Transfigured Night

On Saturday to the first Australia Ensemble concert for the year. It’s good to be back.

The program was:

Joaquín TURINA (1882-1949): Circulo Op.91 (1942)
Don BANKS (1923-1980): Prologue, Night Piece and Blues for Two (1968)
Luigi DALLAPICCOLA (1904-1975): Piccola musica notturna (1954)
Ravi SHANKAR (1920-2012): L’Aube Enchantée (The Enchanted Dawn) (1976)
[Interval]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828): Notturno D897 in E flat Op.148 (c.1827)
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951): Verklärte Nacht Op.4 (Transfigured Night) (1899)

The Turina was effectively a short piano trio in three (titled) movements.  A few little quirks aside it could have been written in Paris in about 1900 rather than in Madrid in 1942.

I’d never heard of Turina.  The program notes said he was persecuted by the Republicans during the civil war.  I’m not saying that never  to anyone (far from it) but these days it is a rare distinction to be claimed on behalf of anyone.

The piece was quite unknown to me: a bit of internet burrowing suggests that it may have come to the Australia Ensemble via a performance given by Julian Smiles as one of Katherine Selby’s “friends” (as opposed to former members of the Macquarie Trio, who presumably are not) in 2013.  The first movement was particularly lush.

I would like to have got more out of the the Dallapicola than I did.  The Ravi Shankar struck me as verging on musical blackface: harp and flute pretending to be Indian instruments.  It was fun at first but perhaps it was my ignorance that led me to feel by the end that it was going on a bit, whatever admiration I had for the virtuosity of the players and particularly Geoffrey Collins.  Too many notes! I was beginning to think – and certainly there were a lot.  Still, I always enjoy a good dose of harp and despite early exposure to the Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto it must be said that flute and harp make a good combination.  The Banks was enjoyable without I think even professing to be profound.

Before the concert, P, my A-E-going companion, said that she was looking forward to hearing the Schubert Notturno as she hadn’t heard it before.  It is actually an orphan piano trio slow movement.  Once we had heard it she agreed that she probably had heard it: I was sure I had.  I enjoyed it.  How can one not enjoy a Schubert slow movement?  There is one slightly idiosyncratic passage when the strings break out rather unexpectedly into pizzicato to accompany the theme, sustained by the piano:

Schubert Notturno fragment

This still sounded odd when it returned.  I wonder if that moment has something to do with the movement’s failure to find parents.

The Schoenberg, after which the concert and this year’s series were named, was the undeniable highlight.  The core quartet was joined by Umberto Clerici and Justin Williams from the SSO.  We don’t get to hear string sextets that often but when we do  I am struck at how rich yet intimate they can be.

It’s hard to avoid clichés like “absorbing” and “compelling” so what the hell, I haven’t avoided them. I loved the bit which corresponds to when in the eponymous poem the man tells the woman who has just told him she bears another’s child that his love for her is unassailed, even deepened.  Julian Smiles came in with a big bright sound that blazed out transfiguration. The final section with its night twitters, was spellbinding.  I doubt if the orchestral version could ever match this.

 

 

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