano and lute expert present music by Caccini, Strozzi, Carissimi, Merula and the Australian writer Jodie O’Regan, in company with those young musicians lucky enough to be involved with the Peninsula Summer Music Festival Academy where elders share their tutelary riches with the next generation.   Not clear on specifics but the exercise should be well worth it, especially if you’ve already committed to the preceding recital from the Arcadia trio.   O’Regan’s work is unknown to me, but her main interests seem to be as an educator with an emphasis on singing (community and otherwise).

 

Wednesday January 3

Massimo Scattolin and Hannah Dahlenberg

Port Phillip Estate, Red Hill South at 6 pm

Scattolin is a familiar name from Sergio di Pieri’s Ballarat festival where he is a regular guest.   Here he partners soprano Dahlenberg whose name I’ve heard and not in the context of local cellist Michael.   Their offerings remain big on composer identities, not on specifics.   We’re to get arias by Handel, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini; chamber music by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Falla, Lorca, Piazzolla and Morricone – which I presume means duets for the two recitalists.   Interspersed come guitar solos.  The only mystery here is the mention of Lorca who, while a fine pianist and collaborator with Falla, as far as I know did not compose anything.   Almost worth going along to find out what’s what.

 

Saturday January 6

MAIDEN VOYAGE: WORKS FOR VIOLIN AND PIANO

Kyla Matsuura-Miller and Adam McMillan

Church of St. John the Evangelist, Flinders at 12 pm

This duo – Matsuura-Miller violin and McMillan piano – won the 2017 Melbourne Recital Centre’s Great Romantics Competition, although I can’t find any mention of their triumph online.   To their credit, these musicians have committed early and have a set program.  They start with Bach, the Violin/Keyboard Sonata in E Major BWV 1016; they finish with the young Richard Strauss’ Sonata in E flat Op 18, and fill out the centre with a new work by Australian writer Christopher Healey, who has made quite a name for himself in Brisbane, both as a writer and an organizer of new music concerts.

 

Saturday January 6

Kiazma Piano Duo

Church of St. John the Evangelist, Flinders at 3 pm

Nothing like the four-hand piano duet to bring out the Victoria-and-Albert in all of us.  Aura Go collaborates with Tomoe Kawabata in some heights of the repertoire, including  Schubert’s late Fantasie in F minor, a Mozart or two from the five definites in the catalogue, and Poulenc’s Sonata.   Which last has me puzzled.   All the performances I’ve come across have involved two pianos, but the original of 1918 seems to have been composed for two players operating at one keyboard.   Poulenc did revise the piece in 1939, so I’m assuming that’s when he decided on separate instruments.  Might be a squash in this small church.   For that essential touch of modernity, we’ll be treated to the 1985 Cahier sonore by Akira Miyoshi.

 

Saturday January 6

BAROQUE OPERA GALA

Lotte Betts-Dean and Genesis Baroque

St. John the Evangelist, Flinders at 7 pm

The orchestra for this event is chaste – 9 strings and Simon Rickard’s bassoon, the whole co-ordinated from a harpsichord by Martin Gester.  Details are slim but patrons are promised Telaira’s aria Tristes apprets from Rameau’s Castor et Pollux, and concertmaster Lucinda Moon will take solo spot for Leclair’s Violin Concerto in C Major – Op. 7 No. 3 or Op. 9 No. 8 will doubtless be revealed on the night.  The orchestra, Genesis Baroque, is newly-formed but most of its members are familiar faces from period music circles and concerts.   Mezzo-soprano Betts-Dean, by all accounts, is on a pretty rapid career trajectory and was last seen and heard here in excellent form at the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s luminous Christmas Oratorio on December 3 and 4.

 

Sunday January 7

Lucinda Moon

Church of St. John the Evangelist at 11 am

They don’t come any simpler or more concentrated than this.  Moon makes her solo – i.e., unaccompanied – debut for the Festival here with Bach.   She takes on the Violin Sonata in A minor and the Partita No. 2 in D minor which climaxes in the towering Chaconne.  What makes this hour more than a little interesting is Moon’s reputation as an emphatic purist for period music observances, so you can’t expect to be confronted with any vibrato-heavy waffling in either of these peerless masterpieces.

