June Diary

Monday June 3

Kirill Gerstein

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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


Tuesday June 4


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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


Friday June 7


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

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


Tuesday June 11

Doric String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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

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


Saturday June 15


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7 pm

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


Saturday June 15


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

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


Thursday June 20


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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


Friday June 21


Duo Chamber Melange

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6:30 pm

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


Friday June 21


Australian National Academy of Music

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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


Sunday June 23


Trio Anima Mundi

St. Michael’s Uniting Church at 2 pm

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


Sunday June 23 


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

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

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


Tuesday June 25

Vadim Gluzman

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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


Thursday June 27


Victorian Opera

Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7:30 pm

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

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


Friday July 28


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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





May Diary

Wednesday May 1


Songmakers Australia

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

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


Thursday May 2


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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


Saturday May 4


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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


Monday May 6


Brodsky Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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


Tuesday May 7



Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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

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


Wednesday May 8


Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, MLC at 7:30 pm

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


Thursday May 9


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

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


Friday May 10


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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


Saturday May 11


Opera Australia

State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7:30 pm

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

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


Sunday May 12


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

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

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


Tuesday May 14


Melbourne Recital Centre at 6:30 pm

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


Thursday May 16


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm


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

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


Friday May 17


The Melbourne Musicians

Tatoulis Auditorium, MLC at 7:30 pm

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


Saturday May 18


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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


Saturday May 18


Opera Australia,

State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7 pm

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

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


Thursday May 23


Ensemble Liaison

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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


Friday May 24


Opera Australia

State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7 pm

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


Friday May 24


Australian National Academy of Music

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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


Monday May 27


Australian String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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


Wednesday May 29


Seraphim Trio

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

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


Wednesday May 29


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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

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




April Diary

Monday April 1

Teddy Tahu Rhodes & Kristian Chong

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6:30 pm

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


Thursday April 4


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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

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


Saturday April 6


Pinchgut Opera

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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


Sunday April 7


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Iwaki Auditorium, Southbank at 11 am

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


Thursday April 11


Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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


Friday April 19


Melbourne Bach Choir and Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm

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

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


Friday April 26


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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


March Diary


Tuesday March 5


ACO Collective

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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


Friday March 8


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

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


Saturday March 9


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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

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


Saturday March 9


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Plenary, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre at 8 pm

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

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


Tuesday March 12


The Sixteen

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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


Friday March 15


\The Melbourne Musicians

Tatoulis Auditorium, Methodist Ladies College, Kew at 7 pm

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


Saturday March 16


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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


Sunday March 17


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

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

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


Tuesday March 19


Melbourne Art Song Collective

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

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


Thursday March 21


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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


Sunday March 24


Trio Anima Mundi

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

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

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


Tuesday March 26


Acacia Winds

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

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


Friday March 29


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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


February Diary

Sunday February 3


Melbourne Opera

Regent Theatre at 5 pm

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


Tuesday February 5


Ludovico’s Band

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6:30 pm

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


Friday February 8


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sidney Myer Music Bowl at 7:30 pm

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


Wednesday February 13


The Song Company

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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


Wednesday February 13


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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


Wednesday February 13

Grigoryan Brothers and Wolfgang Muthspiel

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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


Saturday February 16


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sidney Myer Music Bowl at 7:30 pm

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


Saturday February 16


Gabrieli Consort & Players

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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

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


Wednesday February 20


Victorian Opera

Palais Theatre, St. Kilda at 4:30 pm

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

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


Wednesday February 20


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sidney Myer Music Bowl at 7:30 pm

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


Wednesday February 20

Satu Vanska and Kristian Chong

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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


Sunday February 24


Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra et al

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

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

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


Monday January 25


Orava Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

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


Tuesday February 26


Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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

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


Wednesday February 27


Australian String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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


Thursday February 28


Flinders Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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

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


Thursday February 28


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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


Thursday February 28


Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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

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



2018 in review


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

January Diary

The first weeks of January are dominated, as usual, by the Peninsula Summer Music Festival – Mornington Peninsula, that is.   A change in artistic director finds oboist Ben Opie in charge of proceedings and he has widened the programmatic net to include events that have little attraction for me – Bach from an ad hoc string quartet while bathing at the Peninsula Hot Springs, Fingal; solo violin music from Jessica Oddie as you follow her around the Hot Springs estate; another peripatetic experience led by Opie on the Festival’s last night starting at the Pelican Statues in Hastings; a scattering of jazz and children’s entertainments, alongside some indigenous recitals, as well as a rock guitarist playing solo and an electronic musician providing sounds to go along with yet another Fingal bathing experience.

Slightly running into the Peninsula festival’s time space comes the Organs of the Ballarat Goldfields Festival with a plethora of recitals and a few social events for the solid core of regulars.


Wednesday January 2


Peninsula Chamber Musicians and Guests

St. Mark’s Anglican Church, Balnarring at 2 pm

The numbers are pretty equal here: five regular Peninsularians and five guests.   Some of the latter are familiar names:  festival director Ben Opie, flautist Melissa Doecke, bassoonist Adam Mikulicz, while the original group is an unknown quantity to me.  Their offerings are decets by Andre Caplet, the formidable orchestrator of Debussy pieces, and Enescu.  Presumably, the French work is the three-movement Suite persane of 1900, and the Enescu will be its near-contemporary D Major Decet, written in 1906.  Here is real festival fare: unknown scores for an unusual combination.  And it’s in a venue that I haven’t experienced, although it might have featured in previous years and I’ve been too lazy to drive to a resort in high season.


Wednesday January 2


Janet Todd and Nicholas Pollock

Hurley Vineyard, Balnarring at 6 pm

Like the preceding recital – and a good many others – this is a 60-minutes/no-interval program.   It presents the talents of Victorian-born soprano Todd, nowadays making her home in Los Angeles,  and lutenist Pollock.  Their recital’s title refers (I hope) to the song that Purcell wrote for his semi-opera Pausanias.  In any case, we are promised music that moves from Dowland, through Purcell, and then to the French Baroque.  Pollock is listed as a ‘Peninsula favourite’, although his name is not one that I recall.


Thursday January 3


Sophie Rowell & Kristian Chong

Moorooduc Estate at 4 pm

Sort of self-explanatory.   The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster Rowell collaborates with expert pianist Chong in three sonatas, ending with Ravel’s No.2 with its central Blues in A flat movement: a sprightly construct and highly effective as long as the players don’t oversell the jazz, thinking that they have a wider scope for interpretative flamboyance than the composer intended.   Preceding this come Mozart in B flat K. 454 with its stately introduction and Beethoven No. 4 in A minor which doesn’t have a slow movement.   This duo is one of the program’s more certain pairings, involving two musicians of exceptional and established quality.

This program will be repeated at 6:30 pm.


Friday January 4


Duo Foster-Browne

Main Ridge Estate, Red Hill at 4 pm

A neat set of relationships are enshrined in this recital’s title.  The godfather is Telemann, who sponsored C. P. E. Bach at his christening.   So the players are presenting music by the godfather, his godson and the proud birth father, Johann Sebastian.  The duo itself comprises baroque flautist Georgia Browne and harpsichordist Tom Foster who are no strangers to each other, having presented an all-French program at the University of Edinburgh two months ago.   For the senior Bach, the pickings for duets number about 8, even if some of these are disputed territory with Carl Philip Emmanuel.  As for the godson, the catalogue lists 12 works for flute and continuo, as well as 5 for harpsichord and flute.   Looking at Telemann’s output, the mind boggles, grappling with its variety and manifold applications and arrangements.

The program will be repeated at 7 pm.


Saturday January 5

Australian Haydn Ensemble

St. John’s Church, Flinders at 12 pm

On its website, most of the selective encomia for this group, established in 2011, come from the Sydney Morning Herald.   Which might be a partial explanation for my lack of experience with them.   The ensemble – or part of it – played at a Melbourne International Arts Festival, possibly during the years of Josephine Ridge’s Haydn-fixated directorship.  Anyway, here they are now  .  .  .  well, a few of them: director/violinist Skye McIntosh, second violin Simone Slattery, viola James Eccles, cello James Bush, with flautist Melissa Farrow a welcome woodwind voice.   The program has only two works, both by Mozart: the first Flute Quartet in D K. 285 – all 14 minutes of it – and the String Quartet in G K. 387, which is the first of the set of six that the composer dedicated to Haydn.   Seems to be a short-change program if you’re after time value for money.


Saturday January 5


Songmakers Australia

St. John’s Church, Flinders at 3 pm

Another duo recital, again involving well-known artists.   Soprano Merlyn Quaife collaborates with Songmakers Australia director-pianist Andrea Katz.  The range offered moves from Schubert to Selleck but then also promises ‘music by acclaimed Australian composers’ – to which group one hopes that the talented Johanna has by this stage been admitted.   For all the vagueness, this should be an engrossing business, especially given Quaife’s career-long dedication to performing home-grown material.


Saturday January 5


St. John’s Church, Flinders at 7 pm

This program revolves around Boccherini’s Stabat mater, the original version of 1781 which requires a soprano soloist and a supporting string quintet.   As well as this substantial score, Macliver will work through arias by Handel from Apollo e Dafne, Theodora and Agrippina, while the Haydn people present Corelli’s Christmas Concerto and an arrangement for chamber ensemble by that formidable impresario Johann Peter Salomon of Haydn’s last symphony, the London (I assume this version is the one for string quartet and flute).   Macliver also offers a Mozart bracket in Zerlina’s two arias  –  Batti, batti and Vedrai, carino  –  as well as Pamina’s Ach, ich fuhl’s, and Laetari, locari from the early Apollo et Hyacinthus opera by the then-11-year-old composer; his first essay in the form, actually, although this seems to be the only scrap that has moved into public awareness and, even then, I’ve never heard it live.   The ensemble will probably consist of a string quintet as all the Mozart has been arranged by one ‘Lim’ – gifted local veteran composer Liza?  Probably not.


