May Diary

Wednesday May 2


Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, MLC Hawthorn at 7:30 pm

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


Friday May 4


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

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


Saturday May 5


Australian World Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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


Sunday May 6


Team of Pianists

Barwon Park, Winchelsea at 2.00 pm

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


Monday May 7


Markiyan and Oksana Melnychenko

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

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


Thursday May 10


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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


Saturday May 12


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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

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


Thursday May 17


Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm

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

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


Friday May 18


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

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


Sunday May 20


Team of Pianists

Rippon Lea at 6:30 pm

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


Tuesday May 22


Tafelkmusik Baroque Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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

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


Monday May 28


Ensemble Gombert

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

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


Thursday May 31

Thomas Hampson

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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







April Diary

Thursday April 5

Debussy & Brahms

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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


Saturday April 7


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

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


Monday April 9

James Ehnes

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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


Monday April 9


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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


Friday April 13


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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


Saturday April 14

Avi Avital & Giocoso Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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

This program will be repeated on Tuesday April 24.


Tuesday April 17


Opera Australia

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

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

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


Thursday April 19


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University at 7:30 pm

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


Saturday April 21


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Robert Blackwood Hall at 7:30 pm

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


Sunday April 22


Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm

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


Tuesday April 24 


Opera Australia

State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne at 7:30 pm

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

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


Friday April 27


Australian National Academy of Music

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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


Sunday April 29


The Melbourne Musicians

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

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





March Diary

Thursday March 1


Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm

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

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

Saturday March 3


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

Wednesday March 7


Evergreen Ensemble

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

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

Thursday March 8


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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

Saturday March 10


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

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

Tuesday March 13


Orava Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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

Wednesday March 14


Domenico Nordio and Massimo Scattolin

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

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

Wednesday March 14


Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, Methodist Ladies College at 7:30 pm

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

Thursday March 15


Melbourne Art Song Collective

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

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

Thursday March 15


Victorian Opera

Playhouse, Arts Centre, Melbourne at 6:30 pm

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

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

Friday March 16


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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

Saturday March 17


Hoang Pham

Melbourne Recital Centre at 5 pm

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

Sunday March 18


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

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

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

Monday March 19


Inveni Ensemble

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6 pm

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

Tuesday March 20


Ludovico’s Band

Melbourne Recital Centre at 6:30 pm

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

Wednesday March 21

Measha Brueggergosman

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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

Thursday March 22


Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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

Friday March 23


Goldner String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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

Saturday March 24


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

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

Sunday March 25


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

Friday March 30


Melbourne Bach Choir and Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm

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

February Diary

Thursday February 1


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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

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


Friday February 2


Melbourne Opera

Palais Theatre, St. Kilda at 6:30 pm

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

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


Sunday February 4


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

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

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


Wednesday February 7 


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sidney Myer Music Bowl at 7:30 pm

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


Saturday February 10


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sidney Myer Music Bowl at 7:30 p,m

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


Wednesday February 14


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sidney Myer Music Bowl at 7:30 pm

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


Friday February 16


Australian String Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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


Sunday February 18


Melbourne Bach Choir and Orchestra et al

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday February 21


Jordi Savall, Hesperion XXI & Tembembe Ensemble Continuo

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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

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


Saturday February 24


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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

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


Saturday February 24


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

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


Monday February 26

Nelson Freire

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

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


Tuesday February 27

Sabine Meyer & Alliage Quintet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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

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


Wednesday February 28


Flinders Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

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





2017 in review

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

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


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

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


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

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

                                                                  Benjamin Northey

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

                                                                Nicholas Carter

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


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

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

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

                                                                    Daniel Trifonov

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


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

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

                                                                       Warwick Fyfe


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

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

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


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

                                                                      Siobahn Stagg

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

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

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


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

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

                                                                     Jacqueline Porter

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

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

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


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

                                                                     Takacs Quartet

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

                                                                  Saleem Ashkar

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

                                                                        Nicholas Buc 

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


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

                                                                    Nicholas Mulroy

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

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

                                                                        Sara Macliver

                                                                            Ed Lyon

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

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







January Diary

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


Tuesday January 2

Arcadia Winds

St Mark’s Anglican Church, Balnarring at 2 pm

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


Tuesday January 2


Bethany Hill, Andrew Byrne, PSMF Academy 2017 alumni

Hurley Vineyard, Balnarring at 5 pm

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


Wednesday January 3

Massimo Scattolin and Hannah Dahlenberg

Port Phillip Estate, Red Hill South at 6 pm

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


Saturday January 6


Kyla Matsuura-Miller and Adam McMillan

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

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


Saturday January 6

Kiazma Piano Duo

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

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


Saturday January 6


Lotte Betts-Dean and Genesis Baroque

St. John the Evangelist, Flinders at 7 pm

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


Sunday January 7

Lucinda Moon

Church of St. John the Evangelist at 11 am

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


Sunday January 7

Stefan Cassomenos

Church of St. John the Evangelist at 2 pm

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


Sunday January 7


Julie Fredersdorff and Aline Zylberajch

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

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


Friday January 12



St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 8 pm

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


Saturday January 13


Tomomi Brennan, Anthony Halliday

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


Saturday January 12


Monica Curro and Stefan Cassomenos

Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts at 4 pm

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


Saturday January 13


La Compania, Lotte Betts-Dean

Mary’s Mount Centre, Loreto College at 8 pm

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


Sunday January 14


Martin Setchell

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 3 pm

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


Sunday January 14


Maty’s Mount Centre, Loreto College at 8 pm

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


Monday January 15


Christopher Trikilis

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

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

The program will be repeated at 12 noon.


Monday January 15


Luke Severn and Elyane Laussade

Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts at 4 pm

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


Monday January 15


Trio Leonardo, Nicci Dellar, Miriam Skinner

Mary’s Mount Centre, Loreto College at 8 pm

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


Tuesday January 16


Douglas Mews

Christ Church, Castlemaine at 11 am

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

This program will be repeated at 12:30 pm.


Tuesday January 16


Tomomi Brennan, Anthony Halliday, Joel Brennan

Castlemaine Town Hall at 3 pm

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


Wednesday January 17


Martin Setchell, Eisabetta Ghebbioni

Loreto College Chapel at 11 am

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


Wednesday January 17

Arcadia Winds

Neil St. Uniting Church at 4 pm

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


Wednesday January 17


St Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 8 pm

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


Thursday January 18


Trio Leonardo, Anthony Halliday, Festival Chamber Orchestra

Former Wesley Church, Clunes at 11 am

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


Thursday January 18


Douglas Mews and Andrea Dainese

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

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


Friday January 19


Douglas Mews and Giancarlo di Vacri

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

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


Friday January 19


Seraphim Trio

Wendouree Centre for Performing Arts at 3 pm

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


Saturday January 20


Martin Setchell

Uniting Church, Daylesford at 11 am

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


Saturday January 20


Douglas Mews

Christ Church, Daylesford at 2 pm

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

This program will be repeated at 2:45 pm


Saturday January 20


Trio Leonardo

Daylesford Town Hall at 5:30 pm

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


Sunday January 21

Australian Chinese Ensemble

Ballarat Mechanics Institute at 3 pm

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


Sunday January 21


Choirs of Queen’s and Newman Colleges

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat at 8 pm

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












December Diary

Sunday December 3


St. John’s Bach Choir and Orchestra

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Southgate at 9 am.