 

Sunday January 7

Stefan Cassomenos

Church of St. John the Evangelist at 2 pm

This Melbourne pianist, blazing with talent, returns to the Festival for a solo recital which promises the old and the new in equal balance; such a juxtaposition may turn out to be a bit strong for the easy-going Peninsula patrons.  Cassomenos plays pieces by Scarlatti, Chopin, Schumann and Rachmaninov – four foundation composers for the keyboard – and tops these up with recently-contrived Australian music by Andrew Aronowicz, Linda Kouvaras, Katy Abbott Kvasnica and Kate Moore.  And it’s great to see the genders almost coming into balance this afternoon.

 

Sunday January 7

BACH SONATAS

Julie Fredersdorff and Aline Zylberajch

Church of St. John the Evangelist, Flinders at 4 pm

Winding up the Festival’s serious music content, artistic director Fredersdorff and harpsichordist Zylberajch play Bach.  Again, details are not yet there to be collated but you’d anticipate that the duo could handle three of the six in the repertoire.  Fredersdorff is a well-known presence and sound from this week’s activities over the years and through her appearances with that expandable period music trio,  Latitude 37.  However, the harpsichordist is a stranger to me although she has an impressive discography and has worked before with the Genesis Baroque conductor, Martin Gester.

 

Friday January 12

MISSA CRIOLLA AND THE PATH OF MIRACLES

Gloriana

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 8 pm

Andrew Raiskums is bringing his choir to Ballarat for the annual Festival’s opening concert.  This time, the Baroque is left behind in a ferment of post-Vatican II colour in the Missa Criolla by Ariel Ramirez which marries the Mass text (the Nicene Creed shortened to the Apostles’) in Spanish with Latin-American musical colour.  As well as soloists and choir, this work uses a set of unusual percussion instruments in its instrumental accompaniment.  It’s quite a short construct, so the program has been expanded with Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles, recently sung here by the Tenebrae choir during the Melbourne Festival.  The work traces the pilgrim’s route from France to the Shrine of St. James of Compostella through four movements.  It’s an interesting experience mainly for the movements’ contrasts but I’m not convinced that its spruikers have much justification in claiming the term ‘modern masterpiece’ for it.

 

Saturday January 13

MUSIC FROM FOUR CENTURIES

Tomomi Brennan, Anthony Halliday

Violinist Brennan is allied with organist Halliday for a program that is completely unknown at this stage.  Four centuries is a big time-span but, even so, I’m sceptical about the amount of music written for this duo, so it looks as if we’ll be enjoying a wealth of transcriptions and arrangements.  Don’t know the violinist as a soloist but she is a senior member of Orchestra Victoria; Halliday I’ve been hearing for many, many years – since his schooldays, in fact –  and am ever-admiring of his insightful security.

 

Saturday January 12

BEETHOVEN AND BRAHMS

Monica Curro and Stefan Cassomenos

Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts at 4 pm

Fresh from his labours at the Peninsula Summer Music Festival, Cassomenos comes to Ballarat’s cultural temple to perform with the Assistant Principal Second Violin of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.   You’d probably be safe to assume that the pair will be playing one (or two) of the ten Beethoven violin sonatas, and one (or two) of the three Brahms sonatas.  For all I know, Curro and Cassomenos are old hands (well, not so old in his case) at performing sonatas together – or possibly their appearance is ad hoc.  Either way, both are skilled in chamber music.

 

Saturday January 13

ECHOES OF THE CELTS

La Compania, Lotte Betts-Dean

Mary’s Mount Centre, Loreto College at 8 pm

Danny Lucin and his period music ensemble of cornetto, sackbuts, dulcians, the occasional viol and percussion present a night of the ‘Celtic baroque’.  Now there’s a phrase that summons up absolutely nothing at all.   In what way were the Celts involved with the Baroque?  Come along and find out, I suppose.  Betts-Dean is, like Cassomenos, plying her craft fresh from an appearance at Flinders in the Peninsula festival.  The whole underpinning of the recital is a mystery: was there a Celtic school of music during the Baroque, or did the composers of that era experience some influence from the Celts?   The latter sounds more likely but is it just something like Beethoven’s Scottish folk-song arrangements?  Not much of an influence, then, and not really an echo.  Still, the band is a lively formation and always refreshing to experience.

