Tour 1 2015 Canberra Times review

Loss and grief and other miseries

February 10, 2015

Jennifer Gall

 Selby & Friends Powerful Passions performers: Kathryn Selby (piano), Natalie Chee (violin), Clancy Newman (cello), and Hector McDonald (French horn) Photo: supplied

Powerful Passions. Selby and Friends. Natalie Chee (violin) Clancy Newman (Cello) Hector McDonald (French Horn) Kathryn Selby (Piano).

Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia.  February 9, 2015.

In her concert tours Kathryn Selby has created a space in which the audience experiences living music introduced with personal reflections on the repertoire by each of the performers.  It is a unique intimacy, and the consistently full houses she plays to are a testament to the wise choice of presentation for her chamber music concerts.

Loss is the central theme of the first tour of 2015, and the program presents a careful blend of music by Pärt, Mendelssohn, Smetana and Brahms to demonstrate how grief may be expressed in a variety of ways: Pärt reimagines the Adagio from Mozart's Piano Sonata in F major as a piano trio, writing parts for the cello and violin that with their dissonant chords provide a personal commentary on the classic melancholy theme; Mendelssohn, in commemorating his mother in the Sonata for Cello and Piano No.2 in D major, Op.58, writes the music he believes that she would wish him to write – a work in which by turn the cello melody is rich and throbbing, dancing in joyful pizzicato and flowing and lyrical. It is music to make a mother proud of her son's achievements. Natalie Chee, violin and Clancy Newman, cello are exceptional musicians. Both project the depth of understanding for their particular instrument, as well as faultless communication with each member of the ensemble.

Possibly most heartwrenching work is the Piano Trio in G Minor, Op.15 by Smetana, written for his eldest daughter, Bedřiška, who died of scarlet fever at the age of four. The powerful introductory lament played by the violin establishes the depth of grief that the composer attempts to alleviate with his repetitive galloping motif – if only he and his child can outrun their fate – but it cannot be. In the second movement, a repeated falling interval is like a reiterated call of the child's name, seeking the lost one in tender lyrical passages.

In the wake of his mother's death, Johannes Brahms found solace and inspiration for his Trio for Piano, Violin and Horn in E Flat major, Op. 40 in the forested mountains near Baden. He translates an old folk song sung by his mother into the central thematic thread in the work. Brahms's compositional skill shines in the lovely conversations between piano violin and horn, most beautiful in the third movement –Adagio mesto. Perhaps Hector McDonald should not have demonstrated so expertly how perfectly modulated the sound is when the horn is played without using the valves. I did find myself wishing that he had chosen to perform the work in the way Brahms had intended, even though his playing with valves was sympathetic.

If I have one criticism, it is that the piano was in danger of swamping the other instruments. With the piano lid supported on the half-stick instead of at full stretch the sound balance would be corrected and the tone of the piano in this particular space would be improved.

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