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Selby & Friends: a treat for the senses

By Jennifer Foong
9 November 2014, Turramurra Uniting Church

What a brilliant way to finish the year! The last of five Selby & Friends chamber music concert Tours for 2014 was certainly a treat for the senses. Kathy introduced the program as belonging to young men, as all three pieces were composed by WA Mozart, Brahms and Schubert early in their careers.

Mozart’s Piano Trio No 1 Divertimento in B flat K254 is essentially a piano sonata with accompanying violin and cello, particularly as the latter’s line basically doubled the left hand of the piano. The balance and evenness of Mozart’s style was evident from the outset with Elizabeth Layton playing violin and Julian Smiles cello with Kathy at the piano.

The violin and piano complemented each other in the first movement, both sharing and alternating melody lines. Elizabeth’s crisp violin-playing came to the fore in the second movement where the violin introduced the lovely main theme followed by the piano. The third movement Rondo: Tempo di Menuetto was full of contrasting rhythms so made for most interesting listening as one constantly pondered over the seemingly ever-changing time signature. A ‘playful’ piece ‘with Haydn-esque humour’, as Julian put it just before he introduced the next piece on the program, Brahms’ Piano Quartet in C minor Op 60 Werther.

The piece is so-named as Brahms refers to Goethe’s Werther, a young man who commits suicide due to his unrequited love for an older married woman. In addition, it was an uncertain turbulent world in which Brahms lived and a year after the work’s conception, his mentor, Schumann, suffered a severe mental breakdown. This angst and turmoil was certainly reflected in the music. Violist Tobias Breider joined Elizabeth, Julian and Kathy to form the quartet.
The first movement was ‘dark, brooding and angry, full of turbulence. The second subject was played by the viola, its mellowness suitably sustaining the appropriate mood. The piano anchored the ‘demonic’ Scherzo – Allegro second movement, being a driving force from the very beginning. The intensity rose with this most vigorous movement. The third movement Andante featured a lengthy melodious solo by the cello before the violin followed by the viola took turns. The expression displayed by all four performers was superb. The fourth and final movement, like the second movement, was ‘disturbed and uneasy’, the piano again emphasising the unsettled nature of the work.

The Trout
Following interval, the audience was given a ‘treat’ in the form of a soprano performing Schubert’s song, The Trout “Die Forelle”, on which the final and main work in the program, Piano Quintet in A Op 114 D667, was based. The song itself is based on a poem by Schuabart about a darting trout that is eventually caught by a fisherman.

A talented young double bassist by the name of Hugh Kluger joined the quartet. He sat in a most interesting position between the violist and cellist. In fact, his presence reflected Schubert’s use of a most unusual combination of violin, viola, cello and double bass to form a quintet with the piano rather than two violins, viola and cello. Indeed, this quintet is also unusual in that it has five rather than four movements.

The first movement opened with the famous ‘Trout’ main theme, an oft repeated melody. The third movement was the famous energetic Scherzo Presto – Trio. The highlight was the fourth movement Theme and Variations Andantino consisting of six variations where the violin, cello and piano developed the famous melody. Modulations of parts of the recurring main theme were evident during the final movement. Overall, it was a delightfully bright and polished performance of a well-known piece.

I do believe it is more difficult to review a concert where one comes away thoroughly satisfied with both the quality of the performance and the programming. There was a highly commended contrast in the three composers’ styles viz. pretty Mozart to defiant Brahms to warm and gentle Schubert. It was interesting to note that the concert began with a trio followed by a quartet, then a quintet, each combination playing with a precision and cohesion associated with permanent groups that have played together for many years. A most relaxing afternoon.

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