Sunday January 6


Miles Johnston

St. John’s Church, Flinders at 11:30 am

Johnston is a guitarist who won this year’s MRC competition – obviously.   He’s proposing some Bach, which is par for the course and has been ever since Segovia mined the extensive archive for material, some of which worked superbly.   Alongside this, we are to hear works by Australian Richard Charlton  –  a large catalogue to pick from  –  and Nikita Koshkin, a big guitar name in and from Russia.   It’s an excellent festival initiative, to give a venue to this competition’s winner – especially fortunate when the lucky player is entering a field that is already packed, some of it quite talented.


Sunday January 6


Australian Haydn Ensemble and David Greco

St. John’s Church, Flinders at 2 pm

The program is all arrangements, but not all-Schubert.   Greco, an assertive young baritone, is accompanied by the Haydn quintet in Die Gotter Griechenlands, Der Jungling und der Tod (the second version, I think), Gute Nacht, Frulingstraum, Der Leiermann, Der Tod und das Madchen and Der Erlkonig.  And we have an identity for that unnamed arranger ‘Lim’ from yesterday’s Sara Macliver/Haydn Ensemble event.  It’s Vi King Lim, who works as librarian for Symphony Services Australia and has done a good deal of work for the Haydn people.   Interspersed with the lieder are some extracts from Felicien David’s Les quatre saisons, a lengthy collection of pieces for string quintet concerned with memorialising the evenings of the four seasons.   For this occasion, the Haydns are playing two of the Summer and two of the Spring soirees.   From what I’ve heard of them, any relationship with Schubert will be hard to sustain.


Thursday January 10


Blair Harris

Elgee Park, Dromana at 6 pm

This well-known cellist will spend much of his hour or so playing Australian music.   All the works are solos and Harris starts and ends with Peter Sculthorpe: the short Sonata of 1959 and the twice-as-long Requiem written 20 years later.   Stuart Greenbaum’s Lunar Orbit offers a meditation on the Apollo 11 mission; Kate Moore’s brief Whoever you are come forth takes its genesis from a Whitman line.   Some deviations from the local come with Osvaldo Golijov’s Omaramor, written in memory of Argentinian tango singer Carlos Gardel who died in a 1935 plane crash; and Japanese Karen Tanaka’s  The Song of Songs which calls for electronics to support the live instrument as it attempts to summon up the erotic invitation that opens King Solomon’s love-poem.


Friday January 11


Inventi Ensemble

St. Mark’s Anglican Church, Balnarring at 2 pm

He wrote 17 works with this title, to be played between the Epistle and Gospel readings during the first part of the Mass, where the mumbled Alleluia versicle now stands.  This ensemble intends to precede their selection from the sonata set with improvisations in the style of whatever follows.   Flautist Melissa Doecke and oboist Ben Opie lead a sextet which includes violinists Peter Clark and Jessica Oddie, cellist William Hewer and Peter de Jager playing this church’s Laurie organ, originally built for Whitley College and moved to Balnarring last year.   On this instrument, de Jager will also play ‘Wagenseil’s brilliant Concerto for Organ’, according to the promotional material; what is not hinted at is which of the 12 possibles is intended.   As for the Mozart sonatas, the Inventi could play any of them, except Nos. 12, 14 and the last which all require extra woodwind/brass, including two trumpets.  An intriguing program, even if those improvisations leave you wondering.


Friday January 11


Schola Cantorum

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 8 pm

Gary Ekkel and his choir are taking on this Passio, an hour-long setting of the Johannine Gospel’s Chapters 18 and 19 by the Estonian composer.  The requisite forces are a baritone soloist for Jesus, a tenor for Pilate, an SATB quartet to handle the Evengelist’s lines, a larger force for the turba, and modest instrumental resources – violin, cello, oboe, bassoon, and organ.  Using Part’s tintinnabuli style – chanting till the cows come home, harmonic and rhythmic stasis, monochrome textures – the work’s intent is to invite meditation rather than express the narrative’s drama.   I’ve always found it hard to find sympathy with the Baltic modern musical mystics, which is a personal fault of major proportions, yet, even if you concentrate on this work’s constructional procedures, there’s no getting around Part’s insistent abnegation of flourish.  A dour start to this packed festival.


Saturday January 12


Anthony Halliday and Alvin Wong

Carngham Uniting Church, Snake Valley at 10 am

Not much news available about this recital, except that Wong will perform the Bach Suite No. 6 in D, the one that seems to require a five-stringed instrument unless you’re prepared to negotiate a fair amount of stretching and positional awkwardness.  What music is there for this cello/organ combination?   You’d be surprised, even if the mind automatically turns to thoughts of arrangements.   Still, there’s plenty of room for Halliday to play carefully on this church’s Fincham & Hobday instrument.   He is a true Festival favourite, taking his place in several variegated events year after year.  Wong, a Melbourne University eminence, has operated under my radar since his appointment four years ago.

The program will be repeated at mid-day.


Saturday January 12


Linda Barcan

Beleura Estate at 12:35 pm

For this event, patrons are asked to meet in the foyer of the Mornington Golf Club, from which point transport will be arranged to wherever on the estate this scheduled entertainment is to take place.   Mezzo Barcan is the initiator but details are thin – well, non-existent – as to what will be performed and by whom.  The aim is to mimic the 1870s-to-1880s Boulevard Saint-Germain salon of Pauline Viardot, the famous mezzo who knew and worked with most of the great musical names in Europe before and after her retirement from the stage in 1863.   You’d have to assume that this afternoon’s program will comprise works that would have been heard in Viardot’s salon; from the only illustration I’ve seen, the room contained an organ which, for all I know, has a counterpart somewhere on the Beleura estate.   Or things might take an unexpected turn and it could be all contemporary material, as it was in Viardot’s day.   You pays your money and you takes your chances.


Saturday January 12


Nello Catarcia

Ballarat Central Uniting Church at 3 pm

This musician comes from Orvieto where he is cathedral organist.  The program for today mentions works by Bach, Franck and Liszt; curiously, those same three featured in the recital that Catarcia gave on May 31 in his hometown’s Duomo.  However, the options available to Catarcia should ensure an enjoyable recital of the old school, and here’s hoping for something we never hear, like Liszt’s Evocation a la Chapelle Sixtine or Franck’s Grande Piece Symphonique.


Saturday January 12


Davide Monti, Josephine Vains, Jacqueline Ogeil

Mary’s Mount Centre, Loreto College Ballarat at 8 pm

Another giveaway title as violinist Monti sets us up for Tartini’s Devil’s Trill with support from well-known Accademia Arcadia personnel in cellist Vains and harpsichordist Ogeil.  But after that, we’re in no man’s land, although the projected path is towards contemporaries of Tartini, with the additional foreshadowing that this was a period when composition often amounted to little more than sketches, thereby offering a basis for improvisation from performers.   In any other hands, you’d have to be cautious but this is a well-experienced trio with a concert-giving history, so we should be happy with where they take us.


Sunday January 13


John O’Donnell

Ballarat Mechanics’ Institute at 3 pm

After introducing this superb work, John O’Donnell, from a Christofori piano, heads a quintet to perform the two ricercars, ten canons and four-movement trio sonata that constitute Bach’s answer to Frederick II’s challenge.  Violinists Davide Monti and Simone Slattery, cellist Josephine Vains and flautist Greg Dikmans share in the labours of this gripping 45-minute-long collection of contrapuntal craft amounting to genius, much of which can be entrusted to a solo keyboard; let’s hope O’Donnell is generous in sharing  the various lines, unavoidable in the sonata which requires flute and violin as well as continuo.


Sunday January 13


Schola Cantorum

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 8 pm

Back to the city’s Catholic cathedral for another impressive choral work, this one written by a Part disciple and well-known Scottish composer.   Gary Ekkel and his Schola re-emerge to present this extension of MacMillan’s own St. John Passion, musically animating the Burial and Resurrection, the appearance to the disciples, and the final scene on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias – all of it sourced mainly from Chapters 20 and 21 of the Gospel text.   As well, the composer uses some extra matter – a bit of St. Matthew, Tisserand’s setting of O filii et filiae,  Salva festa dies in the composer’s own setting, probably.   MacMillan requires, like Part, a small, sober orchestral group – clarinet, cello, horn, harp and theorbo, with occasional bells – and a vocal quintet which can be either a small choir or five soloists.  The bass member sings the words of Christ.  I’ve heard only scraps, which sound appropriately sombre but the composer has always had a fine ear for what travels clearly.


Monday January 14


Dorthe Zielke and Soren Johannsen

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

Zielke is the trumpeter, Johannsen the organist in this Danish duo.  The pair have been in an established musical (and personal, I believe) relationship for 20 years and have released four CDs: one of music from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, another dealing with Handel’s Messiah, an intriguing one of Carl Nielsen’s music for the two instruments (there isn’t any, to be specific, but the disc features a multitude of arrangements, its longest track the Danish master’s famous organ solo, Commotio), and a general one packed with arrangements of Wagner, Mussorgsky, Bellini, Mascagni, Mozart, Dvorak and several others.  The last of these probably indicates what’s heading to Creswick: the Liebstod and Air on the G String, for starters.  No idea about the Mahler – one of the Wayfarer songs? – and the Stravinsky could be the finale to the Firebird or just a scrap from The Soldier’s Tale.  Whatever the music, it will be accompanied by ‘electronically projected motifs’ provided by Arne Sorensen.

