Limelight Magazine - Big Sky Tour 2

Review: Big Sky (Selby & Friends)

 by Andrew Luboski on April 17, 2015 (just now) filed under Classical Music | Chamber | Comment Now

An evening of sumptuous music making, from the planes of South America to war-torn Russia.

City Recital Hall Angel Place.  April 17, 2015

 If versatility is one of the hallmarks of a great pianist, then Kathryn Selby can rightly lay claim to being Australia’s “pre-eminent chamber music pianist”, as the programme note of her concert at Angel Place glowingly announced without hyperbole. On this evening of sumptuous and varied music making, Selby guided us with great facility from the planes of South America through Western Europe, ending amongst the rubble of war-torn Russia.

The first item on the program was the American composer Joan Tower’s Big Sky, a short, brooding piano trio based on the composer’s experiences around the deep valley of La Paz, Bolivia. The expansive passages in the violin and cello certainly gave a strong impression of the young composer looking up in awe at the Andes mountains, while the masterfully handled descending triplet passages in the piano evoked the sense that while we might strive to surmount those lofty peaks, we are ultimately humbled before the sheerness of nature.

From Bolivia the audience was flung into the world of early Beethoven with a stirring rendition of the Sonata for cello and piano in F, written in 1796. Beethoven was largely responsible for developing the cello sonata: fittingly the piece was first performed by the great 18th century cellist Duport, who was responsible for codifying many of the techniques of modern cello playing. Umberto Clerici’s execution was dynamic in the Allegro of the first movement, while the interplay between the two instrumentalists in the Rondo finale was warm, daring and vivacious. A particular highlight was the almost Turkish pizzicato in the cello of the Rondo, redolent of moments from Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto, accompanied by bold but assured passagework by Selby in the left hand.

The final piece of the first half was the violin and piano sonata by that most Gallic of composers César Franck. Franck cut his teeth as a church organist in Paris in the 1800s, and his obsession de l’orgue is recognisable in the supremely technically challenging moments in this sonata. The first movement was quaint, with violinist Vesa-Matti Leppånen producing a charming yet rich tone, while Selby played seductress via the piano’s rather bawdy and jazzy broken arpeggios. The second movement had a tremendous kinetic force, owing to the syncopation between the players, the energetic G-string passages in the violin, and the bubbling virtuosity in the piano, with Selby showing off her dazzling technical aptitude. In the finale, themes from preceding movements are recalled, sometimes passionately, sometimes introspectively, and though the movement on occasion lost a little momentum, this was a quite ethereal and rapturous rendition of a French gem.

The Shostakovich Piano Trio after interval brought the three musicians together. Written during the second world war, this trio fluctuates almost violently between the plaintive and the demonic. Of note were the haunting harmonics in the cello at the piece’s inception; the dirge-like march in the third movement’s heart-wrenching lamentation above a piano chaconne; and the devilishly folsky rhythms throughout the fourth movement with piquant accents that were executed impeccably between the three musicians. The programme note mentioned that this piece stands as a musical tribute to Jewish folk music; while at times in the last movement the klezmer felt like it had been wrenched from a 19th-century shtetl, the trio might also be seen as a more universal tribute to the suffering of that entire period. Shostakovich once described Jewish music as “laughter through tears”; while there may have been a few tears in the audience, the performance finished on a wholly uplifiting and reassuring note.


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