Reviews 2013

MJQ a program of Jazz with Mia Palencia

Virtuosi Tasmania
Matthew Ives, drums, Kelly Ottaway, vibraphone, Stephen Martin, double bass, Dan Sulzberger, piano, Mia Palencia, vocal. Shene

Last weekend's concerts concluded Virtuosi Tasmania's 2013 season. These musicians presented their tribute to the Modern Jazz Quartet earlier last year. Building on that program, classic MJQ numbers again featured with the addition of some excellent vocals from Mia Palencia, whose "Cheek to Cheek", "Let's Fall in Love", "C'est si bon" and "No More Blues" were highlights. Kelly Ottaway's artistry on vibes was a standout, full on in a number like Milt Jackson's "Blues in C Minor". Interestingly he plays on a vibraphone previously owned by a Tasmanian jazz legend, the late Jack Duffy. Tribute quartet members supplied 2 numbers, both delightful – Matt Ives's "Mr Schifrin" and Kelly Ottaway's "Cool thing for amusing people". Dan Sulzberger's fine keyboard playing was much on display in "Django" while Matt Ives on drums and Steve Martin on bass were in fine form throughout. The set concluded with the superb MJQ arrangement of J. S. Bach's "Joy of Man's Desiring". The Shene concert also benefited greatly from the magnificent setting of the historic homestead, stables and barn, with a delicious afternoon tea provided by gracious hosts David and Anne Kernke.

Peter Donnelly

Schubert Quartet

Virtuosi Tasmania
Huon Quartet
Schubert Quartet and Boccherini's 'Fandango'
Elinor Levy, Rohana Brown (violins), Doug Coghill (viola), Jane Tallon (cello) with Owen Thompson (guitar) and Matt Goddard (castanet)
Peppermint Bay, Woodbridge

The Huon Quartet's initial appearances in June, playing Haydn and Debussy, immediately demonstrated the players' musical rapport and technical prowess. These performances displayed similar focus and commitment. Luigi Boccherini's Guitar Quintet No 4 in D "Fandango" has become increasingly popular with audiences in recent years and with good reason. Lightweight and melodious, and with that concluding fandango, it is great fun. Guitarist Owen Thompson and the quartet played with sensitivity and élan with Matthew Goddard making a splendid contribution to that irresistible castanet-dominated finale. Schubert's String Quartet No 14 in D minor, D810 'Death and the Maiden', probably his greatest quartet, was composed in 1824. The Huon Quartet gave great impetus to the outer movements, especially energized in the bustling finale, though not always with quite the precision of ensemble on display in their June performances. They were particularly impressive in the poised and expressive account of the 2nd movement 'Andante con moto' with its 5 variations on the famous theme from the song "Death and the Maiden".

Peter Donnelly

Schubert Octet

Virtuosi Tasmania
Schubert Octet
Home Hill Winery
Ranelagh

Schubert's "Octet In F major, D 803" is an amazing piece from fairly late in Schubert's short life. Although inspired by the example of Beethoven's then extraordinarily popular Septet Op 20, plus extra violin, it is in fact a much bigger work, both in length and musical content. I was very much struck during this performance by the parallels with the music of Gustav Mahler around 80 years later. Mahler's characteristic large scale of both structure and melodic invention, as well as the sense of the composer struggling towards optimism, while being beset by dark thoughts, clearly finds its genesis in later Schubert works such as this. The players were Chris Waller (clarinet), John Panckridge (bassoon), Roger Jackson (French horn), Chris Nicholas and Victoria Bihun (violins), Anna Roach (viola), Jane Tallon (cello), and Stephen Martin (double bass). While some of the playing was a bit tentative initially, including a couple of blustery horn notes, performance and ensemble quality was quickly on track, with especially fine contributions throughout by Tallon and Waller. This made for an ultimately rewarding and satisfying interpretation of a magnificent work.

