press reviews

Warming sounds on a cold night

May 19, 2011
Review by Harriet Cunningham

City Recital Hall, May 17

RACHMANINOV'S dark and foggy Trio Elegiaque in G Minor was a perfect overture for a wintry evening in Sydney with Kathryn Selby and friends. Cellist Emma-Jane Murphy played the vague, directionless obbligato with a deadpan hush, and violinist Niki Vasilakis added another layer of lost murkiness, paving the way for the melody, in the piano, to turn the work from a magic confusion into a deeply felt drama. This is rich and rewarding chamber music, given a rich and rewarding performance by three eloquent and well-matched artists.

The mood continued with Ross Edwards's Emerald Crossing, a beautifully atmospheric drift through time, with added complexity of tone colour provided by a guest, the viola player Yvette Goodchild.

Mozart's Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, K478, required a change of stylistic gear but was, if anything, even more convincing than the Rachmaninov. The quartet was originally commissioned as a work for amateur musicians, but Mozart - perhaps wilfully - overestimated the abilities of his target audience, writing a mini-concerto. Selby was an ideal soloist, playing with a sparkling clarity and magisterial command of the finger-twisting passages. The accompanying trio was also a good match, engaging with every note, every phrase with diligent but never-laboured attention. Were this ensemble to record this work for CD, I'd definitely buy it.

The third movement of Robert Schumann's Piano Quartet in E flat major Op. 47 features one of his impossibly moving melodies, a soulful sequence of falling sevenths that begins in the cello and is eventually passed to each member of the ensemble. The trick here is not to let it become too self-indulgent, too cloyingly sweet. Murphy did a great job, taking the andante at a steady but always purposeful pace, and letting the notes tell the story with disarming simplicity. The scherzo also rang out clearly but the first movement was less fluent, with the strings occasionally sounding overstretched, spread too thinly across Schumann's dense chords.

As for the finale, the ensemble gobbled up the tangle of notes hungrily for a triumphant finish.