 

Sunday January 14

GRAND CHOEUR

Martin Setchell

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 3 pm

Based in New Zealand’s Canterbury, Setchell plays the cathedral’s 1930 Fincham organ, which I’ve generally found to be one of the least distinctive instruments in the city.  There is no indication as to what will be performed; the event’s title simply indicates ‘full organ’.

 

Sunday January 14

HEROES, HEROINES AND VILLAINS

Maty’s Mount Centre, Loreto College at 8 pm

The subtitle for this entertainment runs ‘Recognizable loved and loathed operatic characters.’   Taking part are soprano Olivia Cranwell, tenor Carlos E. Barcenas and baritone Stephen Marsh – all soloists from Victorian Opera.  Accompaniment will be provided by pianist Phoebe Briggs, who is the company’s head of music. Barcenas will appear in the coming VO productions of Rossini’s William Tell and Bellini’s The Capulets and the Montagues; Marsh will be the Shepherd in Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande and is taking on a triple role in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel;  Cranwell last appeared in March for the VO production of The Princess and the Pea and seems to be enjoying plenty of exposure through the national company.  Anyway, you can take your pick of what you’d expect to hear: the parameters are very broad.

 

Monday January 15

THE FINCHAM AND HOBDAY ORGAN OF 1889

Christopher Trikilis

St. John’s Anglican Church, Creswick at 10 am

Last year, this young Melbourne organist played at the Carngham Uniting Church for the festival, on another Fincham and Hobday instrument; this time, he’s working at a larger F & H organ in one of the solo recitals to feature this festival’s eponymous source of inspiration.  Trikilis proposes J.S.Bach, Vivaldi and contemporaries which is a gargantuan field to contemplate but the event is intriguing as the player is young and the organ itself is unknown to me although I believe it has featured in many preceding festival programs. In my defence, it’s arduous enough getting up to Ballarat itself without adding on the extra 18 kilometres required to reach Creswick; so says the ageing curmudgeon.

The program will be repeated at 12 noon.

 

Monday January 15

IN LOVE AND WAR

Luke Severn and Elyane Laussade

Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts at 4 pm

Severn is a busy young Melbourne cellist and he has presented this program with pianist Laussade already, last September at St. Peter’s Eastern Hill – so they’re well played-in, you’d expect.  The artists have prepared works by Rachmaninov, Barber and Shostakovich.   The American work I’d expect to be the Cello Sonata in C minor, Op. 6 – mainly because there’s nothing else by Barber for this combination.  Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata is also a young man’s work, although better-known than Barber’s piece.  The Shostakovich Sonata of 1934 comes from the time of the Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk denunciation by the authorities and the composer’s separation from his pregnant wife.  Of course, all this speculation can be right off the mark if Laussade is playing a solo; if not, the three sonatas make for a powerful afternoon’s music-making.

 

Monday January 15

MOZART FOR QUINTET

Trio Leonardo, Nicci Dellar, Miriam Skinner

Mary’s Mount Centre, Loreto College at 8 pm

Some hard-worked guests from Venice begin their various stints tonight.  The Trio Leonardo comprises harpist Elisabetta Ghebbioni, flautist Andrea Dainese and violist Giancarlo di Vacri.   Two other musicians make up the numbers for the promised quintet: violinist Nicci Dellar and cellist Miriam Skinner.   The only work of which you can be certain is Mozart’s sprightly Flute and Harp Concerto K. 299 which here undergoes a change into the guise of a quintet.  The other content will also feature more arrangements because the participants are hard to configure into known Mozart works, although there are possibilities like the flute quartets and the string trios and duos that could turn up.  But Mozart’s employment of the harp appears to be rare: is there anything apart from this concerto?