To celebrate 500 years since Luther allegedly nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church, and to mark 20 years since the Bach cantata program started in Southgate, St. John’s has commissioned a new work from Sydney composer Andrew Schultz to a text by Melbourne poet Katherine Firth.  This four-movement construct will be performed, as have a slew of Bach cantatas over the past two decades, at the centre of the Sunday 9 am service in St. John’s.  Southern Cantata is scored for two soloists, chorus and period instrument orchestra, all conducted by Graham Lieschke, and, in a compositional device familiar from Bach’s 200-plus examples, Schultz’s score incorporates a chorale; in this case, Luther’s own Advent melody, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland.


Sunday December 3


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

Four years ago, the ACO and an imported Choir of London with a wealth of top-notch soloists presented this collation of six seasonal cantatas to excellent effect in this same venue, rounding out 2013 with a bang.  Here is a revisiting, even down to having the same Evangelist-tenor, Nicholas Mulroy, who impressed mightily in those years of benevolent reception before the flowering of local talent in Andrew Goodwin and the Thomson brothers, Daniel and Matthew  –  remarkable and reliable Bach exponents all.  You live in high expectation that Richard Tognetti and his musicians will bring off something like the same joyous experience tonight.  Whatever happens, you can always relish the delights of the first two elements in the sequence: Jauchzet, frohlocket and Und es waren Hirten, both of which encapsulate my Christmas ideal more than any other music.

This program will be repeated on Monday December 4 at 6:30 pm.


Monday December 4

Paul Lewis

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Not one to sidestep obsessions, British pianist Paul Lewis has found a set of new foci for investigation.   In this typically chaste program, he confines himself to a brace of Haydn sonatas, the late Six Bagatelles Op. 126 by Beethoven, and the just-as-late Six Pieces Op. 118 of Brahms.   Even the Haydn works feature fairly late in the composer’s output in this form: the last of the G majors, Hob. XVI. 40 from 1784, and the third-last of the lot in C Major Hob. XVI: 50 which dates from 1794.  Although this composer has enjoyed something of a resurgence in the past decade, he is still an irregular recital presence.  Not so with the Beethoven block which are unique in their intimate starkness.  And the Brahms collection of four intermezzi, a ballade and romanze are often heard as single items, not so often en masse.


Saturday December 9


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 5 pm and 7:30 pm

Pail Dyer and his spirited players begin their Christmas celebrations in the Murdoch Hall with another program of odds and sods.  You’ve got the Brandenburg Choir leading the way with some seasonal regulars  – Deck the Halls, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, O Come, All Ye Faithful  –  as well as works by Palestrina, Gibbons, Rutter and Faure.  The night displays a young talent in tenor Joel Parnis, fresh from Sydney’s My Fair Lady production, who has been entrusted with Bring Him Home from Les Miserables  – that Christmas-centric musical  – O Holy Night, Irving Berlin’s tooth-numbingly saccharine White Christmas, Silent Night, Once in Royal David’s City and an updated Twelve Days of Christmas.  And from the slips comes a choral piece out of the first of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows films: My Love Is Always Here by Alexandre Desplat.  It’s all unabashed populism, just like Carols by Candlelight but without the inbuilt ads.


Saturday December 9


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7 pm

Anything new here?  Conductor for the performances is Rinaldo Alessandrini, a Baroque keyboard authority; perhaps he’ll direct this performance from a harpsichord or chamber organ . . . we can but hope.  His soloists include soprano Sara Macliver and mezzo Joslyn Rechter, both well-known Australian-born singers. The male principals are British tenor Ed Lyon and Catania-born bass Salvo Vitale who boasts a wealth of Baroque opera experience.  The MSO Chorus could probably sing this score in their sleep and the orchestra will hardly be pressed, although Alessandrini will certainly have an individual take on how to tackle this venerable masterpiece that has almost a third of its content either directly or laterally relevant to the Christmas season.

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


Saturday December 9


Ensemble Gombert

Xavier College Chapel at 8 pm

Once again, John O’Donnell and his formidable choir are presenting a programs of Renaissance glories for the season, in collaboration with Danny Lucin’s La Compania of period instruments.  The night opens with two settings of Resonet in laudibus: the 7-voice one by Praetorius and Lassus’ 5-voice version, both seeming to share a common opening shape of a falling common chord.   Andrea Gabrieli is represented by a Hodie Christus natus est but his nephew Andrea bears the burden of much of the night’s music-making: two glorious canzone – a primi toni and a duodecimi toni – as well as O magnum mysterium for double choir and the night’s concluding Nunc dimittis in 14 parts from the Sacrae symphoniae.   Lassus reappears with his creamy-rich Omnes de Saba and Adorna thalamum, the latter quite unknown to me.  And O’Donnell includes a moving early four-part motet by Victoria in Senex puerum portabat.  The combination of this choral body and the cornetti, sackbuts and dulcians of the Renaissance band – from past experience – is both impressive and moving.


Saturday December 16


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7:30 pm

This is a celebration with definite Christmas elements and other parts that can be stretched to fit the framework; a more well-judged operating principle of supplying something for everyone than underpins the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s Noel! Noel! program above (see Saturday December 9).  The main point of difference is that this one-off night sticks to its last pretty much throughout.  Guest conductor Christopher Seaman begins with some seasonal arcana: the Polonaise from Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Christmas Eve in which the MSO Chorus should play a major role.   Some extracts from Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel follow: the Prelude and the Dream Pantomime where the moving Abendsegen is given luxurious post-Wagnerian treatment.   Naturally, the MSO will play some scraps from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet, the MSO Chorus returning for the opening to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio  –  that bouncy sample of triumphant Christianity, Jauchzet, frohlocket  –  juxtaposed with Berlioz’s chromatic pastorale, the Shepherds’ Farewell from L’enfance du Christ.  Not wasting last week’s work, Messiah extracts follow (I’d guess the Nativity section, Scene 4 from Part the First, but will the organizers be able to resist a Hallelujah! reprise?), the night ending in O Come, All Ye Faithful


Sunday December 17


Melbourne Recital Centre at 3 pm

This year’s concert from Noel Ancell’s choirs – the ABC itself, its graduate-enfolding Vocal Consort, and its tyro singers – is based around the chant O magnum mysterium although I don’t think the young musicians will be demonstrating their prowess with the Andrea Gabrieli construct featured in the Ensemble Gombert program of a week previous (see  Saturday December 9 above).   We are promised settings by Byrd, Victoria, Poulenc and Norwegian/American Ola Gjeilo’s slow-moving Scandi-mystic version with an obbligato cello line; don’t know why I’m being sniffy about the Gombert’s Gabrieli as this one splits into 11 vocal parts at two stages.   And, of course, there will be lacunae for mass participation when the ABC parents show with unbridled gusto the origin of their sons’ lung power.





November Diary

Wednesday November 1


Selby & Friends

Tatoulis Auditorium, Methodist Ladies College at  7:30 pm

Last Melbourne appearance for the year from Kathy Selby and her kaleidoscope of cobbers and she has moved operations from Deakin Edge in Federation Square to MLC.  Suits me: it’s a five-minute walk away.  I wonder how many of the group’s loyal followers will be trekking out to Hawthorn/Kew; here’s hoping there’s no fall-off, but an increase.  For this inaugural Tatoulis Auditorium recital, it’s piano quartets all the way: Turina’s solitary effort in A minor, the G minor first of Mozart’s two, and the E flat second of Dvorak’s brace.  Guests tonight are all Sydney Symphony Orchestra members: violinist Andrew Haveron from the concertmaster’s desk, principal viola Tobias Breider, and principal cellist Umberto Clerici.   Now that’s an imposing set of visitors, all used to dominant roles.  Should be a powerful end to an always enjoyable, illuminating and – in this new ambience – plushly comfortable experience.

