Alchemy – Sydney

13th May, 2018 | Concert Reviews

Steve Moffatt, Wentworth Courier, Daily Telegraph

May 8, 2018 3:10pm

CONCERTS usually come with a brand and a theme and Selby & Friend’s latest tour, Alchemy, is not so much about the three Romantic composers on the program but a rather interesting character in Theodor Kirchner.

He was a friend of both Robert Schumann and his wife Clara (with whom he had a dalliance) as well as Brahms, and he was much admired by Mendelssohn and Wagner. In all he composed more than a 1000 pieces for the piano but he was a miniaturist — he couldn’t create anything other than “character pieces” lasting a minute or two.

But what he was most admired for was his arrangements of both chamber and symphonic works which he could scale down to chamber proportions. He was also an addictive gambler who got into mountainous debt. Clara Schumann bailed him out once but that was the end of their affair.

And in an early example of crowd funding Brahms and a few other luminaries raised 30,000 marks to pay off his gambling debts.

It was the “alchemy” of his arrangements of these larger scale works that managed to please both the composer and the public which formed the basis of this entertaining concert featuring pianist Kathryn Selby and two Finnish friends in violinist Vesa-Matti Leppanen, concertmaster of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and Australian Chamber Orchestra principal cello Timo-Veikko Valve.

Two of Kirchner’s arrangements book ended the recital. Schumann wrote six short pieces “in the canonical style” — where each voice or instrument follows the other — and Kirchner gave them a “free arrangement”, injecting much of his own original thought and work into them with Schumann’s approval.

Robert Schumann.Clara Schumann.

It made for a light and delightful opening, especially as the work which followed, Aron Arensky’s second piano trio, was Russian romanticism in full flow.

Arensky, a friend and admirer of Tchaikovsky, was already ill with the tuberculosis that would end his life at 44 when he composed this work. The listener gets the sense of letting go and autumnal nostalgia Arensky must have felt looking back on his life, especially in the romance andante second movement.

The mood is dispelled, however, by the lively and jovial presto, only to return in some of the quieter variations which closes the trio. It all ends sadly but serenely, after some tempestuous variations, all handled beautifully by the three musicians.

The other work on the program was Kirchner’s small is beautiful take on Brahms’ string sextet Op 18, originally scored for two violins, two violas and two cellos.

As Leppanen explained, the use of the piano and the way Kirchner distributed the various parts between the three instruments gives the work a lighter, less sombre feel.

Tight ensemble work and three master musicians at the top of their game ensured that this was an excellent evening of chamber music featuring works seldom heard.


● CONCERT: Selby & Friends

● WHERE: City Recital Hall Angel Place

● WHEN: Monday, May 7

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