 

Tuesday January 16

MOZARTIANA FOR ORGAN

Douglas Mews

Christ Church, Castlemaine at 11 am

City of Wellington organist and organ teacher at the University of Wellington, Mews is most likely playing some arrangements because, like last night’s affair, there’s not much in the catalogue with which to engage.  The F minor Adagio and Allegro, Fantasia in F minor and Andante in F are the most commonly heard Mozart organ pieces; also, the composer wrote some fugues, an ouverture and a small gigue.  Put it all together and you can eke out an hour’s worth, if you play slowly and deliberately.  But the ‘-iana’ part of Mews’ title could take in a lot of territory – even a Tchaikovsky transcription.

This program will be repeated at 12:30 pm.

 

Tuesday January 16

THE UNIMAGINABLE COMBINATION WITH UNEXPECTED RESULTS

Tomomi Brennan, Anthony Halliday, Joel Brennan

Castlemaine Town Hall at 3 pm

Tomomi and Brennan will have already performed together in last Saturday morning’s recital.   Here, they are joined by another Brennan who plays flugelhorn.  The title sums it up: I can’t imagine how the combination sounds but have no doubt about the unpredictable nature of the outcome.  No details are currently available.

 

Wednesday January 17

TOUCHES OF SWEET HARMONY

Martin Setchell, Eisabetta Ghebbioni

Loreto College Chapel at 11 am

I’m thinking solos here because the scores written for the combination of organ (Setchells) and harp (Ghebbioni) are as rare as an Australian federal politician with ethics.  The entertainment is subtitled ‘a morning musical serenade’ which is giving nothing away, except to this tortured mind: an elliptical reference to Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music which uses texts from Act V of The Merchant of Venice that contains the line-and-a-half ‘soft stillness and the night Become the touches of sweet harmony’.  Then, when you think about it, whatever the music, the organ/harp combination sounds excellent in the abstract.

 

Wednesday January 17

Arcadia Winds

Neil St. Uniting Church at 4 pm

With the encouragement that either they or their offerings are ‘inspired by the folk rhythms of Europe’, the members of this fine ensemble (still only three of the five?) could be repeating their program of January 2 which formed part of the Peninsula Summer series.  Musical recycling: it’s as old as Aeschylus.

 

Wednesday January 17

EINE ABENDMUSIK

St Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 8 pm

This is a recreation of what is called the ‘traditional Advent Cantata Concert’, a celebration that comes from the early 18th century.  So it differs from the cantata that you hear interpolated into the Lutheran Mass/Service in that here we have a fairly definite extra-liturgical context.   Whatever goes on, John Weretka will be in charge of a group featuring sopranos Helen Thomson and Amelia Jones, countertenor Hamish Gould, tenor/countertenor Christopher Roache, and Weretka himself making up the set with his bass, supported instrumentally by oboe, theorbo, bassoon, violin and the Consort Eclectus which, last time I looked, comprised viols and recorders.  All of this adds up to a wealth of period music expertise.

 

Thursday January 18

HAYDN AND VIVALDI CONCERTI

Trio Leonardo, Anthony Halliday, Festival Chamber Orchestra

Former Wesley Church, Clunes at 11 am

The first of two concerts at the sleepy hollow of Clunes features the individual members of the Leonardo group, I suspect, playing a concerto each by one of the specified masters. There’s a spurious one for flute by Haydn and a few that could work for Halliday on the church’s organ, but nothing for Giancarlo di Vacri’s viola or Elisabetta Ghebbioni’s harp. Vivaldi, on the other hand,  wrote flute concertos and a swag for viola d’amore, but nothing for harp, although Halliday will be able to find something suitable in the catalogue.  Yet again, I sense that the day of the transcription will come upon us.

 

Thursday January 18

HANDEL FOR ORGAN AND FLUTE

Douglas Mews and Andrea Dainese

St Paul’s Anglican Church, Clunes at 2:15 pm

This reassuringly bucolic church’s organ is an 1862 Hamlin mechanical action instrument on which Mews will produce some Handel, in company with the Trio Leonardo’s flautist, appearing for the second time today.  Again, no ideas what will be performed but, with this composer, anything goes; he was a fabulous recycling merchant and would doubtless approve of a two-instrument reduction of The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba or Where’er you walk.  We are assured of the organ’s ‘lovely woodwind’, but I can’t find much to talk about apart from two stops on the instrument’s Great.