The program will be repeated at 12 noon.


Monday January 14


Louisa Hunter-Bradley and David Macfarlane

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 4 pm

Yet another one of this festival’s referential titles that doesn’t carry you very far.   Louis Vierne wrote a piece by this name: a triptych – morning, noon, evening – to apply to those times of day when the Marian prayer is said.  The title is used on a CD featuring soprano Margaret Roest and organist Ben van Oosten.  Whether Hunter-Bradley and Macfarlane follow their Dutch colleagues down a path that includes Widor’s Ave Maria, Franck’s Panis Angelicus, Chausson’s Pater noster and Poulenc’s Priez pour paix remains to be seen.   All we can be sure of is that the afternoon is dedicated to Romantic era music for this combination and it is bound to be a popular event, hearing these Festival stalwarts back in their respective saddles again.


Monday January 14


David Greco and the Australian Haydn Ensemble

Ballarat Mechanics’ Institute at 8 pm

This is pretty much a re-run of the event that appears on the Peninsula Festival program on January 6 where the young baritone sings lieder interlarded with some salonesque string quintet pieces by Berlioz’s mate, Felicien David.   The Haydn Ensemble participants seem to be the same, although double bass Jacqueline Dooser was not specified in the Mornington events.   It’s hard to know what we will hear because in Ballarat the musicians are presenting two different programs on consecutive days, each of them coming in at close to an hour’s duration.   Wait and see, I guess

Tuesday January 15


David Greco and the Australian Haydn Ensemble

Beaufort Uniting Church at 11 am.

The only difference expressly noted for this program is that Dylan Quinlan-Basquet, choirmaster and organist at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Canterbury is coming up the highway to play an organ voluntary.   Nothing specific yet but, just as I was puzzled to see how David would fit in with Schubert, I’m even more intrigued as to how a voluntary lends itself to the same lieder-heavy atmosphere – unless Greco leads off with Die junge Nonne and Quinlan-Basquet finds an appropriately menacing piece to complement it.  Hard to think of one when you consider all those optimistic English composers – Gibbons, Arne, Stanley, Purcell.   But then, the young man may play something of his own on the 1959 Fincham instrument.   Or he may treat ‘voluntary’ in its broadest sense, which then embraces anything and everything.

The program will be repeated at 3 pm.


Tuesday January 15


Daniel Thomson and Rosemary Hodgson

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Beaufort at 11 am

This tenor/lute program takes its title from the last words of  Samuel Daniel’s Sonnet 47, Like as the lute delights, most famously set by John Danyel, a contemporary of Dowland. You’d be pretty safe in assuming that both composers will score heavily in this recital which brings tenor Thomson back to the festival after a break of some years spent honing his craft in Canada, Switzerland and England.   Hodgson is Melbourne’s go-to lutenist, a familiar presence at early music happenings, particularly in the Melbourne Recital Centre.   There’s not an organ work in sight but the combination would be worth the 50-kilometre trip west of Ballarat.

The recital will be repeated at 3 pm.


Wednesday January 16


Massimo Scattolin, Erica Kennedy, Josephine Vains

Neil St. Uniting Church, Ballarat at 11 am

Along with Orchestra Victoria violinist Kennedy and cellist Vains, the popular guitarist will work through an all-Italian program.   Scattolin has worked before with both string players in Ballarat and Melbourne recitals and he spreads his solo talents around, appearing all over this state in post-Festival events.   The Morricone elements will probably be arrangements since I can’t find any original works that involve the instrument, apart from chamber scores that involve multiple guitars or guitar with instruments other than violin and/or cello.  Scattolin has played his own music here in previous years; I know I’ve heard it but no memories remain.   As for Paganini, there is an astounding wealth of material for guitar and violin, three duets for violin and cello, but nothing that fits this trio combination.


Wednesday January 16


Camerata Antica

St. Joseph’s Church, Blampied at 5 pm

The Camerata has as its fulcrum the cornetto of Matthew Manchester and the soprano of Anna Sandstrom.   Naturally, these two flesh out their company for specific occasions; on this evening, viola da gamba Laura Moore and Sydney organist David Drury lend their hands to some English music from the 16th and 17th centuries.   Mention is made of Byrd, Tallis, William Child (a plethora of religious works, next to nothing secular) ‘and others’.  Among these last, you’d expect to find Orlando Gibbons as one of his madrigals gives the recital its title.   Manchester and Sandstrom have appeared in the festival before; Drury has been a regular participant; Moore has appeared with several early and not-so-early ensembles.  Their combination, in the abstract, sounds delectable.


Thursday January 17


Gianfranco Bortolato and Festival Chamber Orchestra

Former Wesley Church, Clunes at 11 am

Oboist at the Rome Opera, Bortolato is partnered by violinist Claudia Lopes and Anthony Halliday on the organ.   The composers cited are Marcello, Vivaldi, Albinoni and a new name to me: Giovanni Benedetti Platti, a Paduan oboist/composer who produced a sizeable amount of music for his instrument, in particular a G minor concerto that will probably be heard this morning.   Vivaldi wrote about 20 concertos for oboe; plenty of choice, then.  Albinoni produced none, so Lopes might get exposure playing one of his five (possible) violin concertos.  Halliday will work with the building’s small instrument: one manual with seven stops and pedal pulldowns.  Here’s hoping the chamber orchestra can handle these breezy, unsheltering Baroque scores.


Thursday January 17


Gianfranco Bortolato, Claudia Lopes, Anthony Halliday

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

Following the morning concert at the Clunes  Former Wesleyan Church, the three soloists present a recital in the town’s Anglican church which holds a rare Hamlin organ, recently restored although I can’t find out how or by whom.  The door is wide open as to what is on the program.  You could hope for the Bach Oboe and Violin Concerto or a Vivaldi sonata.  As for Handel, everything is up for grabs and any Mozart would have to be an arrangement.


Thursday January 17


Daniel Thomson and Michele Benuzzi

Loreto Chapel, Loreto College Ballarat at 8 pm

Once again, we can enjoy Thomson’s eloquent tenor, this time allied with Benuzzi’s harpsichord.   The program moves from Purcell and Handel to Johann Wilhelm Hassler, who once faced off against Mozart in an organ competition.  But the meagre promotional material refers to the participating musicians’ recordings as sources for the evening’s progress.  Well, Thomson has only one CD and the Purcells on that are I Attempt from Love’s Sickness to Fly, If Music be the Food of Love, Fairest Isle, Not All My Torments and What a Sad Fate is Mine; there’s no Handel or Hassler.   Benuzzi, on the other hand, has produced five recordings of Hassler’s keyboard music.


Friday January 18


Laura Vaughan, Laura Moore, Donald Nicholson, Nicholas Pollock

Loreto Chapel, Loreto College Ballarat at 11 am

It’s never been the same since Alain Corneau’s film Tous les matins du monde came out in 1991/2.   Subsequently, Marin Marais and the viola da gamba enjoyed a resurgence of interest, the envy of most other Baroque instrument specialists.   Both Vaughan and Moore are gamba experts, while Nicholson is a well-known harpsichord presence and Pollock a theorbo exponent who I believe was here recently with Van Diemen’s Band for the Melbourne International Arts Festival.   Part of the offerings are the Improvisation sue les Folies d’Espagne and the Chaconne in A Major from Le Labyrinthe.  Further, I’d be surprised – nay, shocked – if the Sonnerie de Sainte Genevieve did not enjoy an airing.


Friday January 18


Trio Sine Nomine

Mary’s Mount Centre, Loreto College Ballarat at 3 pm

This group — violin Claudia Lopez, oboe Gianfranco Bortolato, harpsichord Michele Benuzzi  –  toured Australia three years ago and this afternoon gather together from their various festival exercises so far to play some music by two Baroque contemporaries and friends.   You’d be scrabbling to find pieces by Bach for all three of these instruments, so I’m anticipating duos rather than trios.  Telemann produced a wealth of trio sonatas for these forces.  But it’s hard to pin down exactly what the In Nomine specialty area is. Complicating matters is the existence of another group of the same name, formed in Perugia in 2015: all-female and comprising two violins and piano.


Saturday January 19


Gianfranco Bortolato and Anthony Halliday

Wendouree Centre for the Performing Arts at 11 am

Two of the more hard-working musicians in this year’s festival will appear in this morning matinee with a program that is, as yet, completely unknown.  What do you make of the title?   It’s the sort of meaningless phrase you come across in French real estate advertising.   Translated to music, it suggests the salon.   Still, the oboe/piano combination can boast original works by C. P. E. Bach, Nielsen, Donizetti, Schumann, Franck and Saint-Saens, so there’s room for substantial music-making – as well as the inevitable encore-level dross.


Saturday January 19


Stefania Bellamio and Massimo Scattolin

Hilltop Christian Fellowship Church, Ballarat at 3 pm

Scattolin is a known quantity, soprano Bellamio not so much although she has sung here with the guitarist in 2016.  Tonight’s program comes from ‘the Spanish-speaking world.’ Which takes in a helluva lot – Central and South America, the Philippines, the Caribbean, and odd enclaves all over the place.   All right: the recital will probably centre on the home country’s products but there’s no harm in wishing for something more novel than all-too-familiar Falla and Granados.   I wouldn’t mind hearing some refreshing Renaissance canciones, or even reworkings like the Rodrigo Cuatro madrigales amatorios.