Thursday November 2


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

There’s nothing like the Symphony No. 9 for warming the communal heart cockles; its choral finale has been used and abused by modern-day advertisers and a hideous gaggle of sports promoters over recent decades but nothing beats the stop-start excitement of the work’s final strophes.   Not forgetting – although most do – the superb drama of the preceding three movements.   This is billed as the Season Finale Gala, which it almost is, if you leave out about half-a-dozen later programs.   Benjamin Northey gets his chance at this big canvas, the MSO Chorus on hand for the fireworks, and a cast of all-Australian soloists: a wonder these days and not the case with the MSO’s real season end –  Handel’s Messiah in December.  Tonight, we’ll hear soprano Jacqueline Porter, mezzo Liane Keegan, tenor Henry Choo (good luck with the Alla marcia, sport), and bass Shane Lowrencev.  For starters, Northey conducts John Adams’ Absolute Jest where the Australian String Quartet and the MSO indulge in the American composer’s take on Beethoven scherzos and other non-funny works; rib-tickling it ain’t but a 25-minute construct that keeps referring to Beethoven and winding up in a game of Guess The Movement.

This program will be repeated on Friday November 3.


Saturday November 4


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

I don’t know about Monteverdi and the bittersweet, let alone if such an emotionally catholic composer was ever obsessed.  Nor does the idea of over-centric preoccupation come to mind when thinking of Bach, although you could have cause to re-think when considering A Musical Offering and Art of Fugue.  But this assorted program from the Brandenburgers could throw some new light on both composers’ psyches.  The night opens with the Italian composer’s Lamento della ninfa, a four-part madrigal from Book VIII of Monteverdi’s output.  It requires a soprano, especially for the exposed central section where the poor nymph carries out her plaint – in this case, Natasha Wilson – with a choir of two tenors and a bass.  Well, we have one tenor scheduled in Karim Sulayman from the US, and another in our own Spencer Darby, with Denmark’s Jakob Bloch Jespersen giving bass support.  Then the ABO gets involved with Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda: a scena, also from Book VIII and requiring two tenors and soprano to tell this Tasso-inspired story of Christian murder.   Finally, Bach provides some light in his Coffee Cantata, which is really a one-act opera in ten parts asking for Wilson to sing the addicted Lieschen,  Jespersen to take on the part of her grumpy father Schlendrian, and one of the tenors to fill in as the Narrator who tops and helps tail the work.

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


Sunday November 12


Trio Anima Mundi

Holy Trinity Anglican Church, East Melbourne at 3 pm

I’ve neglected these people shamefully but, if you miss one of their recitals, it’s a long time between drinks because they only give two programs a year: first in Geelong, then, after a few weeks’ break, repeating it in this East Melbourne church.  The personnel – pianist Kenji Fujimura, violinist Rochelle Ughetti, cellist Noella Yan – are ranging pretty widely in their definition of what constitutes an outsider.  They include Haydn, here represented by his Piano Trio No. 10 in A Major, because he lived a fair part of his life in the geographically situated Hungarian wilds of Esterhaza . . . which was true for 25 years but didn’t stop him being the most celebrated composer in Europe.   Rutland Boughton’s Celtic Prelude represents – briefly – a composer of high integrity who had considerable success founding an opera festival at Glastonbury but eventually became suspect because of his Communist sympathies; surprising he stood out at all for this political disposition in post-World War I Britain.  Also being played is Alfred Schnittke’s Trio – originally for strings but later arranged for the piano trio combination; like pretty much every Soviet-era composer, Schnittke fell foul of the authorities, eventually migrating to Hamburg, although the Russian state re-claimed him after his death.  The Trio Anima Mundi’s 2017  Composition Prize-winning work will also be performed on this full-program.


Tuesday November 14

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Rachel Podger

Musica Viva

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Podger is actually directing this well-credentialled period music band which operates without a regular conductor in full democratic mode; atypical for this genre of organization, although not unheard of.   This will be the fourth in a series of eight concerts across the country under the MV umbrella, all of which comprise the same program: Podger as soloist/leader in Mozart’s first and last violin concertos, Haydn’s three-movement Lamentatione Symphony in D minor, and a J. C. Bach Symphony in G minor (presumably the Op. 6 No. 6).  Is this the OAL’s first Australian visit?  Whatever the case, the body has a long pedigree packed with notable guest directors and soloists and it will be interesting to see how large a body fronts up to the Recital Centre.

This program will be repeated on Saturday November 18


Wednesday November 15

Emma Kirkby with Jakob Lindberg

Great Performers

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7:30 pm

Kirkby seems to have been around for years.  She is certainly a senior citizen among the ranks of British singers and her fame rests mainly in the early music field; among her collaborators have been the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, appearing a night before her in the Recital Centre.   Tonight she is sponsored by the MRC itself, one of their Great Performers for the year.   Accompanied by lutenist Jakob Lindberg, she will be amplifying on their 2007 CD collaboration with a program of English, French, Spanish and Italian works of the Renaissance, leaching into the early Baroque.  But then, Kirkby can’t help retracing her steps, as she has sung pretty much everything in the repertoire at some time or other, not least with her former partner, Anthony Rooley.   For purity of intonation and clarity of articulation, you have to look far and wide to find her equal.


Thursday November 16


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Plenary Hall at 7:30 pm

Dealing with one of the most recognizable film scores of modern times, the MSO is moving out of Hamer Hall to cope with the hordes who want to re-experience the Harry Potter films with a live soundtrack underpinning.   Is this the city’s biggest performance space with a decent acoustic?   I reckon so, although there’ll be the usual amplification chicanery going on.   I don’t know why I’m bothering with this entry, though: both performances are sold out.  You can put your name down on a wait list, apparently.

This program will be repeated on Saturday November 18 at 1 pm


Friday November 17


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Plenary Hall at 7:30 pm

On the other hand, you can still book seats to this, the second in the Harry Potter experience where you get to see Voldemort in the personage of Tom Riddle and you also witness the incomparable Dumbledore of Richard Harris for the last time.  Needless to say, the score is largely a reprise of the first film’s content, although the basilisk sequence has some exhilarating novelties.   Moreover, a large part of the arrangement was carried out by William Ross as John Williams was swamped with work at the time.   What is the attraction of these live soundtrack experiences?   You’ll never know until you try but I suspect part of it comes down to the communal experience of sitting in a theatre with several thousand other people and watching a total familiarity where all the jokes are still worth a laugh and the thrills are somehow more compelling when seen on the big screen. Or it could be the sensation of watching expert musicians at work for once.

This program will be repeated on Saturday November 18 at 7:30 pm


Sunday November 19


Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm

It’s Peter Ilyich till you’ve had an ample sufficiency.  The main  and unadulterated element is the Serenade for Strings where the melodies run rampant throughout its four irreplaceable movements; always a joy to hear from a devoted band, and they don’t come more ready-for-purpose than William Hennessy’s ensemble.   And, of course, we have the arrangements: MCO favourite composer/orchestrator Nicholas Buc’s version of the three-movement Souvenir d’un lieu cher set for violin solo and strings replacing the original’s piano, then some of Rostislav Dubinsky’s string settings of the Album for the Young Op. 39 – your guess is as good as mine about which ones will emerge because Dubinsky certainly arranged all 24 of these miniatures for string quartet.   Hennessy kicks off his afternoon with Arensky’s Variations on a theme by Tchaikovsky: seven of them plus a coda based around the fifth of the composer’s Sixteen Children’s Songs.   Deviating from the main motif, the MCO will play another arrangement for strings of Shostakovich’s early Three Fantastic Dances, the composer’s first piano pieces.  Shane Chen, first violin in the Flinders Quartet, will be soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir.

This program will be repeated on Thursday November 23 in the Deakin Edge, Federation Square at 7:30 pm.