 

Friday January 19

GONG, GARDENS AND GRIEG

Douglas Mews and Giancarlo di Vacri

St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Bakery Hill at 10 am

This morning, Mews, in his third Festival appearance, collaborates with another member of the Trio Leonardo.  The program is Victorian/Edwardian, one of the promised items being Elgar’s Chanson de matin, originally for violin and piano, but probably transferable without much stress to the viola/organ duet playing here.  The emphasis is on light classics, so gird up your loins for Come into the garden, Maud and the Kashmiri Song.  Where Grieg fits in, I can’t hazard a guess; he wrote nothing for viola or organ but he was a dab hand at Victorian/Edwardian melodies.

 

Friday January 19

MOZART AND SCHUMANN

Seraphim Trio

Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts at 3 pm

Violinist Helen Ayres, cellist Timothy Nankervis and pianist Anna Goldsworthy make up this excellent ensemble which appears regularly at the Melbourne Recital Centre.  I can’t work out what they will play out of the Mozart six scores for this combination, although you might punt on the glorious K. 502 in B flat Major, which they performed last February.  With Schumann, the choices are thinner, the composer having written only three in the format, but you might pin your hopes on the first in D minor which soars above the other two in power and inspiration.

 

Saturday January 20

A GUSTO ITALIANO

Martin Setchell

Uniting Church, Daylesford at 11 am

Setchell performs here for the third and last time in the festival.  His offerings embrace Italian music from the 16th to the 20th century, played on this church’s William Anderson organ.

 

Saturday January 20

SELECTIONS FROM THE FITZWILLIAM VIRGINAL BOOK

Douglas Mews

Christ Church, Daylesford at 2 pm

Mews also presents his final performance for the festival.  The Christ Church organ is an unusual one in having two manuals of Choir and Swell, and is that rare thing: a Fincham construction that has survived intact.   The player is spoilt for choice, as the Book holds 297 pieces and, although the title specifies the virginal, in those lax late Elizabethan/early Jacobean times, any keyboard instrument would do.  Needless to say, no specifics are available but the content won’t be very substantial if Mews is going to play it all again 45 minutes after the first sitting.

This program will be repeated at 2:45 pm

 

Saturday January 20

TRIO LEONARDO PLAY DEBUSSY

Trio Leonardo

Daylesford Town Hall at 5:30 pm

Well, at last this ensemble gets to perform the one work that we all associate with its configuration: Debussy’s Sonata for flute, viola and harp of 1915 – one of that last bold sequence of three sonatas that the composer managed to finish while aiming for a total of six.  There is an extraordinary number of works written for this trio combination, the greater amount coming from the last century following Debussy’s lead, and some of these works may feature on this evening’s program.

 

Sunday January 21

Australian Chinese Ensemble

Ballarat Mechanics Institute at 3 pm

I’ve heard this ensemble a few times but not for some years now.  The musicians last played at this festival in 2003, so it’s been a fair while between drinks.   The four members I recall are: Wang Zheng-Ting playing the sheng, an upright reed instrument that always reminds me of a versatile harmonica; Dong Qiuming on the dizi (transverse flute); Tao Wennliang manipulating the erhu, that sonically permeating, small string instrument played like a mini-cello that has become familiar from a busker or two along Swanston Street and St. Kilda Road.; and Gu Chuen underpinning all with his yangqin or hammered dulcimer.  When it comes to Western music, the festival publicity is vague enough; with this Oriental encounter, you can whistle Dixie for any information.

 

Sunday January 21

MISSA SALISBURGENSIS

Choirs of Queen’s and Newman Colleges

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 8 pm

Bringing up the rear is the Australian premiere of a Baroque colossus: the Salzburg Mass of Heinrich Biber which asks for 53 parts – two 8-part human choirs, 16 soloists, separate groups of strings, woodwind and brass, as well as two discrete sets of trumpets and timpani, plus the inevitable organ and bass continuo.  Don’t know how director Gary Ekkel from Newman College will manage all this in the pretty confined conditions of Ballarat’s Catholic cathedral but the impact from recordings is of battering sheets of C Major sound.  Not the most ambitious ending to the festival but it could be among the more stupendous (or stupefying) exercises in massed sonorities we’ll have heard in this space.