Saturday January 19

Orava Quartet

Wendouree Centre for the Performing Arts at 8 pm

Great to have you in Ballarat, Oravas.   It’s been a while since I last saw you; in  fact, it might have been at that Asia-Pacific Chamber Music Competition in 2013 where you won two of the prizes on offer.  Or your 2015 Melbourne International Arts Festival recital at the Collins St. Baptist Church.   Sadly, I missed your two Melbourne Recital Centre appearances this year.  Whatever the case, it’s hard to face the fact that you’ve been around for 11 years.  Anyway, here you are in Wendouree and there’s no indication what you’re going to play.  It could be some recycling from your Tchaikovsky/Shostakovich/Rachmaninov CD or some local material like Ross Edwards.   Or a Haydn Op. 33.   Or Debussy.   We’ll have to see what comes out in the wash.


Sunday January 20


Monica Curro, Sarah Curro, Daniel Curro

Ballarat Mechanics’ Institute at 3 pm

It’s all in the family.   The renowned founder of the Queensland Youth Orchestra turned 86 this month and three of his four children – violinists Monica and Sarah from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, cellist Daniel from the Australian Brandenbyrg Orchestra – have put together a program of music by Mozart, Schubert, Paganini, Massenet and Delibes.  You can find plenty of Mozart trios for this combination but nothing specific by the other four names listed.   You can be sure that the occasion will work on the merits of its contributors and serve its chief purpose as a tribute to this formidable, effective educator.


Sunday January 20



St Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 8 pm

Stephen Grant brings his vocal ensemble to St. Patrick’s to finish off the festival with soloists soprano Helen Thomson and tenors Daniel Thomson and Tom Buckmaster.  The concert’s title appears to come from the composer’s 1640 collection, Selve morale e spirituale.   As self-prepared anthologies go, it doesn’t have as much concert hall cachet as the 1610 Vespers.   But, as forests go, the foliage and tree-trunks are impressive and Grant has a vast space to log: moral madrigals, a complete Mass and some separate fragments like a Gloria and concluding sentences from the Creed, a mass of motets and psalm settings, a brace of Magnificats and a trio of Salve Reginae – all for varying numbers of vocal lines – from one to eight – the forces ranging from purely vocal to vocal with instruments.  There’s a nice symmetry in play between the opening and closing concerts in this year’s festival: from a modern-day writer who reduces his expressivity to spartan levels, to a Renaissance master who, even in the smallest pieces, startles you with his sense of theatre and bounding vitality.


















December Diary

Saturday December 1


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

So how will we bring this year’s operations to a smashing close?   Let’s invite Markus Stenz back.   That’s all right; he left us with goodwill on both sides, has visited at least once since his term as MSO Chief Conductor ended in 2004, and his reappearance will put a spring into the pistons and slides of the MSO brass – those precious few that have not departed the orchestra’s ranks over the last 14 years.  Tonight opens with Wagner: the Prelude and Transformation Scene (one of them) from Parsifal – a deft reminder that the Victorian Opera is presenting this turgid opera next February in the unholy ambience of St. Kilda’s Palais Theatre.   Stenz ends with that ever-challenging ballet, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring; always entertaining to see what the players make of the composer’s demands on them.  Guest violinist Maxim Vengerov will present a concerto written for him by  Qigang Chen and which he premiered a little over a year ago.   I know nothing of this composer, although he did direct music for the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in 2008 and has enjoyed much acclaim both in his homeland and in France where he has been resident for 34 of his 67 years.   This work is subtitled La joie de la souffrance which is promisingly masochistic, and it takes its impetus from a Chinese melody.   In other words, you’ll get the best (possibly) of both (well, at least two) worlds.

This program is also being presented on Friday November 30 in Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University at 7:30 pm.


Saturday December 1


Ensemble Gombert

Our Lady of Victories, Camberwell at 8 pm

Yet again, John O’Donnell and his excellent choir take patrons on a much-anticipated exceptional tour of Renaissance sacred music that covers the Christmas story from the stable at Bethlehem to Simeon’s prophecies in the Temple.  Proceedings open with two Lassus motets: Quem viditis, pastores? for the shepherds’ take on the whole business, and In principio erat Verbum, the first 14 verses of St John’s Gospel which used to conclude the Tridentine Mass ritual and which still give a stunningly visionary theological context for Christ’s birth.   Jacob Handl’s Mirabile mysterium also offers an appraisal of the birth’s significance, while his Omnes de Saba makes a jubilant welcome for the Three Kings’ arrival on the scene.   Lassus then contributes his Videntes stellam which gives more physical detail concerning the royal visitors and their gifts.   O’Donnell & Co. move to the Tudors with a Byrd brace: Hodie beata virgo Maria which comes from the Candlemas Vespers and depicts Mary giving Jesus to Simeon for his blessing; the antiphon Senex puerum portabat deals with a series of paradoxes in lucid polyphony that lasts about two minutes.   Videte miraculum by Tallis concentrates heavily on Mary’s virginity with ethereal detachment.  The program’s main work is the 7-voice Puer natus est nobis Mass by Tallis which has no Kyrie or Credo and is based on a plainchant, with which the Gomberts will kindly preface their performance.   This chant’s text derives from Isaiah and most of it will be familiar to Handel’s Messiah lovers who, at this event, will be transported far beyond the German/British composer’s visions of worldly pomp and circumstance.


Tuesday December 4

Ksenija Sidorova

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Bringing the MRC’s Great Performers series to a reedy conclusion, the Latvian accordion player presents a solo recital that comprises mainly music that I’ve never heard by people who are strangers, although there’s a bit of Bach on offer in three parts of the solo keyboard Overture in the French Style.   Sidorova opens with Danish writer Bent Lorentzen’s Tears, an original accordion solo from 1992.   Then follow three Russian offerings: Anatoly Kusyakov’s six Autumnal Sceneries, Alexei Arkhipovsky’s melancholy Cinderella (originally for balalaika), and Sergei Voytenko’s moody Revelation.  All of these are exactly what you think of when considering accordion music: harmonically orthodox and, despite their provenance, full of 1950s Parisian atmosphere.   Sidorova moves into the world of Piazzolla with a group including SVP (S’il vous plait), Sentido Unico and Tanti Anni Prima, all arranged by the performer; while the first two are tangos, the last, originally called Ave Maria, is a quiet, plangent lyric that shows a less abrasive side to the pugilistic Argentinian composer and bandoneon virtuoso.   Finally, we delve into the catalogue of Schnittke for Revis Fairy Tale, a quartet of pieces originally composed for a staging of Gogol’s satire Dead Souls and then transcribed for accordion by Sidikova and two other experts.   James Crabb taught us not to undervalue the instrument as a by-product of Young Talent Time and, in the right hands, it can exercise considerable appeal; but a lot of this program looks (and may sound) pretty one-dimensional.


Wednesday December 5


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Finishing its Melbourne operations for 2018 in the Recital Centre, the ACO will be heard to excellent advantage, its zesty enthusiasm more immediate here than in the gloomy cavern of Hamer Hall.   Richard Tognetti has assembled a rag-bag program that takes in some welcome novelties as well as several familiars.   The ACO opens with Sculthorpe’s Sonata for Strings No. 1, a work that this ensemble commissioned back in 1983 and which is an orchestration of the composer’s own String Quartet No. 10 – well, according to the catalogue, it ‘succeeds/complements’ that particular quartet.   Mind you, it all gets a tad confusing: is this No. 1 identical with the same year’s Sonata for Strings?  Will we ever know?   Will we ever care?   After this whiff of Australiana, the group moves to some Debussy arrangements: The Girl with the Flaxen Hair and The Interrupted Serenade, two companion pieces from Book I of the Preludes.   Another Tognetti arrangement follows with Ravel’s Two Hebrew Melodies, originally for voice and piano/orchestra but I’m guessing the vocal line will here be taken by a violin, especially in the Kaddisch which the ACO has recorded.    Elgar’s E minor Serenade for Strings tests the ACO’s richness of warm timbre rather than its scintillating virtuosity.   Finally, we hear Walton’s Sonata for Strings, the composer’s arrangement (with Malcolm Arnold’s help in the finale) of his own String Quartet in A minor, written 25 years previously.


Friday December 7


Opera Australia

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

In recent times, some of these one-off recitals/concerts by famous imports have been either sad or ludicrous.   This one features an American mezzo, presented by Pinchgut Opera, not the national company, so there are grounds for optimism.   Pinchgut artistic director Erin Helyard is directing an all-Baroque program that also features ’21 of Australia’s best early music instrumentalists’  –  no details available so far.   As for the music, the night offers a sinfonia (Op. 6 No. 1 .  .  . but isn’t this Op. 6 a set of flute concertos?) and two overtures (Cleofide, Demofoonte) by Hasse as well as an aria from Cleofide (the heroine’s Son qual misera colomba); two arias (one from Semiramide, the other from Polifemo) by Haydn’s teacher Porpora; one aria only by Broschi from his IdaspeOmbra fedele anchio which featured in that prodigious waste of money, the film Farinelli; a Vivaldi sinfonia and three opera (L’OlimpiadeGriselda, Catone in Utica) arias; and there’s a Handel pair for good measure – Ho perso il caro ben from Il Parnasso in festa, and Sta nell’Ircana pietrosa tana that I vaguely remember from Opera Australia’s Alcina production.   Apart from this last, the rest represent unknown territory, except for those happy souls who revel in this arcane field.   And jolly good luck to you; here’s hoping the night proves both satisfying and rewarding.   What you can be sure of is music-making of authority from all concerned.


