19 March 2014

ANAM: Sound Bite

ANAM Musicians
Tuesday 18 March

A heap of kids came out to play today. My god! (whomever she might be) could they play! They tackled some of the most difficult writing and the little (if you exclude the four trombones!) buggers made it look and sound easy as true experts do. The Boss, Paul Dean, was in the audience but that didn’t seem to concern them. Afterwards, any of them within arm’s reach got a bear hug from him such is his ferocious reputation.

Jennifer Timmins and David Shaw produced a masterful playing of Ecuadorian Diego Luzuriaga’s Tierra...Tierra for two flutes (1992). The long, mellifluous opening notes gave way to the cold winds of the pampas then the icy winds of the plains further Antarctic-wards. Raptors wheeled and screamed in huge sweeping arcs (or so it seemed to me). Simply wonderful playing.
 Diego Luzuriaga

Nigel Westlake’s Omphalo Centric Lecture for two marimbas (1984 – 2007) was, inevitably, reminiscent of Ross Edwards’ Marimba Dances. This piece had virtuosi Thea Rossen, Kaylie Melville, Hamish Upton and Hugh Tidy, wielding multiple mallets per hand, to produce music of extraordinary richness and colour as the four musicians shared two piano-sized – and a few un-tuned – instruments. The dynamics were beautifully controlled; the cross rhythms, subtle.

Peter Maxwell Davies Presto Molto from Sea Eagle (2002) brought French Hornist Alden Cai out in white tie and black-trimmed white tails. Was he hedging his bets – ‘look at me don’t listen to me too closely’? Could he play the thing? Yes. Did he understand P M Davies? Yes. Could he handle the tempestuous, virtuosic writing? Yes. Would he have sounded even better in jeans and tee shirt? Yes, because we wouldn’t have been wondering what the clobber was for. He did look terrific in it but not at 1 pm on a Tuesday arvo, Alden.

Sergei Prokofiev’s Five Sarcasms Op. 17 for piano (1912 – 1914) is not for wimps. Julia Hastings is no wimp. She attacked this very difficult work – that is all the more difficult because it takes a sardonic look back at Rachmaninov’s romantic writing – with skill and vigour. Not once did we think she had failed to conquer it at any level, technically or intellectually. She resisted the current fad of over-pedalling to produce sounds of clarity and wit. Her mastery of single-note melodies over rich, smooth, pedalled arpeggios was delicious. South Melbourne Town Hall loves the big sounds. It loves Julia’s big piano.

Emanuel Lasker: Denker Weltenbürger Schachweltmeister , Forster, Hansen and Negele  eds. Berlin, 2009 p.139

Anton Bruckner’s Three Motets arranged for four trombones (1869 – 1892) brought four big trombones to the stage. This quartet was superbly balanced; the highly chromatic locus iste was rich and warm. The men (Ben Lovell, Iain Faragher, Ashley Carter and Matthew McGeachin) gave each phrase time to breath and they made excellent use of the hall’s two-second decay resonance. This performance seemed to emerge from deep in their souls; it was dark chocolate ganache – with definition.

long, smooth choral lines

Some ninny (Peter Garret) tried to close this joint down a few years ago. Is ANAM elitist? Too right! Should it be? Absolutely! Before anyone tries that trick again they should get their arse down there and listen to Australia’s best young musicians.

08 March 2014

Zoë Knighton and Amir Farid: France to Argentina

Zoë Knighton and Amir Farid
45 Downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
5 March 2014

Persons such as me with certain disabilities go pale at the two flights of stairs down to the concert space of 45 Downstairs: roughly as steep as the final ascent of Everest without the snow. Andy admits the vertiginously challenged through Tradesperson’s Entrance from a lane off a lane off Flinders Street. The 1900s style warehouse is of ancient brick, wobbly glass, steel beams and a beautifully solid old Baltic pine floor. The architectural features conspire to make the space acoustically it’s superb and it loves cello-ish sounds. It loves cellos. It love pianos.

45 is one of the five-year old Knighton-Farid Duo’s homes and they were obviously happy there on Wednesday night. So was the audience – glass of chardy in hand.