Thursday November 23


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

Returning to a well-tilled field, the MSO will race through a work they have made a specialty in their repertoire since the days of Hiroyuki Iwaki.   Something about its spacious lyricism and harnessed nervousness brings out the best in these players when they launch into Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor.   Tonight they are conducted by Stanislav Kochanovsky, a native of St. Petersburg in his mid-thirties and already well-established as a notable opera conductor – to the extent that the poor fellow comes to us fresh from directing a Barrie Kosky production of Eugene Onegin in Zurich.  Kochanovsky opens his Melbourne debut with Schumann’s Manfred Overture, then the night’s soloist, Swedish soprano Lisa Larsson, expounds music by one of her countrymen and regular collaborator, Rolf Martinsson: Ich denke dein . . . , settings of five poems by Goethe, Rilke and Eichendorff, written expressly for Larsson in 2014

This program will be repeated on Saturday November 25 at 2 pm.


Friday November 24


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

Back for his annual stint in the halls of ANAM, British violinist Anthony Harwood is heading an evening of chamber works that begin with Mozart’s Piano Trio in G Major  – one of the five definites and two possibles in the composer’s catalogue (this is the K. 496 with the six-variations finale).  Marwood and his as-yet-unknown colleagues end with Dvorak’s third – and last – String Quintet, that in E flat which asks for a second viola; a requirement that might prove attractive for the ensemble’s versatile leader.   In the centre comes Erwin Schulhoff’s String Sextet, finished in 1924 after a long gestation and one of the ill-fated composer’s most impressive if sombre works.


Friday November 30


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 8 pm

It’s great to see the MSO break out of its overture/concerto/symphony straitjacket for these events at the MRC which seem to be left in the hands of the body’s two concertmasters.  Tonight is Eoin Andersen’s turn at the helm and he starts with a great seasonal opening; no, not Vivaldi, but Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in F Major in which he will be accompanied by Stefan Cassomenos, last heard at September’s Music in the Round Festival thundering through Liszt’s arrangement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.  Expanding the timbre field a tad will be Copland’s Appalachian Spring in the original version for 13 instruments: an American voice speaking in firm and resonant notes with a humanity and emotional truth that give promise of better times to come, a national harbinger of a resurgence in robust ethics out of the present sewer.  Finally, Andersen takes the solo spot in an arrangement for violin and strings of Piazzolla’s Four Seasons in Buenos Aires where I defy you to point to any significant difference between the movements in any parameter that counts.

This program will be repeated in Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University on Saturday December 1 at 8 pm




September Diary

Friday September 1


Mimir 2

Melba Hall, University of Melbourne at 7:30 pm

The middle recital for the Mimir Festival –  that chamber music exercise sponsored by the Conservatorium of Music/Faculty of Music/College of the Arts, etc – features the main guests from the home organisation in Fort Worth, America: performers whom we have come to know and love over the past few years since the Con’s Head of Strings, Curt Thompson, brought the enterprise that he founded to our town.  Tonight’s offerings will include Thompson taking first violin in Vaughan Williams’ C minor Piano Quintet, alongside regular visitor violist Joan DerHovsepian and cellist Brant Taylor, who I think has been here before.  Rob Nairn, newly appointed to the Faculty of Music, will take the double bass line and well-known local Benjamin Martin, Thompson’s colleague in the Firebird Trio, will perform the keyboard part.   To begin, Stephen Rose and Jun Iwasaki take the violin parts in Wolf’s Italian Serenade, and the conclusion consists of Dvorak’s G Major String Quartet Op. 106 with Rose and Iwasaki swapping chairs.


Sunday September 3


Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 2:30 pm

With an ambitious, New Age-leaning title, this afternoon’s music has been curated by recorder queen Genevieve Lacey and takes in a lot of repertoire.  The MCO starts with a scrap from the fabulous double of Leonin and Perotin, a pairing that for generations of music students meant polyphony had finally arrived; it’s the Viderunt omnes organum and some doubles on the chant’s second part – none of it sung but arranged for the available forces by Lacey.  Then comes Cipriano de Rore’s four-voice madrigal Ancor che col partire; well, divisions (or diminutions, as the French put it so confusingly) on it by Bassano. British one-time wunderkind Thomas Ades is represented by the penultimate movement, O Albion, of his 1994 string quartet Arcadiana.  Vivaldi’s C minor Recorder Concerto brings Lacey to the spotlight, where she will be immediately eclipsed by the following Grosse Fuge by Beethoven.  Ross Edwards’ Tyalgum Mantras was originally written for shakuhachi, didjeridu and percussion; it’s probable that it will be heard here in another instrumental format.  Dunstable’s brief three-part motet Quam pulchra es comes in for the Lacey treatment, just before another recorder concerto, Sammartini in F.  To polish off the experience, William Hennessy leads his forces in  Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis.  Big program?  You’re not kidding and much of it has ‘eternal’ pretensions, except the two concertos which don’t present any metaphysical depths, as far as I can recall.

This program will be repeated at the Deakin Edge, Federation Square on Friday September 8 at 7:30 pm.


Sunday September 3


Australian Boys Choir

Fitzroy Town Hall at 3 pm

All the material to be presented in this event is Australian-made, including two premieres. Both the core boys choir and the senior Vocal Consort participate in Sydney-based writer Alice Chance’s Two Best Things, which is concerned with the choices that have to be made by those unfortunate enough to have to flee from bush fires: what do you take with you? The other first hearing will be for Before Time Was, a setting of words by local poet/psychotherapist/publisher/journalist Max Dunn; the music has been written by the choir’s director, Noel Ancell.  Other works come from veteran Eric Austin Phillips. Iain Grandage, Paul Stanhope and Joseph Twist.  It’s quite an adventurous undertaking and one that you can wait a long time to hear: all home-grown sounds from a choir of young people – and serious music, not populist pap.


Sunday September 3


Mimir 3

Melba Hall, University of Melbourne at 3 pm

For the final significant event in this year’s chamber music festival, the performing personnel remain the same for two of the three works programmed.  Jun Iwasaki and Curt Thompson are the violinists, Joan DerHovsepian violist and Brant Taylor the cello for Mozart’s Hoffmeister D Major Quartet K. 499, as well as the afternoon’s title work by St. Louis-born Kevin Puts.  Written in 2007 and premiered by the Miro Quartet, Credo is one of the composer’s more widely performed pieces although, as far as I can trace, this could well be its first airing in this city.   Ending the festival with burnished power will be the Brahms Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major with violinist Stephen Rose, Taylor on cello and Melbourne’s own Kristian Chong handling the gloriously satisfying piano part.  These ‘show’ or demonstration recitals are always remarkably fine examples of their type, underlining the solid foundations of musical practice in the United States and the pleasures to be uncovered by experts in all-too-familiar scores.


Saturday September 9


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

There’s certainly Mozart in this exercise – the last horn concerto and a harmoniemusik from Il Seraglio – and you don’t have to look far for Haydn in the celebrated Cello Concerto No. 1.   But the friends are represented by one character: Christian Cannabich, who was definitely an acquaintance/friend of Mozart.  Soloist in the horn concerto is Bart Aerbeydt from Belgium and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra; he’ll have his work cut out for him in this most famous concerto of its type.  For the Haydn work, the soloist is the ABO’s principal, Jamie Hey who is also up against a very familiar score which has rattled many a top-notch interpreter.  Cannabich’s Sinfonia in E Flat is an unknown quantity; he wrote 75 in this form and, while I’ve heard one in this particular key, there’s no surety that he didn’t write more.  As for the harmoniemusik, you’d have to assume that this is Mozart’s own compilation for wind octet ( or is it quartet?) of material from his own opera, written to capitalise on a popular form of arrangements before some morality-lacking fly-by-night cashed in on it.