Saturday December 8


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 1 pm and 5 pm

This program is a few levels above Carols by Candelight, one of this city’s aesthetic abominations, but it isn’t much to boast about.   What you get is entertainment but it all comes in short squirts.    Benjamin Northey, the MSO’s go-to conductor with personality, leads the festive round.    Guest soprano Greta Bradman has the unalloyed joy of belting out Adam’s O Holy Night, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, the carol Silent Night (possibly the others on the program as well  –  Oh come, all ye faithful, Hark! the herald angels sing, We Three Kings).    As well as the Berlin hit, you will find a solid swathe of Americana on offer: indeed, the program opens and ends with Leroy Anderson – A Christmas Festival to begin, Sleigh Ride to close.   You’ve also got James Pierpont’s Jingle Bells, Johnny Marks’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and a suite from Alan Silvestri’s score for Robert Zemeckis’ The Polar Express film.   By way of cutting cross-cultural commentary, Northey and his forces will play bleeding chunks from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet Suite No. 1 (which holds most of the work’s attractive character pieces) and the Troika on loan from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije film music suite, uncomfortably situated close to Anderson’s trite musical sleigh excursion.   The odd one out in all this is Howard Blake’s Walking in the Air from the 1982 The Snowman soundtrack.   In short, the MSO is playing a set of bon-bons, nearly all of which have connections to the season.


Friday December 14


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Plenary at 7:30 pm

This second instalment in the first Star Wars trilogy – for us true believers, the only films in George Lucas’ series worth serious attention –  is being given several airings in this vast auditorium; here’s hoping the organization is able to pack out all four sessions.   John Williams reinforces motifs and tropes from the first film, A New Hope, but a large amount of extra material had to be produced for new sites like the ice planet Hoth as well as suitable aural underpinning for Luke Skywalker’s clumsy efforts both there and on the swamp planet Dagobah, not to mention the atmospherics needed for the first sighting of Cloud City and the eventual duel between Luke and Darth Vader.   Much of this is rousing stuff but the MSO will be hard put to bring freshness to a score that is all too well-known.  What takes me aback in these declining years is that the film is now 38 years old and still manages to surprise you with musical details that slipped by the first twenty times you saw it.

This screening will be repeated on Saturday December 15 at 1 pm and 7:30 pm, and on Sunday December 16 at 1 pm.


Friday December 14


Bianca Gannon, Luqmanul Chakim, Peni Candra Rini, Jumaadi, Jean Poole. Robert Jarvis

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Here is a one-off production, presented by Bianca Gannon and Mapping Melbourne, which is ‘a platform for strengthening arts networks between contemporary independent artists across the Asian region, building connections and establishing collaborative ongoing relationships, and presenting challenging work’  –  an offshoot of Multicultural Arts Victoria.    This particular recital features Indonesian instruments whose use revolves around food.    Central performer Chakim plays a bundengan (zither), a rantok (a blade, but I’m guessing), and a set of gule gending (steel pans)  –  all instruments of the people, to be contrasted with Javanese court music sung by Candra Rini.    Gannon, artistic director for this enterprise, contributes gamelan and post-minimalist piano (at last, I’ll get to find out just what that terminology means), and Jumaadi offers his own digitally enhanced take on Indonesian shadow puppetry to flesh out the occasion.    My only regret is that the food relevant to Chakim’s instruments – duck, rice, fairy floss – is not being served; you can never have too much sensory overload.


Saturday December 15


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7 pm

Something of a clash here as a good number of the MSO players will be involved with a session of The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack across at the Plenary.    An expert in early music practice, Jan Willem de Vriend, is directing and may well do so from the concertmaster’s desk.    If you’ve not heard of de Vriend, join the club, although most of his activity appears to be centred on mainland Europe.    His soloists are soprano Jeanine De Bique  from Trinidad, Australian countertenor Nicholas Tolputt, that sterling locally-grown tenor Andrew Goodwin, and Dresden-born bass-baritone Stephan Loges.   Of course, the MSO Chorus has the enviable task of handling those great choral tapestries that pepper this oratorio, although the body’s numbers may be cut down in proportion to what I assume will be a spartan chamber orchestra.    Prior to these Melbourne performances, the work will be heard in Ballarat on Saturday December 8 (Mary’s Mount Centre, Loreto College at 5 pm), and in Bendigo (Ulumbarra Theatre at 5 pm) on Sunday December 9.

This program will be repeated in Hamer Hall on Sunday December 16 at 5 pm


Sunday December 16


Australian Boys Choir

Melbourne Recital Centre at 3 pm

This is the last entry on the Recital Centre’s calendar for the year; thankfully, the Murdoch Hall will hear some decent music-making to terminate 2018, rather than tacky aural crud from easily forgotten pseudo-musicians exhibiting a woeful lack of mastery and talent.    What the Choir’s administrators mean by ‘glorious’ isn’t just hyperbole, a non-specific wish that everybody will have the best of times over the coming fortnight.  The emphasis falls on the liturgical specificity of the word and its importance for Christmas as the jubilant song of the angels, expertly reported to St. Luke by those terrifically literate shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in the hills around Bethlehem.    At the heart of this occasion is Vivaldi’s Gloria  –  RV 589. you’d assume  –  which asks for soprano or contralto soloists in four of its twelve movements.   As usual, audience participation will be expected and encouraged in some of those carols  essential to this event, even if most of them don’t qualify for the glorious label.   But the Choir, its senior Vocal Consort and the large bank of tyros are all managed carefully enough so that they rarely wear out their welcome.    Of great interest for some of us will be to observe how new artistic director Nicholas Dinopoulos copes with filling the shoes of recently departed ABC veteran, Noel Ancell.

November Diary

Saturday November 3

Benedetti, Elschenbroich, Grynyuk Trio

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Here is the final Musica Viva series for this year: a piano trio comprising Nicola Benedetti, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich, and pianist Alexei Grynyuk.   The Scots violinist does not seem to have made much of an impression outside her home country and England, and most of her reputation rests on concerto work.   Elschenbroich has been here previously as a member of the Sitkovetsky Trio and proved to be a fine contributor; like Benedetti, Grynyuk is an unknown quantity to me, occupying as he does that genealogical half-way position somewhere between Ukraine and England.   For this night’s program, the musicians perform two early Richard Strauss sonatas: one for cello, the other for violin.  Before they reach into the glories of the Brahms C Major Trio, the group will give an airing to another second piano trio, that by Gordon Kerry subtitled Im Winde, which was last heard here 8 1/2 years ago from the Trio Dali.

The BEG combination will present its second program on Tuesday November 20 at 7 pm.  As well as Kerry’s Im Winde, the fare changes from Strauss to Prokofiev sonatas and the affair ends with the Ravel Trio.


Saturday November 3


Victorian Opera

Merlyn Theatre, The Coopers Malthouse at 7:30 pm.

It’s hard to know what to expect here.   Three divas are involved: Ali McGregor, Dimity Shepherd and Antoinette Halloran, each taking a turn at playing Lorelei or, more properly, a version of the eternal temptress.   As for the music, this has been written by Melbourne screen-composer Julian Langdon, writer and broadcaster Casey Bennetto (Keating!), and musical comedian Gillian Cosgriff; the latter two also have supplied the librettos.  The promotional spiel claims this will be ‘an intoxicating encounter with love and death: part cabaret, part opera, all seduction.’   Be still, my beating heart.   Further, the sopranos’ ‘hypnotic music is to die for.’   No, it’s not: at best, it’s to enjoy; at worst, to endure.

The performance will be repeated at 7:30 pm on Wednesday November 7, Thursday November 8, Friday November 9 and Saturday November 10, with a matinée performance on Saturday November 10 at 1 pm.


Monday November 5


Ensemble Gombert

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

Why this pairing?   It could be a demonstration of old and new counterpoint or an exploration of the contrast between masculinity and flaccidity.   However you read it, the night will test the Gomberts’ pitching and interpretative skills in the confined Salon space of the MRC.   For the Bach, we are confronted by three of the mighty motets: Der Geist hilft, Lobet den Herrn, and Furchte dich nicht.   Taking a bit longer to work through, the American composer’s group comprises the choral madrigal in three movements, Reincarnations; a setting of Laurie Lee’s Christmas poem Twelfth Night; its companion piece, To Be Sung on the Water; and the almost inevitable Agnus Dei arrangement of the Adagio for Strings which will probably make up the longest piece on the program.   The outer Bach pieces are for double choir, and they sound magnificently mobile in a fair-sized church but I think that here the dubious Lobet in 4 lines will come off best.


Wednesday November 7


Opera Australia

State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7:30 pm

And, just for a laugh, let’s move the whole shebang to Weimar Republic Berlin.  That way, we can weave in suggestions of depravity and physical grime, potentially providing a refresher course in George Grosz, I don’t think.   Have we seen this Gale Edwards vision here before?   It could be so – in which case any memories went straight through to the keeper.   In charge of the pit is Pietro Rizzo who conducted the score almost two years ago in Sydney and is forging an onward-and-upward career in second-class European houses.  Mimi is Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska who sang the role earlier this year on Sydney Harbour; her Rodolfo will be Yosep Kang, back after his impressive Alfredo Germont in April.   The remainder of the cast is native-born.   Jane Ede enjoys Musetta; Christopher Tonkin is her matching Marcello.   The other Bohemians are Richard Anderson (Colline) and Christopher Hillier (Schaunard), with Graeme Macfarlane, Adrian Tamburini, Clifford Plumpton, Anthony Mackey and Benjamin Rasheed handling the minor parts.   In the end, though, you’re asked to exercise that unnecessary suspension of disbelief and read in Weill’s world for Puccini’s.

