03 November 2015

ANAM: Adam McMillan and Laurence Matheson

South Melbourne Town Hall
Monday 1 November 2015

RAVEL, Gaspard de la nuit
Adam McMillan

“A great musician is a great gastronome”, some bloke may have said about Rossini. The evidence included Rossini’s great corporation. There are exceptions. Adam McMcMillan, evidently, is an exceptional musician.

Ravel wrote some incredibly difficult music. Whether or not a pianist gets it technically is pretty obvious.
Adam did.

Much more subtly, whether or not a pianist gets it musically is a matter of emotional judgement.
Adam did.

Gaspard de la nuit of 1908 is instantly recognisable as Ravel and the first of the three poèmes, Ondine is set in constantly rippling water, writing that suggests Ravel understood chaos theory.

To play Gaspard – particularly to an educated, experienced audience (about 100 retirees and fellow students) – suggests supreme confidence, high-order foolishness or technical and musical competence of an extraordinary order. At about the one-minute mark, I’d opted for the technical bit. At about the three-minute mark I’d firmly decided on the musical bit too because Adam had answered my fundamental question about this piece, Was he finding the images and painting them for me?

Like the ripples in Ondine’s water that are nothing but the location of water molecules in three dimensions, Ravel’s – and Adam’s – music are nothing more than soundwaves in time. Neither the ripples nor the music exist until I stand back and see (or hear) it in perspective. The magic of Adam’s performance was that underneath the chaos of the ripples he found the melodic line (Ondine?). Fiendish stuff to play. Even more difficult to make work.

Gaspard de la Nuit, Ondine last page. Note the ppp

But as is the way of consummate musicians, apart from the cascades of notes that encompassed the entire range of the Steinway, Adam never let it sound like hard work.

The B-flat octave ostinato tolls aggravatingly throughout Le Gibet – admittedly much more aggravatingly to the poor blighter swaying in the breeze from the gallows. The rich backdrop of Ravel’s minor chords, often exhilarating in his work, only make the tolling worse. More technical brilliance; more superb musicianship.

Gaspard de la Nuit, Le Gibet

The dwarf, Scarbo, emerged, laughed, taunted, threatened. On a wickedness scale of one to ten, he represented a score of 13. Adam found his malevolence in bucket loads in Ravel’s wonderful highly chromatic score.

Gaspard de la Nuit, Scarbo

Has an ANAM end-of-year recital ever generated a standing ovation? This got pretty damn close.

RACHMANINOV, Suite no. 2 for two pianos in C minor op. 17
Adam McMillan
Laurence Matheson

If Ravel is an impressionist – even though he rejected the description – this piece is pure Rachmaninov-romanticism. There are hints of the two great piano concertos – Two and Three – every few minutes. It has “soaring melodies building to a dramatic climax” (Adam) that brand this music as gut-grabbing Rachmaninov. And the notes, the number of notes. The two pianists had 20 cm fingers and six or seven on each hand.

But it wasn’t difficult; It wasn’t hard work – or it didn’t seem so. It was cascades of gorgeous music that left a gent in front of me grinning with delight as he applauded.

Critical to the success of this performance – apart from the technical wizardry – was the synergy of two pianists controlling the rubatos (rubati?) by gut; clearly they couldn’t see each other’s hands.

Two superb pianists, one superlative composition; one splendid recital. Bravo, gentlemen!

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