28 February 2014

Plexus: We have Lift Off

Plexus: Monica Curro, violin; Philip Arkinstall, clarinet; Stephan Cassomenos, piano
45 Downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
24 February 2014

“Plexus”, he told me, “they’re the hottest thing in town.” Correct! but hardly an unbiased opinion given he, Paul Dean, was in music school with the violinist, Monica Curro, Philip Arkinstall plays clarinet as does Dean, and the trio were about to premier his new trio.

Stephan Cassomenos, Monica Curro, Philip Arkinstall

Plexus ‘had blast off’ with Jennifer Higdon’s 2001 Dash then Khachaturian’s 1932 Trio. In Trio, Stefan Cassomenos’s brilliant piano playing underpinned the thorny folk-song themes with his characteristic romanticism. The piano-tragic in me would pay extra for a piano-view seat to watch him play.

Five world premieres by Australian composers followed. Plexus was joined by cellist Michelle Wood for Hugh Crosthwaite’s Mountain Ash. The cello and Crosthwaite’s classical and rock allusions took us deep into the wet forest floor. Plexus were very much at home there. Next, Judith Dodsworth was in total revenge-mode in Nicholas Routley’s difficult ‘Draupadi’s Aria’ from his opera Draupadi. Then the Trio premiered Ian Whitney’s Tanzendanses: movement mannerisms lifted from baroque – very 21st century baroque – dances. Next, Mrs Fantasia the Timekeeper – a black and white (and red) silent film built on references to Chaplin, Marceau and Dadaism set to music by Daniel Clive McCallum – was an exercise in time-keeping by the Trio that worked spectacularly well.

Dean’s four Fragmented Journeys from ‘Fraught’ to ‘Emergency’ show a mind stressed beyond endurance and Plexus had to deal with it. Each instrument was stretched to its limits. Each player was extended emotionally and technically. Dean wrote that the clarinet part is horrendous and he was glad he was not playing it. The same holds true for the violin and piano parts.

Screen dump; Paul Dean discussing his new string quartet for Flinders Quartet with me, February 2014.

Whoever said, ‘playing classical music is doing something difficult and making it look easy’ had Plexus’s Monday’s inaugural recital and their high-level music-making in mind. The sell-out audience, who responded with roars of approval, agreed.

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