The opera will be repeated at 7:30 pm on Friday November 9, Monday November 12, Wednesday November 14, Friday November 16 and Tuesday November 20 with a concluding matinee at 1 pm on Saturday November 24.


Thursday November 8


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Plenary, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre at 7:30 pm.

From here on, the whimsy leaches out of this famous series while the sense of menace increases markedly.   This is the final film for which John Williams wrote the score and conducted the results, although the leitmotives persisted in later films.   Above all, the ambience has become monumental, illustrated by director Alfonso Cuaron’s insistence on massive clocks and their workings while Hermione and her two doofus mates negotiate the ins and outs of turning back time.   A moment that appeals to the repressed English chorister in some of us comes with the choral treatment of Double, double toil and trouble which gives the whole witchcraft/sorcery meme an unexpected layer of cultural references – or am I falling into the pit of becoming a Potter nerd?   Whatever, this will doubtless prove to be a winner for the MSO with determined patrons turning up dressed in their house robes and – with the benefit of hindsight – restraining their boos for Severus Snape.

The concert will be repeated on Friday November 9 (sold out, apparently) and at 1 pm on Saturday November 10.


Friday November 9


Australian National Academy of Music

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

A celebration on two layers as the Australian National Academy of Music has Dean come ‘home’ to lead its orchestra in music of his own as well as ventilating some other compositions that have been of  significance to the Australian composer.   Meale’s Clouds now and then, one of the Sydney writer’s haiku-inspired pieces, leads off – a real 1969 blast from the past for some of us, recalling a time when Australian music seemed to be coming of age, at last.   Georges Lentz is also a Sydney name that enjoyed a few brief exposures during Markus Stenz’s time as chief conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; Jerusalem (after Blake) of 2016 has not been performed here.   Sydney composer and London resident Lisa Illean contributes her 2015 Land’s End, written for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and conducted a year later by Dean with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.   His own music is also pretty much up-to-date: From Melodious Lay (A Hamlet Diffraction) springs out of the composer’s well-received 2016 opera for Glyndebourne on Shakespeare’s play, with Lorina Gore semi-reprising her role as Ophelia in this year’s Adelaide Festival performances. and Brisbane-born Finnish tenor Topi Lehtipuu singing Hamlet.   This is a welcome tribute to the Academy’s former director and an opportunity to hear one of his more recent major products.


Saturday November 10


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Lixsania Fernandez is a Cuban gamba player and the ABO’s final guest artist for this year.  Under Paul Dyer’s direction, the orchestra will partner her in Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Violins and Viola da gamba, a plain concerto for gamba by Graun and a contemporary work by Rene Duchiffre (Schiffer) – the Tango barocco finale from his Concerto for Two Violas da gamba.   We can be fairly sure that Fernandez will be playing one of these, but the other?   On top of this, concertmaster Shaun Lee-Chen will take the leading role in Locatelli’s D Major Violin Concerto, The Harmonic Labyrinth, and a tad more Vivaldi fleshes out the night in the 5-minute Sinfonia al Santo Sepolcro.   Apart from the contemporary Brabantian fusion, the other three composers stretch across the Baroque proper and represent a territory on which some of us prefer to hear the ABO at its labours.

This program will be repeated on Sunday November 11 at 5 pm.


Sunday November 11


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

Never happy with this appellation; after all, what makes Tognetti’s Beethoven different to Vengerov’s or Francescatti’s?   I’d even prefer the pornograpically suggestive Tognetti Does Beethoven than have this proposition of proprietorship pushed forward as a reason to attend.   Only two works are programmed: the Violin Concerto with Tognetti as soloist, and the Symphony No. 5.   These were written contemporaneously and stand at the pinnacle of the so-called ‘middle’ period.   Quite a few of us can recall the artistic director’s last solo performance of the concerto and you can be sure that the years will not have diminished the player’s skill and insight.   About the symphony, I’m not so sure; we’ve heard pretty much all the canon from these players in the recent past and, while some interpretations have proved riveting, I can’t recall much more than some remedial scouring of this C minor score’s tradition-heavy surface.

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


Sunday November 11


Team of Pianists

Glenfern, St. Kilda at 3 pm

Finishing its year – apart from a fund-raising recital for the Dili Hospital on November 24 – the Team hosts Melbourne Symphony Orchestra principal clarinet David Thomas who, with senior TOP member Darryl Coote, will play both the Brahms Op. 120 sonatas.   Now there’s an afternoon’s solid modicum of delight for you: the last chamber works by the composer, featuring an instrument that he fell in love with during his final years.  Punctuating these gems, Coote plays two Schubert impromptus: the C minor and most mournful from the Op. 90 set, followed by the theme-and-five variations B flat Major from the Op. 142 quartet.  Somehow, the whole gels to make up a most inviting and atmospherically consistent program with the added thrill that, in this house’s central room, you seem to be right on top of the performers, even when sitting in the back row or half-way out the back window.


Tuesday October 13


Opera Australia

State Theatre,  Arts Centre Melbourne at 4 pm

After the company’s Ring resuscitation, what better move by the national company than to thrill Melbourne with Wagner’s thigh-slapping yet actually unfunny comedy?   Such a long haul for everybody concerned, but conductor Pietari Inkinen, who has covered himself with acclaim for previous Wagner marathons here, is back for this long-winded nationalistic pap.  The direction has been achieved by Kasper Holten who, with the willing assistance of set designer Mia Stensgaard and costume designer Anja Vangh Kragh, has transposed the action from mid-16th century Nuremberg and put it in a London club (unclear when; could be at the time of Beau Brummell or during the period of Evelyn Waugh) which doesn’t allow women – bad luck for Eva and Magdalene as this embargo will probably hamper their efforts to take part in  the action.   Still, the anachronisms might make bearable the unpleasant overtones of Sachs’ last address to the crowd – such a pity it all had to take place in this particular city.    As this fulcrum figure comes local lad Shane Lowrencev who is fated to rabbit on almost as tediously as Wotan.   The young hero Walther also features a Ring revenant in Stefan Vinke.   The two female roles are local favourites: Natalie Aroyan as Eva and Dominica Matthews as her confidante.   Apprentice David is taken up by Kazakh tenor Medet Chotabaev and Warwick Fyfe, a revelation in previous Wagner, gets the plum role of Beckmesser; who wouldn’t want to play a critic?  Veteran Daniel Sumegi plays Pogner and the rest of the club is a list of familiars: Luke Gabbedy, Adrian Tamburini, John Longmuir, Nicholas Jones, Kanen Breen, Robert Macfarlane, Andrew Jones, Michael Honeyman, Gennadi Dubinsky and Richard Anderson.   You need a wealth of stage magic to keep audiences awake and focused through this opera which begins brilliantly and  quickly peters out as the characters set themselves forward in clear single dimensions.

The opera will be repeated at 4 pm on Monday November 19 and Thursday November 22, and in a matinée performance on Saturday November 17 at 12 pm.


Thursday November 15


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Would you believe it?  Two C minor symphony performances within four days of each other.   This concert also features a violin concerto: Shostakovich’s all-things-to-all-men-except-Zhdanov No. 1, a remarkable construct of great originality in texture and format.  Guest violinist Mayu Kishima won the Shanghai Isaac Stern Violin Competition two years ago and plays the ‘ex-Petri’ Stradivarius instrument of 1700 – all of which sounds promising; as well, she has the endorsement of Rostropovich.   American Karina Canellakis has recently been appointed the next chief conductor of the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra in the Netherlands, the first woman in that post as well as the first female chief conductor anywhere in that country.   She will take the MSO through a rarely-heard Dvorak tone poem, The Noon Witch, as a procedural prelude, then finish off the night with that blazing Beethoven.

The program will be repeated in Costa Hall, Geelong on Friday November 16 at 7:30 pm, and again in Hamer Hall at 2 pm on Saturday November 17.


Sunday November 18


The Melbourne Musicians

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

Frank Pam and his players finish off their 2018 efforts with this special concert featuring quite a few doubles.   First come the Grigoryan brothers, Slava and Leonard, bringing their guitars to bear on some concertos for two instruments.   The first is by Handel, the sixth of the Op. 4 set of organ concertos; still, it was originally composed with a harp solo, so doubtless the solo work will be easily divided.   The other is from Vivaldi, the RV532 which is well-known as a work for two mandolins, but the composer would be the last to complain about an adaptation of this type.   Pam surrounds these with Viennese dance music, beginning with Karol Komzak’s Vindobona March and Lanner’s six Dornbacher Landler.   After the concertos come 15 of Schubert’s 16 German Dances and 2 Ecossaises Op. 33, originally for piano solo.   And the afternoon ends with a Strauss double: the senior’s Champagne Galop, followed by the junior’s Bacchus-Polka which could take on extra interest if the Musicians take up the composer’s original instructions which ask for the players to sing as well.


