Last Saturday to see the Australia Ensemble with my regular companion for these concerts, P.
The concert was billed as featuring Scottish accordionist, James Crabb, and I have to admit I was trepidatious. Despite the enthusiastic write-up by Professor Covell in the ensemble’s newsletter, I wasn’t too sure how I would feel about an entire second half of tangos and other squeeze-box numbers. I determined to keep an open mind.
Pausing outside the hall before the concert, P and I were surprised to see a security guard. He told us he was there because the governor general was expected. Later he asked us if we knew what she looked like because he was concerned that somebody was parking in a spot reserved for her. We told him to the best of our recollection. The car was moved on.
A little while later I spotted a a car with a furled flag and then a tallish chap in white dress uniform going through the crowd who was obviousy an aide-de-camp. Viceroyalty was amongst us.
The security guard asked us when we thought the concert would finish. P said she thought it would finish about 10pm.
The ensemble’s clarinetist, Catherine McCorkill, was indisposed. The newsletter announced that this went right back to Salome, last year, when CMcC played rather more E flat clarinet than she usually does. That’s the smaller, higher [-est, est?] clarinet, so I can imagine the angles for ducking your knuckle onto various keys might all be a bit more acute. Musician’s injuries are funny things – not in the ha-ha- sense of course, and not for the musician, but rather because of how the smallest physical injury can nevertheless have a big impact owing to the limited tolerances musicians play up against. The only silver lining is that at least CMcC sustained this shortly after she was appointed associate principal at the AOBO, though with modern reforms to workplace injury law that might not be such a comfort as once it would have been. Still, it would make things simpler than phoning in with an injury after a contract/guest engagement.
CMcC was replaced by Dean Newcomb, principal clarinet of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Dean is a milder-mannered player than CMcC, but then almost every clarinetist is.
The program was:
Vincent d’INDY (1851-1931):
Chanson et danses Opus 50 for flute, oboe, two clarinets, horn and two bassoons (1898)
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868):
From Sins of Old Age (Péchés de Vieillesse) arr. Ian Munro for flute, clarinet and piano (1857-1868)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901):
String Quartet in E minor (1873) – 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth
A James CRABB gallery of music for accordion, flute, clarinet, two violins, viola, cello and piano, with works by:
Torbjörn Iwan LUNDQUIST (1920-2000) – Movements this was a kind of mini concerto for accordion and string quartet
César FRANCK (1822-1890) Prelude, fugue et variation in B minor originally for harmonium and piano written for two sisters
Jukka TIENSUU (b 1948)- a tango.
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904) Bagatelles, Op. 47, for two violins, cello, and (originally) harmonium
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992) the famous Tango Libertad but as an encore another more soulful number called “Oblivion” – these both arranged for accordion and the Oz Ensemble’s full complement.
From the point of view of the regular ensemble, the d’Indy was a bit like the proverbial nail soup – only Geoffrey Collins was a regular member. P thought the ensemble a bit ragged. I didn’t mind that, to the extent that I picked it up, because I find all such wind ensemble music utterly beguiling, even when written by an anti-Freyfusard monarchist and anti-semite..
The Rossini was pleasant enough. Part of the “joke” of the middle one, which sent up alpine melodies of the sort assayed by Rossini himself in “William Tell,” was that these things go on rather a lot, which it did.
Despite the big write up by Prof Covell in his notes I can’t say I really adjusted to the Verdi. It still sounded like Verdi, especially a little vocalish ornament which recurs at the cadences.
The second half commenced energetically with the Tunquist and my reservations were immediately overcome. Of the other pieces, the Franck was the most pleasant surprise, and “Oblivion” (the encore) the highlight.
Crabb plays an accordion with buttons rather than a keyboard. It doesn’t seem to have chords as an accordion does. He can command a wide range of articulation in the sense of duration and phrasing of notes. As far as I can make out, there is a limitation in that the pressure of the air applies to all notes at once, but within that limitation, manipulation of the bellows provides an enormous range of dynamics and vibrato and other expressiveness within the notes coming together. This can be rhythmically very compelling.
The only reservation which remains for me is that the reed sound of the instrument, especially its upper partials, remained pretty persistent and, to me, at times a bit too insistent.
Maybe we started late. The interval was a little longer than usual, though it never conforms to its advertised 15 minutes. Before embarking on the encore, Dene Olding observed that this concert had set a new record for late-finishing for the the AE. By the time we left it was almost a quarter to eleven.
On our way out we explained apologetically to the security guard that the late finish was unprecedented.
I never did see Quentin Bryce. Apparently (though I didn’t see her either) Marie Bashir was there.