Peter Donnelly

Piano trio

Virtuosi Tasmania
Piano trio
Frogmore Creek, Cambridge

Imaginative music choices and a talented trio of musicians made for a most enjoyable program in the first concert of this month's Virtuosi Tasmania series. Haydn's "Piano Trio in C major XV: 27" found its composer experimenting with structure and harmony. The trio's origin as an "accompanied sonata" was evident in the complex and continuous role for the piano, here undertaken with panache by Anna Carson. Her sister Miranda Carson, a violinist with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, and cellist Zoe Wallace rounded out the group. They made much of the work's lively outer sections, with the contrasting slow movement featuring an increasingly important role for the cello. These musicians seemed particularly at home with their enthusiastic advocacy of the attractively colourful works by 20th century composers, which filled the remainder of the program. Elena Kats-Chernin's "Calliope Dreaming (2008)" was commissioned to mark the bi-centenary of Haydn’s death in 1809. Though based on motifs from Haydn’s so-called "Mourning Symphony (No 44)", it is mostly rhythmically vibrant and joyous music, performed with energy and commitment. The other works by Jennifer Higdon and Astor Piazzolla were also of great interest, with the Piazzolla pieces from "The 4 Seasons of Buenos Aires" especially appealing.

Peter Donnelly
Mercury 22 July 2013

Master String Quartets

Virtuosi Tasmania
Master String Quartets
Huon Quartet
Home Hill, Ranelagh

On the evidence of this concert, Tasmanian audiences can look forward with keen anticipation to further appearances by the newly formed Huon Quartet, comprising Elinor Levy and Rohana Brown (violins), Doug Coghill (viola) and Jane Tallon (cello). This was only their second performance together and the playing was already amazingly integrated, encompassing both precision and a confidently wide range of dynamics and expression. Haydn's "String Quartet in F minor, Op 20 No 5 (1772)" and Debussy's only String Quartet in G minor, Op 10 (1893) were well chosen to demonstrate the journey taken by the genre over its first hundred years. Elinor Levy's introductions to each piece demonstrated an informative conversational style combined with a dry wit that was very appealing. One of the 6 seminal quartets of his Op 20, the Haydn work was stylish and vital throughout, with a splendidly incisive fugal finale. The Debussy Quartet was distinguished by a focused energy in the outer movements with a notably expressive account of the "Andantino", especially in the poised playing of its closing pages.

Peter Donnelly
Mercury 11 June 2013

String Quartets

Virtuosi Tasmania
Early String Quartets
Shene, Pontville

Chris Nicholas and Anita Schleebs (violins), Rodney McDonald (viola), and Ivan James (cello), presented this concert in the stables of the magnificent Shene heritage estate at Pontville, with refreshments served to the audience afterwards in the barn. The three works chosen were all examples of their composers' early mastery of the string quartet form. A Mozart masterpiece, the "String Quartet in E flat major, K 387", opened the program with some lively, well focused playing, sounding notably warm and clear in the excellent acoustic of the intimate performance space. The song-like "andante cantabile" 3rd movement was especially memorable and ardently phrased. Mendelssohn’s "String Quartet No 1 in E flat major, Op 12", while showing Beethoven's influence, especially in the 1st movement, has many of the hallmarks of its compose's individual style, especially in the typical "fairy" music of the 2nd movement. The quartet again responded with committed and cohesive playing. The concluding piece was the popular slow movement from Tchaikovsky's "String Quartet No 1 in D Major, Op 11", done with sensitivity at a gently flowing tempo.

Peter Donnelly
Mercury 6 May 2013

Violin Piano

Virtuosi Tasmania
Violin Piano
Rohanna Brown, violin
Karen Smithies, piano
MONA Organ Room, Berriedale

This first concert of Virtuosi Tasmania' s 2013 season presented two contrasting masterpieces from the repertoire for violin and piano. The Violin Sonata No 1 in A, Op 13 by Gabriel Faure is a most beautiful and original work, full of memorable ideas. Rohana Brown and Karen Smithies launched that glorious opening movement with warmth and intensity. Both players brought out the contrasts and winningly conveyed the consistently high level of inspiration in this 4-movement piece. Beethoven's Violin Sonata No 9 in A major, Op 47 "Kreutzer" is probably his greatest sonata for these instruments, it's composition coming immediately prior to the groundbreaking "Eroica" symphony. Both artists performed with gusto, but it was obvious from the outset that the small keyboard available was inadequate to the task of competing with the violin in this work. Karen Smithies played with sensitivity and fluency, but the tone and range of the instrument was limited. Even so, the interpretation was most accomplished and it is to be expected that the pianos available at other venues will be more suitable.

Peter Donnelly
Un-published