This program will be re-presented on Sunday September 10 at 5 pm.


Sunday September 10


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

Norwegian violinist/arranger/composer Henning Kraggerud is directing and taking the soloist role in this afternoon of three works by Norway’s most famous musical figure.  The concert begins with the first of the two Nordic Melodies, In Folk Style – a piece of some melancholy D minor-infused charm which shows that there’s not much you can do with a folk-song except play it over and over in different colours.  Into the mix comes Ross Edwards, whose Entwinings will enjoy its world premiere, contributing to the anticipated ‘arcadian feel’ of the ACO’s latest concert experience.  Kraggerud then fronts the Grieg Violin Concerto, which is the soloist’s own arrangement of the Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor; he has apparently given the same treatment to Grieg’s other two sonatas. Kraggerud then presents his own Topelius-Variations (From Topelius’ Time), which presumably refers to the 19th century Finnish author.  Last of all comes Richard Tognetti’s arrangement of the Grieg String Quartet which the ACO has recorded to plenty of press acclaim.

This program will be performed again on Monday September 11 at 7:30 pm.


Thursday September 14


Melbourne Chamber Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at  6 pm

A single-work recital; not unheard-of, but increasingly rare,  Three of the MCO’s senior citizens –  violin William Hennessy, viola Stefanie Farrands, cello Michael Dahlenburg – are to collaborate with pianist Louisa Breen in the Brahms No. 2:  the most substantial and almost certainly the longest of the composer’s chamber works.  This event is billed in the MRC three-monthly handbook as lasting two hours; can’t see it myself, unless the ensemble are going to play it twice in the best Schoenberg/New Music tradition.  Or perhaps somebody is going to give a long exegesis on the composer.  Or possibly a time-consuming supper is being provided!


Friday September 15


Victorian Opera

Merlyn Theatre, The Coopers Malthouse at 7:30 pm

Based on the same legend as Der Freischutz, this work depicts another predictable Faustian pact with the Devil.  To a libretto by William S. Burroughs, everyone’s favourite senior Beat writer, and with music (and song lyrics, it would seem) by American folk-song expert Tom Waits, the story follows a familiar path, except there is no redemption at the end. The cast is headed by Kanen Breen as the hopeless marksman-clerk Wilhelm, Meow Meow as the Devil incarnate Pegleg, and Dimity Shepherd as Wilhelm’s beloved Katchen.   Paul Capsis either sings the role of Ensemble or is part of it.   Phoebe Briggs conducts, Matthew Lutton directs, and the staging comes from Zoe Atkinson.  Other cast members include Jacqui (Jacqueline?) Dark as Helen, Richard Piper as Bertram, Le Gateau/Chocolat as the Duke/Old Uncle, and Winston Hillyer as Robert.  A true voyage of discovery for those among us who have never seen the work, which is a co-production with the Malthouse Theatre.  Obviously, both companies believe there is a large audience for the piece because the season goes on for some weeks.

Later performances will take place on Saturday September 16 at 7:30 pm,  Monday September 18 at 6:30 pm, Tuesday September 19 at 6:30 pm, Thursday September 21 at 7:30 pm, Friday September 22 at 7:30 pm, Saturday September 23 at 3 pm and at 7:30 pm, Tuesday 26 September at 6:30 pm, Wednesday September 27 at 7:30 pm, Thursday September 28 at 7:30 pm, Friday September 29 at 7:30 pm, Saturday September 30 at 7:30 pm, Sunday October 1 at 5 pm, Tuesday October 3 at 6:30 pm, Wednesday October 4 at 7:30 pm, Thursday October 5 at 7:30 pm, Friday October 6 at 7:30 pm, Saturday October 7 at 3 pm and at 7:30 pm, Sunday October 8 at 5 pm.


Friday September 15


Australian National Academy of Music

St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 7:30 pm

Getting outside the confines of the South Melbourne Town Hall and ANAM’s offices, some brass and percussion musicians are mounting a one-night stand in the city’s Catholic cathedral.  One of this year’s visiting authorities at the Academy, trombonist Michael Mulcahy from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is directing this night’s music-making, which begins in splendid fashion with Giovanni Gabrieli’s  Sacrae symphoniae of 1597 and 1615; probably not the lot – 45 choral works and 16 purely instrumental ones – but those extracts chosen should resonate to fine effect in this building.  The centre-piece comes in Nielsen’s Symphony No. 3, the Sinfonia espansiva in an arrangement for organ (Calvin Bowman), brass and percussion.  Concluding in similar Nordic mode, the brass/percussion combination is re-applied to a version of Sibelius’ Finlandia call to arms.


Sunday September 17


Zelman Symphony

Hamer Hall at 2 pm

A long time between performances.  I seem to recall this work being performed many years ago in the Melbourne Town Hall by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, possibly under John Hopkins.  But, like Yevtushenko’s poetry which provides the texts, the symphony/cantata has been forgotten.  This year’s observation of the 75th anniversary of the Nazi massacre near Kiev has brought about this performance which will be conducted by Mark Shiell, with Adrian Tamburini entrusted with the bass soloist’s part.  A 200-voice male choir is promised.  Also to be played is Elena Kats-Chernin’s  Night and Now for flute and orchestra with Sally Walker playing the solo part, as she has for every performance since the piece’s 2015 premiere in Darwin.  Crossway for Orchestra by young Australian Harry Sdraulig prefaces the concert’s main works and apparently refers to  the events of World War Two as seen through a younger generation’s eyes, while Kats-Chernin’s work has to do with her upbringing in Tashkent.


Sunday September 17


Team of Pianists

Rippon Lea at 6:30 pm

Darryl Coote represents the Team at this final recital for the year in the National Trust’s showpiece mansion.   His guests are that Everywhere Mezzo, Sally-Anne Russell, and tenor Robert Macfarlane.   In a real test of stamina, Russell will negotiate Elgar’s Sea Pictures without the soothing gift of the orchestral accompaniment; but then, the composer often performed his own piano version.  Also being well-exercised, Macfarlane has Schumann’s Dichterliebe in his care: 16 priceless Heine settings, well-suited to the expanded salon setting of Rippon Lea’s ballroom.  The singers combine later for some Schumann duets, and Coote gets the limelight to himself for Haydn’s every-popular F minor Variations.


Tuesday September 19

Nicolas Altstaedt & Aleksander Madzar

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

I can’t find any mention of these two musicians working together as regular partners.  Not that the lack of a steady artistic relationship should make much difference to professionals but their pairing for this tour seems something of an odd ad hoc arrangement.  In their Program I, they begin with the Debussy Cello Sonata, a cow of a work to balance correctly. Then come Nadia Boulanger’s Three Pieces for cello and piano from 1914, with Barber’s early Cello Sonata to follow.  Before embarking on Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata Op. 40 (from the composer’s 28th year), the duo plays a new work, as yet untitled, by Jakub Jankowski; the Adelaide composer referred to this piece as a ‘cello sonata’ in an interview during April this year, so I suppose that will be the fourth of its genre in this program that showcases a semi-cross-generational musical collaboration.

On Saturday September 23, Altstaedt and Madzar present their Program II which is identical to the first one except Britten’s Cello Sonata replaces that by Barber. and Brahms in F Major replaces the Shostakovich.