Thursday November 22


Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm

And here is the MCO finishing off its subscription series with a well-structured set of four works.   The night begins and ends with Bach: first, the Orchestral Suite No. 4; finally, the Orchestral Suite No. 3.   Both of them ask for three trumpets, timpani and and two or three oboes, as well as the usual body of strings with a bassoon for extra colour in No. 4.  In between come two double violin concertos.   As you’d expect in this programmatic company, the first is the slashing and popular Bach D minor, while the second is freshly minted and comes from the pen of the concert’s conductor, Richard Mills.   Who are taking the solo lines?   No idea yet, but MCO director William Hennessy has a fair assembly of talent from which to choose – or he could take one of the lines himself.  Always happy to hear top-class Bach but this event’s main interest comes from the Mills concerto, about which the gossip mills have maintained a stolid silence.   Its catalogued title at the Australian Music Centre gives something away: ‘Concerto for two violins and strings (string orchestra with multiple soloists)’.

This program will be repeated in the Melbourne Recital Centre on Sunday November 25 at 2:30 pm.


Friday November 23


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

To be fair, you will hear two significant French masterpieces on these nights: Debussy’s limpid Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune, and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 for which the MSO Chorus will contribute to the final orgy.   This night’s conductor, Paris-born Fabien Gabel, is music director of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, so we can be reasonably sure of the requisite Gallic insights.   Debussy appears again on the program through his early six-part song-cycle to Verlaine poems,  Ariettes oubliees.  These were orchestrated in 2015 by Brett Dean for the Australian World Orchestra, later recorded by the German Symphony Orchestra Berlin, tonight sung by mezzo Fiona Campbell.   But the night’s showpiece, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, is solidly Russian, setting the benchmark for all those skittering works of similar ilk that flowed from the pencils of the composer’s less-talented compatriots.   Beatrice Rana is the soloist; Italian-born, silver medallist at the 2013 Van Cliburn, first prize at the 2011 Montreal Piano Competition and still in her mid-20s .  .  .  ideal for this concerto.

This program will be repeated at 7:30 pm on Saturday November 24 and at 6:30 pm on Monday November 26.


Thursday November 29


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

That’s it, of course: just the last Mahler (well, the last completed).  The arrangement, by pianist/conductor Klaus Simon, is one of the fruit’s of his editing endeavours in the scores of Schoenberg and Mahler.   Somehow, he has cut down the large orchestral body to 15 players, in this outing most of them notable Australian presences: flute Virginia Taylor (ex-ANU, ANAM), oboe Nick Deutsch (ANAM artistic director), clarinet Philip Arkinstall (MSO), bassoon Lyndon Watts (Munich Philharmonic), horns Andrew Bain (LA Philharmonic) and Saul Lewis (MSO), trumpet Tristram Williams (ex-MSO), piano Timothy Young (ANAM), percussion Peter Neville (ANAM, University of Melbourne), piano accordion James Crabb (ACO favourite), violins Sophie Rowell (MSO) and Robin Wilson (ANAM, Sydney Conservatorium), viola Caroline Henbest (ACO, MSO, everyone’s favourite guest viola), cello Howard Penny (ANAM, Chamber Orchestra of Europe) and double bass Phoebe Russell (QSO).  The conductor is Matthew Coorey, an Australian based in London who has conducted the MSO although I didn’t hear him.  A one-time horn player, he should be well equipped to direct this agglomeration of timbres.  Accordion?  Really?


Thursday November 29


Wilma & Friends

Ian Roach Hall, Scotch College at 7:30 pm

In this final recital for the year, Wilma Smith and four colleagues are playing a set of little-known works by top-rank composers.   For instance, although it shames me to admit it, I’ve never come across Beethoven’s String Trio in C minor, nor the other two works that make up the composer’s Op. 9.   In similar vein, I doubt that the Brahms String Quintet in F Major has swung across my horizon; nor has its later companion, the G Major String Quintet.    And Mendelssohn’s B flat String Quintet is further unknown territory, as is the composer’s earlier A Major work in the same format.   An occasion, therefore, to remedy woeful ignorance.   Along with Smith’s violin, the other voices in this recital are to be taken by Ji Won Kim from the MSO’s first violin ranks, violas Stefanie Farrands from the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra and Caleb Wright, newly appointed principal with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, while Michael Dahlenburg from the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra plays cello.



October Diary

Tuesday October 2


Australian String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Visiting as part of its national series, if a remarkably truncated one these days, the ASQ plays a standard classic to begin in the Schubert Rosamunde; not the most cheerful nor the most aggressive of the composer’s extraordinary mature forays into this field.  Balancing this comes Shostakovich in A flat, No. 10 in the series of 15 and one of the more formally adroit and emotionally satisfying of the lot.   James Ledger’s String Quartet No. 2, sub-titled The Distortion Mirror, will enjoy its world premieres as the ensemble tours the country.   Sad to say, I don’t know this writer’s work at all well; he appears to be based in Perth, which doesn’t help, but in 2011 he was Composer-in-Residence at the Australian National Academy of Music, during which time he undertook a collaboration with Paul Kelly that somehow evaded me – or was a bullet dodged?.  Adding to the mystery, on the Australian Music Centre site, this new quartet is called Transmissions.


Friday October 5


Los Angeles Master Chorale

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Here we start the small number of serious music offerings for this year’s Melbourne International Arts Festival.  Once again, the organization has done us proud with a heavy number of stage works, exhibitions galore, the essential rock events to drag in the crowds (but do they?), and a measly handful of serious music programs which, more often than not, turn out to be middling-to-poor quality.  This group is being touted as ‘one of the world’s leading choral ensembles of the last half century’; yet again, modesty and understatement are not proving to be part of the festival’s house directory.  The night’s content are the 20 sacred madrigals and concluding motet by Orlando di Lassus that offer expressions of Peter’s guilt at his betrayal of Christ.   As a summation of the composer’s career and his technical mastery, the work holds manifold musicological attractions; director Peter Sellars seems to have got the LA singers to memorize the work and do some acting to illustrate its passions.   The experience lasts 75 minutes, with no interval.

This program will be repeated on Saturday October 6.


Saturday October 6


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

For the Festival, Tan Dun is back to conduct this substantial work in its Australian premiere from the MSO and Chorus.  It’s a joint commission from the Dresdner Musikfestspiele, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the MSO.  The title promises a paradox but is the composer’s contribution to world music by way of being the first passion to use the teachings of the Buddha.  This exercise is the fruit of two years spent in the Mogao Caves near Dunhuang in Gansu Province.   No half-steps here: the work lasts 2 1/2 hours with a 20 minute interval and the texts will be sung in Chinese and Sanskrit.   Which is asking for a good deal from those of us with a wafer-thin scraping of Tourist Mandarin.  While not looking for impediments to any true minds’ marriage, I can’t help wondering about the efficacy of this enterprise, the most serious question being the attempted fusion of Christ and Buddha.  Would you feel any different if faced with a title like Jesus Diamond Sutra, or does that smack too much of the flirtations of loutish rock-stars with Oriental philosophy?   Best not to overthink; after all, it’s Festival time.


Monday October 8


Van Diemen’s Band

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

This period ensemble, new to me, is under the direction of Julia Fredersdorff, doyenne of the Peninsula Summer Music Festival for the last 11 years and leading light of the trio Latitude 37.   This Festival contribution is a 90-minute one-night-stand, no interval, featuring the music of Corelli (one of the concerti grossi from Op. 6), a concerto grosso from Geminiani’s Op. 3, a sinfonia each from the two Scarlattis, and Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet No. 9 (yes , that tired old La Ritirata di Madrid).  Pride of place, however, goes to music by Nicola Fiorenza, a sparsely documented and historically shadowy Neapolitan writer of the 18th century’s first half; the Band will play three of his cello concertos, although I only know of one in F Major and another in A Major.   As for the other writers, I was unaware of Corelli’s connection to Naples;  Geminiani certainly spent three years there; both father and son Scarlatti are inextricably linked with the city; I can’t find any reference to Boccherini ever visiting the place.   But, once again: it’s holiday time – let’s not get bogged down in pedantry and facts.   As for the Band’s personnel (as set out in the organization’s web-site), most of them are unknown to me – as is the greater part of Tasmania itself.  Some familiar faces are Laura Vaughan on gamba, double bass Kirsty McCahon, violinist Lucinda Moon, and lutenist Simon Martyn-Ellis.  The other 14 members occupy yet another O’Connell terra incognita.


Thursday October 11


Victorian Opera

Palais Theatre, St. Kilda at 7:30 pm

Not the most invigorating night, even if the opera has stretches of unadulterated magic.  Fortunately, the whole is greater than its parts and I’m sorry to be missing out on seeing (and hearing, more importantly) what the state company makes of this neglected work.  As the self-deludedly cuckolded Golaud, Samuel Dundas gets to exercise his rich bass.  Pelleas, Golaud’s younger brother, will be sung by Angus Wood who strikes me as being on the robust side for this shadowy work.   Siobhan Stagg sings Melisande; Liane Keegan takes on Genevieve, the mother of Pelleas and Golaud who gets to sing one of the few sustained passages of solo work in the opera.   Sophia Wasley appears in the short-pants role of the child Yniold and David Parkin works his magic as the chronic valetudinarian, Arkel.  The company’s artistic director, Richard Mills, conducts; Elisabeth Hill directs.

The opera will be repeated on Saturday October 13.


