A light touch takes this trio from tragedy to rhapsody

The Sydney Morning Herald
July 05, 2012
by Harriet Cunningham

City Recital Hall, July 3

EXTRACTS from Max Bruch's Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola and Piano, Op. 83 made for a graceful beginning to Kathyrn Selby's third subscription concert for 2012: three evocative snapshots, from an autumnal, free-spirited waltz to a touchingly staid love song to the secret trysts of Nachtgesang. They needed only the lightest touch to shine, and the trio gave a beautifully restrained account.

Schumann's Marchenerzahlungen (Fairy Tales) Op. 132 is at once more lighthearted and more wacky, with a streak of fantasy always threatening to erupt from the classical story-telling. Unlike the Bruch, which was here played in an arrangement for cello, cellist Julian Smiles played Schumann's original viola part, adding a significant degree of risk to this quirky set. The risk paid off, with Smiles conquering the higher register of his instrument with apparent ease.

However, in spite of his technical triumphs, the overall interpretation was a little muted, with the finale in particular suffering from lapses in energy and drive. Andrew Schultz's After Nina is inspired by Nina Simone's version of Billie Holliday's Strange Fruit. After Selby read the first stanza of the original poem, ''black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze'', it was hard to hear anything but tragedy in Schultz's eloquent, spare writing.

Three other miniatures punctuated the program: Catherine McCorkill breezed through Debussy's Premiere Rhapsodie for Clarinet and Piano, a competition piece that deftly strings together technical challenges with a range of moods. John Cage's Sonata for solo Clarinet was a more introspective, owlish display. Meanwhile, Faure's Elegie for Cello and Piano was a blatant invitation to swoon at the fine legato of Selby and Smiles.

Brahms's Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in A Minor, Op. 114, was a substantial finale for this polished trio. After playing accompanist for much of the program, Selby starred with her sense of pace in the waltz movement but tuning discrepancies took the shine off the overall effect.

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