Thursday September 21


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

Yes, they do: the whole second half is Ravel – the Piano Concerto in  G and La valse.  For the concerto, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet will be the light-fingered soloist while the choreographic poem is to be directed by Andre de Ridder. who has been seen in Sydney and Adelaide but not here, I believe.  He is, God help us, the ‘rock world’s conductor of choice’, which could mean that he’s so far above anybody else in that field that he shines, or it could signify that he can adapt himself to the elementary with few signs of slumming.  The night opens with Mozart’s optimistic Symphony No. 34 and that will be followed by a curiosity in Unsuk Chin’s Mannequin – Tableaux vivants.  A four-part work, it is based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale The Sandman; Chin has used four sequences from the novel, three of which are familiar as text elements from Offenbach’s most famous opera. The South Korean composer’s score asks for a large orchestra, including a massive percussion battery and the piece is here receiving its Australian premiere – which is nice as it was premiered in England two years ago and the MSO was one of its commissioners.

This program will be played again at Geelong’s Costa Hall on Friday September 22 at 7:30 pm, and it returns to Hamer Hall at 2 pm on Saturday September 23.


Sunday September 24


Abbotsford Convent at 11 am

To the satisfaction of some of us, this one-day festival has been moved from its usual siting on Father’s Day – which means we won’t have to run home for the mandatory hours of family celebrations without a ghost of a chance (despite one’s best intentions) of coming back for some end-of-day recitals.  The action involves several regular contributors, as well as some unknown quantities.  But the name of the game is choice – a real one, not the fake sort that the Prime Minister promotes; as the hours pass by, you have the option of calling in on one of three or four simultaneous recitals.   The Arcadia Winds ensemble offer Barber’s Summer Music and Nielsen’s Wind Quintet on either side of Australian composer Lachlan Skipworth’s Echoes and Lines, a new piece currently being promoted by the Arcadians.  You can hear the Brahms Piano Quartet No. 2 with the same personnel as on Thursday September 14 above.  Stefan Cassomenos plays Liszt’s arrangement of the Beethoven A Major Symphony; Anna Goldsworthy serves up a grab bag of a Bach prelude-and-fugue double, some Schubert Impromptus, Prokofiev’s Five Sarcasms, and the Rigoletto Paraphrase by Liszt.  MITR’s organiser Chris Howlett takes up his cello and, accompanied by Rhodri Clarke, plays Rachmaninov’s Sonata and the lollipop Romance. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Sophie Rowell plays a Telemann fantasia, a Biber passacaglia and Julian Yu’s update on it.  Goldner Quartet member Julian Smiles presents Hindemith’s Sonata for solo cello, the second Bach suite, and Bloch’s Suite No. 1 for solo cello,  One of the MITR Young Performers for this year, Caleb Wong from ANAM, is to play the Bach E flat Cello Suite and Kodaly’s Solo Cello Suite.  The other, Jackie Wong, will also play Bach – the Sonata in G minor BWV 1001 –  and Prokofiev’s Sonata for Solo Violin.


Saturday September 30


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

A notable American percussionist who teaches at the University of California, San Diego, Schick is conducting masterclasses, observing the centenary of the birth of US great Lou Harrison, and generally making ANAM more aware of its inner rhythms.  This night’s menu features four US composers, so I don’t know where the night’s titular set-of-three reference applies.  Ives frames the occasion, which opens with the inspired clangour of From the Steeples and the Mountains and concludes with the almost-not-there The Unanswered Question.  Varese is also heard twice: first, in Offrandes which asks for a small orchestra as well as percussion and a soprano; then, the great Deserts, probably in the non-tape, shorter version.  At the heart of the program sits Harrison’s Concerto for violin with percussion orchestra which took some 18/19 years to complete and is rarely heard because of the eclectic variety of instruments required to accompany the athletic soloist – who is, at the time of writing, unidentified.  For good measure, Schick has thrown in Red Arc/Blue Veil by  John Luther Adams – a work for piano, mallet percussion and processed sounds. Put simply, this is one of ANAM’s most ambitious programs for the year, packed with demanding matter and a solid test of the participating musicians’ talents.


Saturday September 30


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

One of those works that flashes out new facets every time you hear it, Debussy’s three-movement marine panorama is a joy from start to finish.  Dutch conductor Otto Tausk has conducted in Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia, but not here, I think.  The 47-year-old is enjoying a remarkably active career and is currently in the process of taking over the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra from Bramwell Tovey.  By way of a leap into the ocean, Tausk conducts Stravinsky’s Scherzo fantasque, an early work that attracted the attention of Diaghilev (and we know where that led) and was influenced in part by Debussy.  Then, the concert makes one of those extraordinary changes of pace that rarely feature these days on MSO programs.  Israeli-Palestinian pianist Saleem Abboud Ashkar takes on the Brahms D minor Concerto to swing us away from ephemeral billows and spume and plunge us into the nitty-gritty of solid, hard-achieved (for the composer) certainty of purpose in a mighty musical monolith.

This program will be repeated on Monday October 2 at 6:30 pm.







August Diary

Saturday August 5


Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Seems like a bit of a cliche to refer to a violin as ‘singing’, but it’s better than ‘screeching’, I suppose.   Which is probably not the kindest thing to be talking about in reference to Sinkovsky who, as well as being a violin virtuoso, is also a countertenor.  His program is not just confined to Vivaldi and Locatelli, as some of the promotional material suggests, but also includes violin concertos by Leclair and Telemann and a chaconne by Aubert (presumably Jacques; not his son, Louis).  You’d have to assume that Sinkovsky will be directing as pretty much everything – apart from a two-horns concerto by Vivaldi – features violin.  What isn’t obvious is where the singing business comes in, although one of the Locatelli scores is a concerto grosso subtitled Il Pianto d’Arianna and so emotionally indebted to Monteverdi’s lyric; whether Sinkovsky intends to sing this piece as informative background is anyone’s guess.

This program will be repeated on Sunday August 6 at 5 pm.


Saturday August 5


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 7 pm

Here is another of the MSO’s film-with-live-soundtrack efforts.  It’s hard to know why this particular cinematic construct was chosen, especially as the organisation is content to have one screening only, possibly aware that the film turns up on free-to-air TV quite regularly.  While boasting an original score by British rock musician Jonny Greenwood, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film is notable above all for an extraordinary central performance by Daniel Day-Lewis.  Still, the whole point of these exercises – for me, at least – is hearing what the orchestra makes of the music which, in Greenwood’s case, involves some previously-composed material and a few snatches from the Brahms Violin Concerto and that bottomless mine of dejection, Arvo Part’s Fratres:  a work somehow suitable for this story of land- and soul-grabbers.


Sunday August 6


Australian Chamber Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 2:30 pm

Something along the lines of Richard Tognetti’s The Reef compendium, this exercise is basically a film comprising images of various ranges and peaks with appropriate music as a substitute for an Attenborough commentary.  But not entirely so: there is a script by Robert Macfarlane that is read by William Dafoe.  As with the MSO’s film soundtrack exercises, this holds interest for me chiefly for the musical content rather than the inspiring shots of snow-covered peaks and cloud-piercing summits.  In fact, the works played by the ACO are a dog’s breakfast: two slow movements by Beethoven (Violin and Emperor Concertos), three Vivaldis (the B minor Concerto for four violins, the start of Winter and the end of Summer), two pieces by Sculthorpe (Djilile and the First String Quartet’s Chorale bars), Chopin’s D flat Nocturne, another piano piece in Arvo Part’s Fur Alina, the galloping Praeludium to Grieg’s Holberg Suite, and an original composition by Tognetti.  That pretty much covers the gamut from Everest to Kosciuszko.

