Proud Folk, Wentworth Courier Sydney

14th July, 2017 | Concert Reviews

Selby and Friends deliver on a program of classics tinged with folk

Steve Moffatt, Wentworth Courier

July 14, 2017 5:33pm

WORKS by three composers, each with their own distinctive “voice” and with a decided bent towards folk music, made for an entertaining and well-performed program when Selby & Friends warmed up a cold winter night in the City Recital Hall.

Featuring pianist Kathryn Selby joined by Aussie expat Natalie Chee, concertmaster of the Stuttgartgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, and Julian Smiles, cellist in Australia’s top string quartet the Goldners, the program got under way with a piece by Elena Kats-Chernin which Selby and the Macquarie Trio commissioned in the early 2000s.

Originally called The Maiden and the Well Spirit, the three-movement work has undergone some revision since, including a name change to The Spirit and the Maiden, but the idea is the same. It’s based on a Russian folk tale of a girl who meets a spirit in the form of a handsome young man when she goes to the well to draw water.


She falls in love with him but it ends badly when the spirit evaporates. With driving rhythms from the strings in the first movement it becomes passionate, with a romantic sweep worthy of Rachmaninov in the second movement, before turning dark and ominous until the spirit vaporises.

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak drew extensively on Bohemian traditional songs and dances for his inspiration and the first of his four piano trios, the Op 21, is full of swift shifts of rhythm while at the same time showing the composer’s ability to produce memorable singing melodies.

Smiles, in introducing the piece, said that neither he nor Chee had played this trio previously. But while everybody loves the Brahmsian third and ever-popular fourth, or Dumky trio, this earlier work had much to offer, including some harmonic ideas inspired by Wagner.

The haunting, hymnlike passacaglia was wonderful

The French composer Maurice Ravel was also mindful of folk tunes when he composed his piano trio, which he rushed to finish so he could enlist in World War I, only to be turned down for active service because he was too short and, instead, having to drive a truck for the ambulance corps.

His mother was Basque and Ravel returned to his home town near the Spanish border to compose the work in record time.

This was the highlight of the evening and the threesome performed it beautifully. Selby’s nuanced piano was superbly complemented by the strings and the haunting, hymnlike passacaglia was wonderful.


● CONCERT: Selby & Friends

● WHERE: City Recital Hall Angel Place

● WHEN: Thursday, July 13

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