Chamber music’s biggest hit is the icing on the cake in the latest of Selby and Friends’ virtual concerts.
by Stephen Moffatt
Back in the day when the ABC was sufficiently funded to be a cultural lightning rod it ran a poll to find out its listeners’ top 100 favourite chamber works and Schubert took out four of the five top places, with the Trout Quintet a clear winner.
This is the composer at his sunniest, with that similar forward-thinking feeling he manages in the B-flat piano trio, and a far remove from the darker string quintet and Death and the Maiden quartet.
It is this work that Kathryn Selby has chosen as the climax of her latest Selby and Friends virtual concerts, recorded live behind closed doors at the City Recital Hall Angel Place, and which is available now to subscribers.
The Schubert is the third of the works on the program, which features the exceptionally talented young violinist Grace Clifford, by now a firm favourite of the Selby concerts, and Julian Smiles, cellist with Australia’s leading Goldner String Quartet.
The program starts with Mozart’s final piano trio, the K564, written in the same year he composed his final symphonies and at a time when he was strapped for cash, not that you would detect any underlying angst in its perfectly formed three movements which includes a fine set of variations.
Selby, Clifford and Smiles are magnificent in this performance of a work which, it has to be said, is not Mozart at his very best – meaning it is superlative by most other composers’ standards.
Selby leads with confidence and authority – this music is in her DNA – and Clifford and Smiles combine happily in the intricate ensemble work.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra’s principal viola Stefanie Farrands joins the three for the middle work, Brahms’s heart-on-the-sleeve Piano quartet in C minor Op 60 in which his unrequited love for Clara Schumann bubbles below the surface. The young composer even quotes a theme by his friend Robert Schumann, often dubbed the “Clara theme”, to make the uncomfortable romantic triangle explicit.
The four musicians capture all the sweeping, stormy passion, contrasted by Smiles’ lovely lyrical cello solo in the third movement, setting this virtual concert up for the Schubert finale.
The quintet is named after his earlier song the Trout, but there are three glorious movements before we get to the variations on that famous theme. Throughout the five movements the piano maintains the evocative rippling effects, played here with sparkling clarity by Selby, while the strings provide the darker emotions below the surface. The Australian Chamber Orchestra’s double bassist Maxime Bibeau lends some finely judged lowdown grunt to complete the line-up.
This is a flawless performance suffused with that sense of good-hearted enjoyment that one can only get from Schubert.
Go to selbyandfriends.com.au for details of subscriptions and access to this and past concerts.