The recital was part of Mary-Lou Jelbart’s Festival of Words and Music. The music bit on Wednesday was K & F’s continuum of French to Argentinian – and back again – music. The program notes promised ‘sumptuous romanticism’. K & F delivered without a hint of soup. Their secret was judicious use of rubato: just enough to deliver romanticism but not so much as to cloy or interrupt the march of the music. That secret made the program opener, Debussy (Claire de Lune) new all over again and it continued – via Bragato and Solare – through the rare and beautiful Huré sonata and the equally rare Nadia Boulanger pieces back to Debussy. The Italian José Bragato was Piazolla’s cellist and Piazolla was Boulanger’s student so the transition from 20th century French music to Argentina was fixed. Clever programming and it worked superbly: the duo is very much at home in Argentina.

Huré's 1929 cello sonata could easily have been cello with piano accompaniment. Huré was an organist by trade – and a contemporary of Widor – so he knew about multiple levels of harmony. K & F knew about that idea too. We heard, by turns, bitter and sweet, longing and yearning. Huré wasn’t Jewsh but the ghosts of the Jewish rag traders in the warehouse came out to listen.

Boulanger’s three pieces had piquant transitions of harmony from major to minor and back again and back again. The Duo used these to produce superb emotional arcs that found Boulanger’s witty, acerbic and assertive ideas. There were hints of Argentina, too I think … possibly … and I imagined the pair each with a red rose, tango-like, in teeth, behind an ear, in the hair.

For me, though, they absolutely shone in Debussy’s late cello sonata with its hints of the 1910-ish The Girl with the Flaxen Hair and The Engulfed Cathedral. Not surprisingly, the piece is considered technically demanding but there were no hints of that with this pair. Their technical mastery and superb musicianship were clear.

03 March 2014

Victorian Opera's 2014 Master of Music

Victorian Opera

2014 Master of Music (Opera Performance)

Student recital

Horti Hall. Victoria Street, Melbourne
Saturday 1 March 2014

It was the socks. A touch of irony, a tiny statement of independence: ‘I’m not your average self-effacing accompanist,’ they said. There’s fun to be had in classical music, even in opera. And like the best of jokes, it was subtle – only visible when he sat at the piano. A Tardis motif on the top of his black socks peeped out from his black trouser cuffs. Classical musicians (ladies) are expected to wear colour – the more startling the better. Classical musicians (gentlemen) are expected to wear black unless they are forced to wear white tie and tails circa 1950 (actually more like circa 1913). Classical musicians (gentlemen, wicked) wear lurid paisley or tartan socks or a thin tartan tie swiped from their grandfather. Just a little protest against convention, you understand.

Simon Bruckard

The ‘he’ was Simon Bruckard and he is a very rare bird indeed: one of eight young graduate musicians selected from a field of 70 applicants as the second intake of Victorian Opera’s Master of Music program. He, more unusually, is a repetiteur. He has a dry sense of humour. He will need it. The occasion was their first student recital and he was associate artist with seven singers.

He (the pianist) and them (the singers) face two years of very intensive singing coaching, Italian language study, diction training in French, English, German and Russian – with exams – and opera stage-craft. And just in case they get a role in The Magic Pudding, puppetry. Towards the end they’ll be put through the wringer of a master class with Australia’s Wagnerian soprano great, Lisa Gasteen. I first saw her singing sfortzando (very, very loud) no microphone, flat on her back in a huge, circular gas oven towards the end of Gotterdammerung, the last opera in the Adelaide Ring Cycle. It was hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck stuff.

When she’s teaching senior students Ms Gasteen gives absolutely no quarter. Elizabeth, one of her former students, a Queensland Con. graduate, told me she’s a gentle sweetie. When I saw taking a master class in 2013 it was more like Attila the Hun-sweetie.

Kate Amos

Kate Amos has positioned herself well with a diploma in Italian – and study in Italy – a rich soprano voice and an ability to sing - and act - the coquettish, strong-willed maiden in Don Pasquale.

Nathan Lay

Nathan Lay, whose wicked grin would have got him out of most trouble in  class, already has a swag of prizes and major roles in opera. His voice has settled into a rich baritone. It's clear that he has the voice and the temperament to play Billy Bluegum in The Pudding. Typecast? Not a bit. His beautiful singing of Sir Riccardo Forth's “Oh! Forever I have lost you“ in I Purtani says otherwise.

