Music / “Final Statements”, Selby and Friends. At James Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia, October 31. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.
ENDING their year with a concert that brought together two highly accomplished guest artists of the younger generation, Selby and Friends went out with a passionate and powerful finale.
Touring six cities around Australia, Kathryn Selby, piano; Ike See, violin and Richard Narroway, cello, produced a final concert for 2023 that was one of their best for the year.
They began with Aaron Copland’s “Vitebsk: Study on a Jewish Theme” for violin, cello and piano. After a Russian story about love, death and demonic possession, set in a cemetery, this music was born.
Beginning with a harsh clash of microtones aired by the strings and dissonant clusters on the piano, this spooky sound crept its way across an almost violent reverberation of notes. The cello growled, the violin hovered and the piano ran through this setting with more clusters and eerie runs. It got darker and more disturbing.
The players required much dexterity, vigour and great concentration. It was extraordinary. A fitting composition for a Halloween night.
While the next work could be an elegy, the “Piano Trio No.1 in D minor”, Op.32, by Anton Arensky covered the gamut of romantic territory. Beginning with a floating tune for violin and piano accompaniment before the cello entered when the volume jumped to full. This clear tonal music, beautifully written, was heavy on cello as it was dedicated to a cellist friend of the composer.
The second scherzo movement was a play within a play. Each instrument had something unique and, at times startling to say. It bounced and roared its way through tricky technical attributes and joking tunes, but mostly in a romantic guise.
Then, the “Elegia” third movement could have been a standalone work. Leading with the cello, it poured out its heart through a sumptuous, soft, sad song. It had a lullaby held within. With the cello and violin in unison, it weaved a childlike story. Then a broody, deeply felt tune emerged. It cried until its end.
The finale and allegro woke everyone up with its exciting burst of fiery sounds. Dramatically it spoke. The playing was perfect, in unison, in drama, in dynamics, and in timing. It had everything.
After the interval, they finished with Franz Schubert’s “Piano Trio No.1 in B flat Major”, Op.99 D.898. Written the year Beethoven died, 1827, this music was the opposite of any expression about death. It had a freshness and brightness mixed with catchy tunes.
In four movements, this trio may be the epitome of chamber music with its delightful songs, intimate sounds, and brilliantly clear writing, both profound and ecstatic. Schubert’s music sings with delicacy and refinement. So did the playing. No matter the line-up of Selby and Friends, the music they create is some of the best in Australia.
In a concert of quirky and quality music, this concert left this reviewer wanting more.