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


Thursday August 10


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

Guest conductor for this program is Jakub Hrusa, a very welcome visitor, not least for introducing us to Suk’s Asrael Symphony last September – a vivid, memorable night.  Here he escorts Ilina Ibragimova through Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2; she should have it well under her belt, having performed it three times in Sydney, once in Auckland and again in Hobart before she hits Hamer Hall.  It’s a demanding score but always a revelation because of the composer’s invention and command of texture.  As for the great symphony, the commentators and their revisions have left many of us marooned on an island of knowing and not-knowing: is it a daring anti-Stalinist manifesto, a nationalistic celebration, a graph of the composer’s emotional turmoil?  Interpretations are multiform, particularly with regard to the last movement; that strange book Testimony threw so many spanners into the works that whatever observations you make can be contradicted all too easily.  So you can end up thinking you have been inspired or depressed – or both.  One thing is certain: Hrusa will give the interpretation everything he’s got.

This program will be repeated on Saturday August 12 at 2 pm.


Saturday August 12

Takacs Quartet

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm.

Back they come, welcome as always.  For their first night, the group plays Haydn in F Major, the second of the Op. 77 and the last work in this form that the master completed; having set up the form over his life-time, the composer here shakes it around and isn’t concerned with applying any superficial gloss.  A neat balance comes in Beethoven’s Op. 127 where you can contrast the two writers’ slow movements and their treatment of variations at this late stage in their careers.  In the middle, the Takacs give the premiere of Carl Vine’s String Quartet No. 6, which carries the reassuring sub-title of Child’s Play.

On Tuesday August 22 at 7 pm, the musicians will present their Program II, starting with Haydn in D from the Op. 76.  It’s a bit confusing because, according to the publicity, I’m inferring that they are playing this work’s Largo only – or are they giving this whole work a nickname based on its second movement’s marking?  After this, they revisit the Carl Vine work from Program I, and finish with Dvorak No. 14: his last one and a work that you hear very rarely.


Saturday August 12


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7 pm

If you are constrained to have dealings with the world of rock, you could do much, much worse than treat with Frank Zappa who distinguished himself in a turgid universe of inanity by having a consciousness of history, being a true and trained musician, and remaining unafraid to exercise a working brain.  Australia’s finest pianist, Michael Kieran Harvey, is juxtaposing Zappa’s music with that of a true revolutionary, John Cage, in a night’s work that also includes the National Academy’s unfailingly able resident pianist, Timothy Young, the ne plus ultra of percussionists, Peter Neville, and assorted ANAM musicians.   On this program’s first half, we hear selections from the Sonatas and Interludes by Cage, written for prepared piano and one of the keyboard repertoire’s seminal contemporary masterpieces.   Also,  Neville comes into the mix with Cage’s four-movement Amores.  Then it’s all Zappa, or Zappa-derived.  Some pieces for harpsichord and virginal (but played on those instruments? I think not) by Francesco Zappa (1717-1803, and no relation) are followed by the half-difficult The Black Page Parts 1 and 2, all three minutes of  The Girl in the Magnesium Dress, the slightly-longer G-Spot Tornado, and the don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it Sofa,   Fleshing out the proceedings will be more selections, this time from Harvey’s own 48 Fugues for Frank – actually 10 pieces inspired by a swag of Zappa works.


Wednesday August 16


Peter Wispelwey

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Here begins the first of three recitals, under the Recital Centre’s own Great Performers banner, which have the formidable Dutch cellist working through pillars of his instrument’s repertoire in association with pianist Caroline Almonte.  These are lengthy events, and this first one is made even more so by the addition of pieces that are original but a bit of a come-down from the main works.  Wispelwey works through all five of Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas, as well as three sets of variations: the 12 on Mozart’s Ein Madchen oder Weibchen, then 7 on the same opera’s Papageno/Pamina duet Bei Mannern, and another 12 on Handel’s See, the conqu’ring hero comes. This certainly gives value for money and, as far as I can tell, comprises all the composer’s cello/piano output.


Thursday August 17


Peter Wispelwey

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Not a trace of extraneous material tonight.  Wispelwey has the stage to himself as he works in order through the six suites for solo cello.   It will take him a while – three hours, including two intervals – but we (and he, probably) will need the breaks to experience these works with the attention and respect that they deserve.  It’s not as though this sort of marathon hasn’t been presented before; I seem to remember Alfred Hornung doing a Bach marathon many years ago, although that might have been stretched out across a few nights.  But, from what I can remember of Wispelwey’s Bach playing, we’re in for some spectacular and idiosyncratic readings.


Friday August 18


Peter Wispelwey

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

This is the third and most orthodox of the formidable cellist’s programs.  Almonte accompanies him through both the canonic sonatas in E minor and F Major, and also through Paul Klengel’s arrangement of the Violin Sonata No. 1, transposed from G to D.  Well, I suppose it’s a sort of semi-authorised work and, without it, the performers would have under an hour’s worth of material with which to entertain us.  Yet, of all three concerts, this is the one that I find most attractive in that it isn’t a three-hour marathon, however well-intentioned, and the sonatas are works to come back to time and again to re-acquaint yourself with the composer’s expressive depths.  I used to accompany a talented student in them, first for exam purposes, then for sheer pleasure in their catacombs of delight.


Friday August 18


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

We can only hope that ANAM runs to a full orchestra on this night because much of the concert relies on opulent sound washes, as well as a concluding bout of spiky dissonance.  Bradman, a highly gifted soprano, simply gets better and better each time she appears, her range of colours more expansive and the power of her voice heightened on each re-acquaintance.  This program is a well-organized retrospective of German late Romantic music and the currents that were running simultaneously with its last harvest.  At the centre come Strauss’s Four Last Songs of 1948, a sequence of lustrously orchestrated farewells with a vocal part of great beauty.  Some commentators find them sentimental but to others they speak of boundless regret and a welcoming embrace of mortality.  Bradman also sings Marietta’s Lied from Korngold’s opera Die tote Stadt, written in 1920 and an astonishing success for the 23-year-old composer; the song itself is a post-Rosenkavalier gem with a toweringly fine vocal line. As well, we hear the final scene from Strauss’s Daphne of 1938, which involves the heroine’s transformation into a tree with an intensely difficult postlude for the orchestra.  As for the other near-contemporaneous currents, guest conductor Matthias Foremny directs the suite (the one assembled by Karel Salomon, I assume)  from Weill’s 1933 play-with-lots-of-music Der Silbersee, and he rounds out the seminar with Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony Op. 9 for fifteen instruments which, coming from 1906, is the oldest music of the night in its dating but the most challenging and advanced in purely musical terms.

This program is repeated on Saturday August 19 at 2:30 pm


Friday August 18


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

Johannes Fritzsch is returning to conduct the last of Schumann’s symphonies and the most appealing to a modern-day audience; not that you get many opportunities to hear any of them these days.  Fritzsch has had successful relationships with the Queensland and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras, as well as Opera Australia; his appearances here in my memory started some 12 years ago with Orchestra Victoria and most recently he fronted the MSO in a fair-to-good Mozart/Strauss night.  Soloist for this occasion is popular cellist Li-Wei Qin who gives his all in the Dvorak Concerto, full to the brim with eloquent melodiousness.  The evening’s novelty comes in Manfred Trojahn’s Cinque sogni per Eusebius, written for Dusseldorf in 2010 and comprising five brief meditations devoted to one of Schumann’s artistic personalities in the best schizophrenic E.T.A. Hoffmann mode.

This program will be repeated at 8 pm on Saturday August 19 and at 6:30 pm on Monday August 21.