Cristina Russo
Cristina Russo describes herself as an Italo-Australian soprano. She – BA, B Mus (Italian) – settled, eyes flashing, into Il barbeier di Siviglia as if she’d been born to it. Simply beautiful; simply spectacular.

Matthew Tng

Matthew Tng has already gathered a collection of prestigious awards. He has performed a heap of roles in recent VO productions and covered Chou En Lai in VO’s 2013 Nixon in China. He's walked away with lots of prizes and awards and has been involved in high-level master classes. It shows. His singing of Fritz's yearning dance song from Die Tote Stadt was superb. There is a lyric baritone to watch.

Michael Petruccelli

Michael Petruccelli had to deal with the problem of what to do during a soliloquy (not very much; keep your hands still, Michael) in Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin. He had that most difficult of singing problems – a long piano note – under control though. Singing a loud high note is relatively easy but maintaining power in the production of pianissimo at the end of a phrase is a killer. 
Emma Muir-Smith
Emma Muir-Smith has the most wonderful mezzo voice and she knows how to user it. Her aria from Faust was simply superb. No histrionics, no ‘look at me’ stuff. She simply let the music take its course by acting as if she wasn’t acting.

Elizabeth Lewis

Elizabeth Lewis had it organised. She also had the long, descending scales towards the end of her La Cenerentola aria well-organised even if she does have a problem with a single note in the transition from head to chest voice on the way down. She was one of only two singers who told us that 'she and Simon' – Michael was the other – 'were going to perform'. The others were, presumably, singing alone.

Be nice to your associate artist, boys and girls. It’s said he can make or break you. In truth he can just break you. He slows your long phrase by five percent, you run out of puff two long notes before the end of the phrase. “But we rehearsed it like that didn’t we?” all innocence. Of course any pianist who wears Dr Who socks is innocent, yes?

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra: Mozart's last concerto

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra
Anna Goldsworthy, piano
Deakin Edge
Friday 28 February 2014

It’s thought to be a truism that if you program a piano the hall will be full. It must also be true that if you program a Mozart piano concerto the hall will be full-er. It is certainly true that Deakin Edge was nearly full last Friday evening but the truism serves only to denigrate the band and the pianist. Both have are now compelling reasons to fill a hall in their own right.

William Hennessey’s Melbourne Chamber orchestra, studded as it is with ANAM graduates and members of chamber groups that are well-known around Australia, are so musically expert that they worked without a conductor for most of this concert. The strings were not as razor sharp as, say, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, but they were warmer and musically aware enough to work with a soloist with no-one pointing at them. They were able to play like a small chamber group watching and listening to the pianist in order to play with her rather than against her. Anna Goldsworthy, the pianist concerned, has had 20 years playing with Seraphim Trio. My observation was that the orchestra-pianist relationship was like a very big piano trio – one with double bassoons, oboes, horns and strings. She knew what she was doing and so did MCO.

Anna Goldsworthy not playing Mozart
Anna played Mozart’s last piano concerto with absolute assurance. Every note earned its keep. Every phrase was nuanced and shaped so that Mozart’s classical structure was given the tiniest touch of romanticism. Her pedalling was delicate so that every note was heard to it’s written value. Last year I heard Angela Hewitt play a Beethoven piano sonata with so much sustain pedal that notes struggled to rise above the indistinguishable. There was none of that here. This performance was not about egos. It was about what Mozart had to say: clever, very inventive and highly chromatic music writing. So Anna’s playing was at once liquid and sparkling so she became the star simply by not attempting to be so.

The same was true of the band’s playing of Mozart’s 36th symphony for strings and tympani, and double bassoons, oboes, horns and trumpets. No maestro, no podium, no white ties and tails, no pomp and circumstance. The conspiracy between Emma Sullivan, double bass and John Acaro, tympani, to instance but one example, was pure joy: single, gentle tympani notes that blended into the bass notes to underpin the rest of the orchestra.

The trains rumbled underneath, the silver gulls wheeled about outside, St Paul’s bells invaded gently and the odd rubbernecker peered through the glass polygons. MCO was alive and well and at home.