5 stars - A Tale of Two Cities

Review: Selby and Friends – A Tale of Two Cities, Elder Hall (SA)

Selby & Friends takes the audience to Vienna and St Petersburg in a superb season opener.
Review: Selby and Friends – A Tale of Two Cities, Elder Hall (SA)
Emily Sun on violin, Kathryn Selby on piano, and Clancy Newman on cello. Image: Selby And Friends.
DIANA CARROLL Wednesday 4 March, 2020

The first day of autumn may have been rather grey and drizzly but the audience inside the Elder Hall was magically transported to the salons of Europe. The first half of the program was devoted to Vienna, with works by Mozart and Brahms. After interval, the program moved on to St Petersburg with Stravinsky and Arensky.

Selby & Friends has a small but loyal following in Adelaide, giving the concerts the feeling of a catch-up with old friends. It’s a knowledgeable audience who know and appreciate chamber music.

The delightful afternoon teas with cakes baked by the volunteers from the Adelaide Harmony Choir add to the village fete atmosphere. It feels like a little bit of Midsomer in Adelaide (minus the dead bodies!). As always, Kathy Selby introduced the program with a brief, informal chat. She is warm and welcoming, and sets the scene for the pieces to follow.

Selby was joined on stage by two of her ‘friends’, violinist Emily Sun and cellist Clancy Newman, for the first piece, Mozart’s delightful Piano Trio No.5 in C, K.548. There is a dance-like quality to this work and the cantabile second movement is especially satisfying. There was a fine balance between Newman’s cello and Selby’s legato with Sun’s excellent playing bringing it all together.

Ben Mellefont, principal clarinet with the London Philharmonic, introduced the second work, Brahms’s soulful Trio in A Minor for clarinet, cello and piano, Op.114. Brahms wrote his works for the clarinet at the end of his career giving them depth and maturity. This was indeed a work that reflected the autumnal weather outside. The rousing final movement is especially colourful with a dramatic conclusion. Both Newman and Mellefont played with great technical skill and obvious passion.

After tea and cakes, we were back for a trip to St Petersburg and a selection of five dances from Stravinsky’s Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat. This is a morality tale about a soldier who trades his violin to the devil in exchange for unlimited wealth. As you would imagine, it doesn’t end well, giving the composer every excuse for dramatic turns and grand flourishes. Originally composed for seven instruments, this iteration is for violin, clarinet and piano.

The final piece was the Piano Trio in D minor, Op.32 No.1, by Anton Arensky. It’s always pleasing to hear a piece that is not performed so often and this was extremely satisfying. Arensky has a fine pedigree as a composer and a teacher. Having been a pupil of Rimsky Korsakov, he then taught both Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. This piece was written as an elegy for the great Russian cellist Karl Davidov who died in 1889. It runs the full gamut of emotions, from the most tender to the most dramatic. The reflective third movement is painfully beautiful and showcased Kathy Selby’s superb touch with perfectly nuanced playing.

Selby & Friends is very much about Kathy Selby’s dedication to chamber music but it’s never all about her. The ‘friends’, the hand-picked guest artists, are always front and centre stage and are given every opportunity to shine. This was a stirring program to open season 2020 and a great indication of good things to come.

5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★

Selby and Friends: A Tale of Two Cities
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Trio No.5 in C major, K.548
Johannes Brahms, Trio in A minor for clarinet, cello and piano Op.114
Igor Stravinsky, Suite from 'L'histoire du Soldat' for violin, clarinet and piano
Anton Arensky, Piano Trio in D minor, Op.32 No.1
Piano: Kathryn Selby
Violin: Emily Sun
Clarinet: Benjamin Mellefont
Cello: Clancy Newman
Elder Hall, Adelaide – 1 March 2020
Sydney –  3 March 2020
Melbourne – 4 March 2020
Canberra – 5 March 2020
Southern Highlands, NSW – 7 March 2020
Turramurra – 8 March 2020

Concert Reviews