TROUT EN FIN! Presented Youthful Works By Great Composers

BMW Classical World
Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Sunday 16th November 2015

There is something about certain pieces of music that attract nicknames. Beethoven's Ninth symphony is, obviously, known as 'The Choral', and a publisher called that Piano Sonata 'The Moonlight'. Two of the three works in Trout En Fin, the final concert of the Selby and Friends season for 2014, held in Elder Hall at the University of Adelaide, have names attached.

While the Mozart Divertimento in B flat for Piano Trio, K254, on any other day would remain in the memory for its gentle humour and vitality, it was followed by one of the great works of Johannes Brahms, the Piano Quartet No 3 in C minor, Op. 60, 'Werther'.

Goethe's novel about the poet Werther who, falling in love with a married woman shoots himself on Christmas Eve, was blamed for triggering a rash of copycat suicides in Germany. Massenet wrote an opera based on the story. For Brahms, the tale was particularly close to his own experience and fortunately he picked up his pen and not his pistol to compose this amazing work.

Brahms admired, to idolatry, Robert Schumann and his wife Clara Wieck, and when Robert was institutionalised, Brahms moved in to the family home to help Clara with the seven children and the resurrection of her career as a concert pianist. He even suggested to his publisher that a photograph of a man with a gun to his head should be put on the title page, and offered to pose for it himself.

In this performance, pianist and Artistic Director, Kathryn Selby, was joined by British born violinist Elizabeth Layton, Sydney Symphony Orchestra principal viola player Tobias Breider, and Goldner Quartet 'cellist Julian Smiles. Brahms loved and understood the viola, it was his own instrument, and Breider's forthright playing moved the instrument from its usual position as third violin in a quartet to the emotional starring role. Moments of genuine anguish flowed from his bow. Julian Smiles, in his introduction to the work, pointed to his own opportunity to show off in the extended and beautiful introduction to the third movement, with Kathryn Selby providing a self-effacing backing to his long lyrical statement. Elizabeth Layton's violin wrapped the piece in eloquence.

After the interval, and a few minutes in the sun on the Goodman lawns, came the Piano Quintet in A, Op 114, D667, 'Trout'. Schubert's song about a fisherman and his quest to hook the trout was a favourite of Sylvester Paumgartner, a wealthy mine owner and music lover. Schubert wrote the quintet as a gift for him, though amateur 'cellist Paumgarner found the music beyond his capabilities. Fortunately the work didn't end up in the same drawer as the missing movements of the 'Unfinished' symphony.

The work is in five movements of which the third, the scherzo, is a memorable piece, even more enjoyable than the set of variations that follows it, but which serve up the trout with glee, truite meuniere, trout with white wine sauce, trout as you like it, a delicious way to finish the concert and the season.

It's a quintet, and the former musicians were joined by young double bass player Hugh Klüger, whom Kathryn Selby first encountered when he played bass in a school concert at the age of 12. She has begun to add young musicians to her roster of friends to give them a taste of touring chamber music at so high a level.

In previous performances on this tour she has arranged for friends to begin the second half of the concert with a performance of Schubert's Die Forelle. She mentioned to me in the interview that she had been unable to source a singer for the Adelaide concert, so I sang her the first verse, because it is a Schubert song I know. As it was, she admitted at the concert that her friend who would have sung it was unavailable because she was in Canberra. Who was it? Greta Bradman.

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