Melbourne Basically Beethoven

28th September, 2016 | Concert Reviews

Clive O’Connell The Music

Selby & Friends

Deakin Edge, Federation Square

Wednesday September 21 at 7:30 pm

He has probably been playing in Melbourne more times over recent years than I’m aware of but I heard violinist Dene Olding at this recital with great pleasure because the memory of his ultra-refined sound quality had been dimmed by a long time-gap.   For some years, he appeared regularly here with the Goldner Quartet, and even put in some time as concertmaster of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.   But other audience members on Wednesday night said that he has appeared a few times each year in Kathryn Selby’s recitals; my loss, their gain.

Another all-Beethoven night and a geometrically balanced one with two piano trios book-ending a pair of sonatas from the night’s Friends  –  on this occasion, Olding and his Goldner colleague, cellist Julian Smiles.   While Olding took on the sunny, amiably disposed G Major Op. 30 which expounds contentment even in its ambling middle Tempo di Minuetto,  Smiles opted for the Op. 102 No. 1 in C which comes close to defying classification and explication.

The group opened with the early G Major Trio, the middle of the Op. 1 set and a substantial offering in four movements. probably designed so as to make a solid public impression. From the opening, the most singular feature was the reticence of Olding’s dynamic; his line comes over as finely-spun, notably in the first movement where he offered little competition to Selby’s restrained keyboard.  Yes, the places where the violin has the running worked well enough but in those passages of minor-strength ferment where the pianist ranges across the instrument’s compass, the upper string line cast a shadowy presence.   Smiles made more of his work, although as far as I can see he has little chance to shine until a bar before Letter Q in my score of the Largo – and even that moment of exposure doesn’t last long.

Which cannot be said about the movement itself: an expansively-worded sequence of pages, here given rich voicing and fine dynamic responsiveness from the simple piano opening statement to the final E Major chords.   The Presto-Finalecame off with considerable panache, Selby again giving room to the strings so that we could appreciate their rapid semiquaver articulation – no mean feat of control in a movement where the piano part is continuously active and the instigator of much of the action (after a bland start).

The Cello Sonata No. 3 strikes me as inscrutable, having much in common temperamentally with some of the later piano sonatas in its brusque awkwardness.  Still, to his credit, Smiles found the lyrically expressive vein in its two movement’s slow introductions and Selby gave a finesse to the flurries during both the Adagio and Tempo d’Andante that lead into the brisk ungainliness of the piano writing in the sonata’s concluding Allegro vivace.

Olding produced a more satisfyingly forward dynamic in his sonata, a polished determination informing the first movement’s exposition and a deft mirroring of Selby in the 25-bar-long development.  Later, in the busy final movement, the honours were rather imbalanced, especially when the semiquavers were flying around in both parts and Olding wasn’t operating on his E string.   But the solid central Minuet-of-sorts proved a rewarding passage-of-play, mainly for Olding’s mid-range polished warmth of timbre.

For excellent ensemble, you would find it hard to go past the players’ reading of the Op. 70 No. 1  Trio, the popular Ghost.   They opened with a particularly striking octave statement, an indicator of the disciplined aggression that dominated their interpretation.  Olding and Smiles have built up years (21?) of Goldner experience and so their dovetailing and imitative work are seamless.   Both the bracketingAllegro and Presto maintained attention for the balanced and complementary colour at work in the string lines, and this despite the pages being pretty  well-worn these days.   But, in spite of the sinuous, suggestive violin part in the spectralLargo, these pages are a pianist’s delight, even with all those tremolo passages, and Selby did them excellent service, her final brace of hemidemisemiquaver-packed bars a splendid example of swiftly-accomplished diminuendo into silence.

This elevating performance capped off an adventurous night, in some ways.  The cello sonata is a programming rarity, most cellists being happier to present its two predecessors.  The early trio is also becoming harder to find in live performance, although it holds many riches for willing executants.   Put all four elements of this night together and you had a solid taste of Beethoven’s accomplishment across a productive span of 22 years, delivered with remarkably few slips and an impressive breadth of interpretative insight.

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