Thursday October 11


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

The MSO’s principal violist and ex-principal with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Moore is being given a time in the sun after an impressive career (so far) of excellent performance on his instrument coloured by some eminently forgettable hairstyles.   Like Dale Barltrop and one-time co-Concertmaster Eoin Anderson, this prominent member of the orchestral cast gets to direct and star in his own program which begins with the Brahms Serenade No. 2, the one that omits violins so their larger cousins get all the exposure.   Moore takes up the soloist’s responsibilities with Associate Concertmaster Sophie Rowell for the glowing Sinfonia Concertante K. 364 of Mozart.  Sandwiched between these glories comes the world premiere of Iain Grandage’s All the World’s a Stage which you’d expect would be for chamber orchestral forces and have something to do with Jaques – or is that hoping for too much directness of reference?   At the moment, I can’t find any solid information about it.

This program will be repeated on Friday October 12 in Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University..


Monday October 15

Silkroad Ensemble

Hamer Hall at 7 pm

This ensemble has been supporting one of the Festival’s big drawcards: the Azerbaijani dance-opera, Layla and Manjun.   Silkroad was established by cellist Yo-Yo Ma but the publicity for this event makes it quite clear that the great man himself will not be appearing.   We are given the repertoire for this occasion which includes traditional music from Vietnam, China and Tibet along with material composed by modern writers: suona/shen expert Wu Tong, clarinettist Tony Scott, pianist Gabriela Lena Frank, violinist Colin Jacobsen, shakuhachi/electronics exponent Kojiro Umezaki.   Composer (from where?) Sapo Perakaskero’s most famous work, Turceasca, will provide the finale, informed by the input or presence of the Romani/Romanian ensemble Taraf de Haidouks.  Also, somewhere along the way, Chick Corea’s Spain comes in for Silkroad treatment.  The list of musicians who have participated in the ensemble’s work since its founding is large and some of those mentioned above are notated collaborators.   Now, I hate to be a leveler but it all sounds to me a lot like the sort of thing Phillip Glass did here at Melbourne Festivals some decades ago: give us a sample of musics from all over the place and expect applause for finding a communality of spirituality, despite cultural differences.  Good luck with that.


Wednesday October 17


Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, Methodist Ladies College, Kew at 7:30 pm

Sadly, the title gives away the night’s main handicap: Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, which I’ve heard too many times by now to be tolerant.   The famed tango writer put together a suite that shows that BA is mono-seasonal; there’s no difference between any of the movements.   Still, you can always sit back and admire the standard of play from pianist Kathryn Selby and her guests for tonight – violinist Alexandre Da Costa-Graveline who is currently working at Edith Cowan University in Perth, and Sydney Symphony Orchestra principal cello Umberto Clerici.    Apart from the Piazzolla, the group joins up for Mendelssohn in D minor while the solos will be Debussy’s Cello Sonata – all 11 minutes of it – and the Falla Canciones Populares which seems to be an arrangement for violin and piano from one already organised by Falla and Paul Kochanski that sprang out of the Siete canciones populares espanolas song-cycle.   Or it could be the same authorised arrangement under another name.   If that’s the case, then it’s about the same length as the Debussy.  Not that such a matter should be a consideration in chamber music-making of this quality, particularly as this will be S&F’s last Melbourne appearance this year.


Saturday October 20

Andras Schiff

Hamer Hall at 7 pm

Once again, Musica Viva comes to the Festival’s rescue with a real star.   The organization is offering special access to the Hungarian-born pianist’s presence with a post-performance reception/celebration on the Hamer Hall stage.   Or you could attend the pianist’s masterclass at the Australian National Academy of Music on Friday October 19 at 2 pm.   Or you could have a gourmet lunch with matched wines somewhere down the Mornington Peninsula, although I can’t work out whether Schiff is also going down the freeway for this expensive fund-raising exercise.   What about the music?  He’s giving a different program in Sydney two days after this one, but we score Mendelssohn’s F sharp minor Fantasy and, speaking of F sharp, the Beethoven Sonata No. 24, A Therese.  Then, in case you hadn’t heard enough from Paul Lewis, a swag of Brahms: the Eight Piano Pieces Op. 76, followed by the Seven Fantasias Op. 116 which I don’t think I’ve heard live for many years.   Icing on the cake comes through the final Bach English Suite.  This is Schiff’s first appearance here in over 20 years and, even if he has cut a few neo-Fascist countries from his visiting schedule, you ought to take this chance to hear him live; he’s 64 and, about now, long-distance travel becomes unattractive, if not irksome.


Tuesday October 23

Tasmin Little & Piers Lane

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Even for a Brit, Little’s life, achievements and activities seem to be remarkably home-based.   So we should be more than happy that she has broached the Channel and made it out here.   Her associate is very well-known if mainly as a concerto soloist and solo recitalist.   The duo is offering one major masterwork in Franck’s Violin Sonata in A: a real duet with pitfalls all over the place and a finale to lift you out of your seat with something close to elation – on a good night.  The other interesting piece is Szymanowski’s D minor Violin Sonata, first performed by Kochanski (see above under Wednesday October 17) and Artur Rubinstein; well, it was probably a patriotic duty at the time for all concerned.  The rest comprises encore material: Kats-Chernin’s Russian Rag Revisited, the Ravel Piece en forme de Habanera, Brahms’s Scherzo contribution to that hybrid F-A-E Sonata, and – somewhat longer –  the Schubert Sonatina in D, the easiest of the composer’s three sonatas in this format.


Thursday October 25


Opera Australia

Merlyn Theatre, Coopers Malthouse at 7 pm

It’s been a long while between drinks with regard to this piece.  The last time I saw it was in 1983 at St. Martin’s Theatre in South Yarra when it was presented by the Victoria State Opera.   Now, the work is enjoying a resurrection at the hands of the national company, currently under the artistic direction of the first exponent of the hero Gregor in Brian Howard’s take on Kafka.  This time around, Gregor will be sung by Sydney baritone Simon Lobelson who, as far as I can find out, has made absolutely no mark in Melbourne.   Julie Lea Goodwin sings Greta, Gregor’s sister.   Christopher Hillier and Taryn Fiebig are Gregor’s parents, Adrian Tamburini the noisome Chief Clerk, while Benjamin Rasheed will be the Lodger, standing in for the original novella’s three gentlemen boarders.  Paul Fitzsimon conducts and Tama Matheson directs.  Full marks to the company for this revival of  Howard’s score and Steven Berkoff’s libretto; it’s a tight, percussion-rich drama which copes with the Czech author’s naturalistic nightmare world utilising memorable subtlety.

The opera will be repeated on Friday October 26 at 7 pm, and again on Saturday October 27 at 2 pm.


Thursday October 25


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

Yes, the whole ballet;  even those dull bits where nobody does much memorable except go to sleep, change the lighting, move the scenery.   Still, the big attraction here is watching Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekke Saraste at work on this lavish post-impressionist relic of the Rimsky school which stretches to about 50 minutes.   Dejan Lazic makes his debut appearance with the MSO, enjoying the central role in Bartok’s remembrance-of-things-past Piano Concerto No. 3.   Also, we are treated to a real Stravinsky curiosity in the Funeral Song: written in 1909 as a memorial after Rimsky’s death, played only once, then lost until a clean-out of the St Petersburg Conservatory Library three years ago.  Recordings have failed to rouse much excitement, although Alex Ross of The New Yorker sees it as a revelatory work in the context of what was to follow.  Maybe so; to me, the influences are all too clear, the orchestration clever-clever, the emotional content bordering on bathos.

This program will be repeated on Saturday October 27 at 2 pm


Friday October 26


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

The night ends with these magnificent studies, immensely demanding for any artist and a labour of love to present in one hit.   But that’s apparently what ANAM’s resident keyboard guru, Timothy Young, intends to do.   Beforehand, we enjoy some petit pois.  A pair of ANAM musicians will play the not-quite-two minutes Petite piece for clarinet and piano and the more substantial and contemporaneous Premiere rhapsodie for the same coupling.  Then comes a block of piano solos in the 1890 Reveries, the 1888-91 Deux arabesques, Hommage a Haydn from 1909 and the composer’s first published piano piece  –  the utterly forgettable Danse bohemienne of 1880.   Fleshing out our experience of the composer’s chamber music will be the G minor Piano Trio which also dates from 1880 during Debussy’s time in the household of Nadezhda von Meck.   Decried as character-less juvenilia by anybody who matters, the work is inoffensive enough, if not much of an indication of future fireworks.


Sunday October 28


Team of Pianists

Glenfern, 417 Inkerman St., East St. Kilda at 3 pm

The Team’s Rippon Lea series has ended and what remain in the organization’s year are a few recitals at its home base: the National Trust demesne at Glenfern.   This afternoon, Robert Chamberlain represents the TOP, collaborating with local baroque violinist Shane Lestideau who also has an interest in Scottish folk music.   Their program begins with Telemann, a fantasie for solo violin; the theme is continued – nay elevated – with the Gigue from the Partita No. 2 by Bach – the little frivolity that precedes the colossal Chaconne in D minor.   We make a swift shift into the folk realm with some traditional violin solos from Scotland and Ireland before a lurch into O’Carolan’s Concerto and a pivot back to the baroque with A Highland Battle by James Oswald, Chamber Composer for George III, the poor lad.   Move across the North Sea for Anders Wesstrom, an Oswald contemporary, and his Variations on a Swedish polonaise for violin and piano.   The Oz bit comes with Sydney composer Alice Chance’s Saturation, a duo commissioned for the composer’s Evergreen Ensemble and premiered at the 2017 Port Fairy Music Festival.   Oh, Chamberlain will provide some as-yet unnamed solos by Bach and Ross Edwards.  Lots to hear; it could go on and on.