S&F at NGA was brilliant!

Selby and Friends at the National Gallery of Australia was brilliant

June 21 2016 - 12:41PM

·Reviewed by Jennifer Gall

Selby and Friends. Tour 3, 2016 Musical Offering. James O Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia, Thursday, June 16, 7.30pm.

Kathryn Selby, Nikki Chooi and Timo-Veikko Valve presented a demanding program of chamber music by Julian Yu, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Franz Schubert. Free of gimmickry and flamboyance, Selby's concert series deliver the priceless experience of essential chamber music works – both classical and contemporary – played by masters. 

Julian Yu's Prelude-Not-a-Fugue was a courageous choice of opening work, pitching the listener about on a choppy sea of spiccato bowing and clashing tonalities. Yu does not want us sitting comfortably and drifting off into reveries created out of familiar experiences. Prelude-Not-a-Fugue tantalises us initially with hints of a Bach-like vessel in which we set sail, but he quickly unfurls the topgallant sails, the royals, the skysail, cloud disturber and heaven poker and sends us flying into exhilarating unchartered waters. The three musicians worked effortlessly to bring the work to life, executing the rapid, intersecting sequences of the second movement, as an expert crew would run the rigging.

Nikki Chooi's version of Schumann's Violin Sonata No.1 in A minor was characterised by his strong sweet tone and his ability to create contrast first with powerful sweeping bowing, then with exquisite delicacy and subtle dynamic control. As Clara Schumann observed, the first two movements are "lovely" and "elegaic", but the third is "less charming and headstrong". Chooi wisely chose not to try and iron out the argumentative cadences of the third movement into a more homogenous match with the first two movements. Instead, he used the contradictory energy to build drama and explode into savagely brilliant, speedy passages escaping from the attempts to confine the melodic line.

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