A soaring performance thrills the ACT faithful

Canberra Times 8 Sep 2

Canberra Times
September 08, 2012
by Jenny Gall

Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia, Monday, September 3

The atmosphere at Selby and Friends Concerts in Canberra is unique. Intimate and warm in her approach to performance, Kathryn Selby has attracted an audience who behave like a large and respectful family, who thrill with a frisson of excitement at the prospect of each new program and each different ensemble of performers and who participate in active listening. These concerts are indeed a taste of chamber music at its best. Each musician introduces a particular work, giving the listener an insight into the personalities on stage as well as a personal interpretation of how the score is meant to sound.

Mahler’s Quartet movement in A minor for piano, violin, viola and cello was a perfect short opening piece for the ensemble, the piano stepping lightly into hearing, a phrase in the left hand curling upward to summon the entry of the strings. Julian Smiles’ cello has its own radiance complemented by the warmth of Elizabeth Layton’s violin and elegance of Glen Donnelly’s viola.

I had a nostalgic moment in the opening bars of Paul Stanhope’s signature work, My Song is Love Unknown with the pizzicato notes on the violin melting into the stepped dissonances – a flash of a reference to a melancholic gesture in Geoffrey Burgon’s score for the 1983 Brideshead Revisited TV series. In Stanhope’s work the gesture is extended into a shimmering texture interspersed with contrasting, urgent syncopated rhythmic passages.

Kathryn Selby’s exquisite touch heralded the opening phrases of Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E flat, K493. In the second movement, the mood of the piano was more coquettish, the strings supporting the melody with delicate entries, building into a smooth accompaniment. The fourth movement was a little looser than the preceding two, with some rougher edges, but a lively romping energy.

Anton Dvorak’s Quartet in E flat major, op 87 was a majestic work to select as the finale for the concert. With a powerful unison opening, the Allegro fuoco eased into a playful dance, the violin and viola exchanging conversational phrases. Leading into the Lento movement with a warm cello phrase, the piano followed, playing a hymn-like melody breathing between the interaction of the violin and viola. The final two movements held a carefully balanced rhythmic tension weaving a waltz melody through a tune reminiscent of Humoresque and a snatch of a yearning Yiddish phrase to finish with the opportunity for the viola to soar. One of Dvorak’s most satisfying chamber works, the Quartet in E flat lit up the evening.

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