Magical Performance

13th November, 2020 | Concert Reviews

Selby and Friends | A Final Offering

Susie Park, violin | Stefanie Farrands, viola | Timo-Veikko Valve, cello | Kathryn Selby, piano

By Peter Hagen

A year or two ago I invested in some fairly decent speakers for my computer. In this year in particular, this has paid off with the amount of on-line listening that I have been doing. My former tinny speakers would not have done justice to the wonderful music I have been listening to. It was with some anticipation then that I viewed this event, having viewed a concert of Selby and friends earlier this year. I was not disappointed. All the musicians are superb performers and interpreters of the music they play. I have commented earlier on Selby’s superior touch especially with her neat and unfussed trills that really do ornament a melodic line and her ability to build long crescendos and diminuendos into the direction of the music. In addition, Selby’s impeccable articulation is a delight. Parks also exhibited a decisiveness and refinement in her playing with a delightfully clear tone. Valve treated us to many sublime moments of beautiful lyrical playing with some of the most sublime cello melodies and has an acute awareness of the role he plays in every section of all the pieces moving fluidly and seamlessly from one section of the music to another.

Schubert, Notturno

The performers walked on stage at city hall as they would do in a “real” concert making much of the idea that this was a concert not just a recording. With introductions to the music and her co-performers by Selby at the beginning, this emphasised the concert feel as well. The concert opened with a work of exquisite poise, Schubert’s Notturno, a one movement adagio that possibly was a movement for another piano trio work. To achieve this poise the music needs to be well controlled and the tempo well judged. This was very much so throughout the whole movement from the beginning arpeggiated piano chords where each individual note was exactly in its place rather than as so many pianists do, lumping the whole chord into a rather messy whole. After the opening arpeggios, Parks and Valve wafted in with the opening slow melodic material of the introduction giving a wonderful floating feel to this sublime opening. The echo effects were evident and well balanced. The opening melody then appeared in the piano with the strings arpeggiating pizzicato chords which again was refined and balanced. The movement then opened up into a new section with the beginning of the dotted chord like figure and piano extended arpeggio work providing the background texture. The gradual building up of this section of the work through the shaping of crescendos and diminuendos is a testament to Selby’s artistic direction. In the return to the opening introductory material Parks led an exquisitely shaped and timed “melting in”. This happened later on as well with the false cadence into the extension of the movement which is in a sort of extended ternary form. The final version of the introduction is ornamented with trills which of course Selby executed with mastery.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975)

Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 67 (1944)

I Andante
II Allegro non troppo
III Largo
IV Allegretto

In the introduction to the Shostakovich trio, Selby gave a background to the work mentioning the origins around World War II and the Jewishness of some of the material. Parks mentioned the darkness of aspects of the work with turmoil grief and loss being themes for her and playing the work being a catharsis. The heartfelt relation to the difficulty of these times with virus threats and lock- downs was expressed well by Parks. The opening in a sense expresses the topsy-turvy nature of the time in 1944 with the cello playing at the very top of its range with all of the melody played ethereally in thumb position harmonics and in fact being the highest voice when the violin joins in after a few bars acting as the bass line some octaves below. The piano then joins in with low chords adding darkness of texture. This extremely difficult opening for the cello was played with masterly control and expression by Valve. The ensuing canonic section of the work can sound rather didactic and mechanical in some people’s hands. That it did not sound thus, is again a tribute to these musicians’ control encompassing so much more than simply playing the notes. There was a lucidity and transparency throughout the entire work such that one could hear all the parts. At times more personal touches were heard with an almost cheeky pizzicato short moment in the cello accompanied by the piano adding humour to the work.

The second movement allegro non troppo was performed with unabated energy right up to the abrupt and almost humourous end. The slow piano chords of the largo provide a backdrop for what is essentially a duo for the violin and violoncello. Again the balance of foreground and backdrop was perfect.

The final allegretto was given a tongue in cheek feel alongside a forcefulness that gave the right amount of aggression to this work. Piano chords were bigger than previously and intensity built strongly in many parts of this movement. Balancing these buildups with appropriate points to re-set or climb down was done well to balance the structure of the movement. Parks in particular gave force to this movement giving it great aggression without attacking the sound (or her violin) to produce a solidity and purpose. The movement has a retrospective look at the largo with the slow piano chords and the final part of the movement ended magically with some pizzicato chords tossed backwards and forwards from violin to cello.

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856)

Piano Quartet for Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello in E-flat major Op. 47 (1842)

I Sostenuto assai – Allegro ma non troppo
II Scherzo. Molto vivace – Trio I – Trio II
III Andante cantabile
IV Finale. Vivace

The Schumann work was largely introduced by Farrands who joined the trio to form the quartet. This work was written immediately after the quintet. The piano quartet with its trio of strings is less like a concerto being without a second violin. Farrands expressed satisfaction with a big smile at being the viola part and being in the middle of everything musically and physically. The slow introduction of Schumann’s quartet op 47 is somewhat like a chorale interspersed with recitative. The short musical phrases in the strings are interspersed with piano arabesques. What struck me was the way the individual parts/instruments emerged from the texture at just the correct time and at the right dynamic. Subsequent piano rapid repeated chords fitted into the texture of the strings melodies and harmonies. The scherzo started with piano and cello in a very heavily articulated and rapid phrase exhibiting excellent ensemble for what I think must be a difficult start. I hardly saw any indication of Valve nodding or moving to say “let’s go for it” with his body language.

This movement at times throbbed with energy at precisely the moments it needed to, particularly with the piano octaves providing a throbbing accompaniment.

The adagio cantabile did indeed sing with the opening cello melody providing Valve with the opportunity to show how much he can shine. This movement somehow balanced a sense of keeping on moving with a rhapsodic calm. The very long cello pedal note at the end underpinned the whole subsiding of the movement into the logical end for this rhapsody. The finale vivace was seamless, again with all parts emerging at just the right time and with the right amount of intensity.

This was a magical performance with energy, control, sublime beauty and rhapsodic moments. Where the music had to have aggression and power this was supplied in good measure and all elements were in excellent proportion. There was an almost symphonic breadth to these three and four instruments that was breathtaking. When chamber music is like that, it is at its best.

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