Last Saturday night with my old friend and some-time piano teacher P to the Australia Ensemble’s first concert of the year, entitled Russian Legends.
The program was:
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971):L’histoire du soldat (Soldier’s Tale Suite)(1918)
Sofia Gubaidulina (b 1931):Allegro Rustico (1963) and Sounds of the Forest (1978)
Anton Arensky (1861-1906): Piano Trio no.1 Op.32 (1894)
Elena Kats-Chernin (b 1957): Three Rags (1996)
Alexander Borodin (1833-1887): String Quartet no. 2(1881)
The Stravinsky was an arrangement by the composer for violin, clarinet and piano written for a patron who had financed the original work. The clarinettist was the ensemble’s seemingly now-permanent guest artist, David Griffiths. That probably means that the UNSW is never again going to make a permanent appointment to the Ensemble of the sort the other members enjoy.
Dene Olding was in particularly fine form for the devilish violin part.
I really enjoyed the Gubaidulina, which were for flute and piano, despite a few really shocking audience noises. I find I am a sucker for flutter tonguing on the flute in much the way I am for mutes on strings.
I expect it is because I have heard Geoffrey Collins so often with the Ensemble that I find his style highly recognisable when he pops up on the radio, either in some Australian chamber work or by his distinctive (to me) contribution to the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra as their principal flute. Wouldn’t it be nice if he could fill in a few principal gigs with the SSO while they don’t have their own?
The Arensky didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but that was more the work than the performance and my expectations were probably pitched too high. It features a massive piano part – in previous years set as a choice but rarely if ever chosen in the Sydney International Piano Competition. In the first movement, the effect was almost comic with Dimity Hall and Julian Smiles seemingly unperturbed by fairly straightforward material for the violin and cello whilst in almost a parallel world Ian Munro cooked up a storm behind them. The balance of energy became more even in the last two movements.
I wasn’t so crazy about the Kats-Chernin. I feel a resistance to pieces where all the audience feel they have to have a little sighing chuckle at the end, especially if I’m not feeling it myself. Of the three rags (all, I think, originally for piano), the first was an arrangement by Kats-Chernin and the second and third were arrangements by Griffiths. Without knowing that, P thought the Griffiths arrangements more successful.
The first time P came to hear the Ensemble the Borodin quartet was on the program and with it they won her allegiance. The third movement is the most famous and the audience anticipation was palpable as the players took a moment to tune, though Dene O never seemed to me to quite settle in the famous tune.
I most enjoyed the first movement, which from the start feels like a conversation that you have just walked into, and the amazing second movement which opens with a kind of whirling without bass – as if of birds or other objects in the air. Wikipedia tells me that the last movement is a masterpiece of counterpoint but it is hard for it to live up to what has come before.
In the pre-concert publicity Irina Morozova was quoted as saying how much she loves the Borodin quartet on account of its being Russian and “in her blood.” It is certainly a quartet with a generous serve of gratifying moments for the viola.
This year the Ensemble has gone the Eventbrite way with bar-coded tickets printed on A4 sheets of paper. You also get an email and perhaps it is possible to put the barcode on your phone. I guess this saves them money but I would still rather have a traditional ticket – the A4 printout is so daggy.
At least our tickets were not being scanned with a device as we entered as they now very officiously (and delay-makingly) are at the Opera House.
Earlier in the week, I went to Daniil Trifonov’s recital. It was very much the hot ticket in town and everyone was there (2). Trifonov is a phenomenal player. I’m afraid all the excitement about his virtuosity got a bit in the way of my really losing myself in the music. I don’t mean by that to accuse him of any meretricious display; it was mostly me.