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The Game Changers, Sydney

Susie Park's bluesy Ravel steals the show in Selby & Friends' fourth tour for the year.

City Recital Hall, Sydney

Reviewed on September 3, 2019

by Angus McPherson on September 4, 2019

Violinist Susie Park and cellist Julian Smiles were pianist Kathryn Selby’s Friends for the fourth tour of Selby’s chamber music series this year, The Game Changers, which opened with Elena Kats-Chernin’s tranquil Blue Silence. Originally composed for cello and piano – but played here in the composer’s piano trio arrangement – Kats-Chernin wrote Blue Silence so her son Alex, who lives with schizophrenia, “can listen to calmness, meditation”. At the work’s heart is a repeating chord progression, similar to the one that brings Kats-Chernin’s orchestral piece Mythic to a close, the opening fragments of which glimmered under Selby’s fingers. Park, whose day job is First Associate Concertmaster with The Minnesota Orchestra in the US, has a sound so rich and dark in the low register, it was a remarkable match for Smiles’ cello as the strings joined, in a lustrous, breathing account of the work.

The soft edges of Selby’s piano contrasted with the keener sound from Smiles in Benjamin Britten’s Cello Sonata – written for the great Mstislav Rostropovich after Britten heard him play Shostakovich’s sonata – the interplay between the two instruments hesitant and disjointed at first before the music surges forward. Smiles gave the second movement’s pizzicati a jazzy lilt, and, following the mournful Elegy, the fourth movement’s march became gradually more brutal, before the Moto Perpetuo finale kicked off with Smiles’ bow bouncing on the strings. While there were moments of great intensity in this performance, there was also a sense of restraint at times.

Not so in Park’s incredible account of Ravel’s Second Violin Sonata, however, which even amongst the spare lines of the Allegretto offered jagging attacks, Park’s violin singing in the climaxes, desolate in the soft sustained notes. Park threatened to break a string in the banjo-like strummed pizzicato chords of the central movement, she attacked them with such thrilling gusto, giving us slinky, full-bodied slides in Ravel’s bluesy melodies. (One of Park’s strings apparently did unravel – “un-Ravel-led” she quipped – in an earlier performance on the tour.) The Perpetuum mobile was feverish, snatches of scurrying notes from piano and violin soon coming together for a boisterous finale.

After interval, the affinity between the sound of Park’s violin and Smiles’ cello paid dividends once more in the Romantic melodies of Dvořák’s Op. 65 Piano Trio in F Minor,  to which all three musicians brought a fierce passion. Motoring strings propelled Selby’s folk melody in the second movement, while Smiles’ tender cello solo opened the Poco adagio in a tranquil mood, before turbulence again crept into the music. From the biting accents of the opening, the trio gave the Allegro con brio finale an exciting urgency, which they sustained right to the final chord.


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