Sunday August 20


Team of Pianists

Rippon Lea at 6:30 pm

A bit of a stretch; we all know the Three Bs but dragging in Bernstein as No. 4 is a tad cheeky.   In their penultimate recital for the year, the Team will be represented by Robert Chamberlain, while the guests are familiar locals: clarinet Robert Schubert and cello Josephine Vains.  With that personnel, the Beethoven is a giveaway: the Gassenhauer Trio which has been a specialty of Ensemble Liaison.  The Brahms is a predictable entity, too: the A minor Clarinet Trio, one of the luminous works from the composer’s last years.  As for the Bach, this is a straight gamba sonata, the D Major BWV 1028, which the clarinet will presumably sit out.  Bernstein’s work is one most of us will not have encountered: Variations on an Octatonic Scale.  Originally for recorder and cello, here it will appear in its clarinet-cello arrangement and, although I’ve not heard it, I’d assume that the composer will observe his title’s restrictions and employ a scale that moves in alternating tone and semi-tone steps.


Saturday August 26


Australian National Academy of Music

South Melbourne Town Hall at 7:30 pm

Back  in Melbourne for a short visit, after recitals up the east coast and Beethoven concerto nights with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, British pianist Imogen Cooper is appearing only once in Melbourne with some of the Academy Musicians in a chamber music evening – a unique occurrence on this tour, I believe.  She begins with the Beethoven Trio Op. 1 No. 1 in E flat. She winds up with Beethoven as well: the Quintet for piano and winds Op. 16 which, unlike the trio, you won’t hear often.  In the middle, Cooper is performing one of the more interesting elements of her current solo recital offerings: Thomas Ades’ Darknesse Visible, a re-working of Dowland’s song, In darkness let me dwell where the original melody is present but your attention is distracted by pointillist interruptions and a constant tremolo.


Saturday August 26


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

Sir Andrew Davis likes Massenet’s opera, it would seem.  For the MSO’s mid-season gala, he will conduct a concert version of this work, from which most of us know only the Meditation: a gift for any pit’s concertmaster.  This opera is yet another one that most of us will not have seen, although I think that at one time its popularity was pretty high.  Oddly enough, Opera Australia will have presented a concert version of the same work a month before this MSO night, but in the Sydney Town Hall which will do nobody any favours, least of all leading lady Nicole Car.  As for Sir Andrew’s singers, the heroine is Erin Wall; one of the conductor’s Lyric Opera of Chicago graduates; she has been heard here in Davis’ reading of the Mahler Symphony No. 2 and singing a highly commendable Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss. Her lover, Athaneal, will be American baritone and Lyric Opera of Chicago regular, Quinn  Kelsey.  The Senior monk in Athaneal’s monastery, Palemon, is formidable Australian bass, Daniel Sumegi.  As Nicias, Athaneal’s sybaritic friend, is young Mexican-born tenor Diego Silva.  Liane Keegan has the role of Albine, the mother superior nun who takes in the reformed Thais, while Jacqueline Porter and Fiona Campbell sing the parts of Nicias’ slaves, Crobyle and Myrtale.  The MSO Chorus will oscillate between sacred and profane crowds as required.  Now to get a score and see what’s coming.


Sunday August 27

The Melbourne Musicians

St John’s Southgate at 3 pm

Frank Pam and his string chamber orchestra are hosting three guests this afternoon: oboe Jane Gilby, who is a regular with the Musicians;  Anne Harvey-Nagl, a violinist born in Melbourne but who formed a career in Europe with considerable success; and soprano Sarah Lobegeiger de Rodriguez who appeared with the Musicians last year.  Two composers are programmed: Handel – arias from the oratorios, yet to be specified – and Telemann for whom we are celebrating the 250th anniversary of his death.  Harvey-Nagl will take us through the courtly pleasures of two Telemann concertos, Gilby heads an oboe concerto, both guest instrumentalists combine for a double concerto in C minor, and Lobegeiger de Rodriguez will undertake an Ascension Day cantata: Gott will Mensch und sterblich werden.  Telemann’s cantatas are more modest constructs than Bach’s, usually consisting of two arias connected by a recitative and featuring a solo instrument and continuo under the solo voice – very chaste and probably a relief to congregations of the time.


Tuesday August 29

Andrey Gugnin

Camberwell Boys Grammar School at 7:30 pm

Gugnin won the Sydney International Piano Competition in 2016 and is here reaching the end of a tour of Australia – 32 recitals from the last day of June to September 2.  He must be a formidable talent; not only did he get First Prize overall, but also he gained awards for the Best Overall Concerto Award,  Best 19th or 20th Century Concerto, Best Violin and Piano Sonata, and Best Preliminaries Round 1 Recital.  Very laudable, although such a catalogue does smack of Sydney overkill.  He’s Russian-born and has won other competitions in Salt Lake City and Valsesia, as well as second places in Vienna and Zagreb. At Camberwell, he will play a wide-ranging program; his 90-minute one as opposed to a shorter hour-long one.  He starts with Bach, the Adagio BWV 968 which is a transcription of the opening to the composer’s Violin Sonata No. 3.   Well, it’s short.   Completely warmed-up by now, he continues with Schubert’s Gasteiner D Major Sonata and that’s it for the Germans.   His second half turns homeward as he opens with Shostakovich’s Piano Sonata No. 1 from a time when the composer was a really contemporary voice – this piece bristling with difficulty and aggression.  Leonid Desyatnikov is a less familiar Russian voice; a notable film and opera composer, he is here represented by his seven Reminiscences of the Theatre.  A sudden interruption to the Slavic mode comes with one of Michael Kieran Harvey’s 48 Fugues for Frank (see August 12 above): No. 6 of the ten, G-Spot Tornado.  And, in case you haven’t had enough fireworks, Gugnin closes up shop with the Three Movements from Petrushka that Stravinsky organised for his cobber, Arthur Rubinstein.   90 minutes, eh?


Thursday August 31


Ensemble Liaison

Melbourne Recital Centre at 7 pm

Not a great fan of the tango; perhaps suffering from a Clive James overload.  Still, you live and learn with concerts like these and it will be a pleasure to hear accordionist James Crabb again; last time in town, I believe he was collaborating with Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, although that seems a long time ago.  With the Liaisoners, his sound envelope is smaller but more ‘pure’, as they say in Tangoland.  Of course, there is a swag of Piazzolla as arranged by Crabb himself: Milonga del Angel, La Muerta del Angel, Romance del Diablo, Vayamos al Diablo – all revenants from the ACO/Crabb Piazzolla disc of 2003.  John Mackey’s Breakdown Tango is for the Liaison personnel configuration but will require the additional services of a violin; in this case, Paul Wright.  Another tango emerges in Desde adentro by Antonio Agri and Jose Carli – another Crabb arrangement although the version I’ve heard asks for string quintet and piano as well as accordion. Away from the Latin, we hear some Scottish folk dances mediated by Crabb, and his arrangement of Franck’s organ work, Prelude, Fugue and Variation.  And the night begins with Liaison leader David Griffiths’ arrangement of Five Bagatelles for string trio and harmonium by Dvorak; the organizational mechanics should be entertaining.


Thursday August 31


Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Hamer Hall at 8 pm

Skipping sideways from his Mahler conducting odyssey with the MSO, Sir Andrew has decided to unveil for us the world of Bruckner through the Symphony No. 7 in E Major.  Not only will he direct the performance – a touch over an hour long – but he will give us an illustrated (musically) lecture in the concert’s first half, which could be either great or gruesome.  What remains a puzzle is why the conductor feels the need to educate us; the work itself has been standard in the repertoire for many years and, if local performances are rare, recorded ones of the various versions are thick on the ground, including one by Davis with the BBC Symphony Orchestra of nearly 20 years ago.  Nevertheless, the score holds a wealth of melody and transubstantiations, so I’m expecting a thoroughly detailed 35 minutes of profound exegesis.

This program will be repeated at 8 pm on Friday September 1  and at 2 pm on Saturday September 2.