Reviews 2014

Mozart and Danzi

Virtuosi Tasmania
Home Hill Winery
Ranelagh

TSO bassoonist John Panckridge gave an introduction to the first work, Franz Danzi'z Quartet for Bassoon and String Trio in B flat major, Op 40, No 3. A prolific composer, and a once highly regarded contemporary of Beethoven, Danzi's music is largely forgotten today, save for his nine woodwind quintets. This little known quartet, in four short movements, is pure delight. Classical in style, with some Romantic harmonic touches, it was given with spirit and bubbly good humour by Panckridge, with Miranda Carson, Victoria Bihun (violins), Ann Roach (viola) and Jane Tallon (cello).

Clarinettist Chris Waller took over from Panckridge for the major work, Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A major, K581, one of the clarinet masterpieces from the end of the composer's life that were inspired by his friend, basset horn player Anton Stadler. The piece teams with memorable invention, and the string players responded with cohesive ensemble, Waller's clarinet work fluent and smooth-toned.

Peter Donnelly
Mercury 11 August 2014

Piano Quartet

Virtuosi Tasmania
Piano Quartet
Epsom House
Pontville

This concert in the sumptuous ballroom at Epsom House featured works for piano quartet and string trio, as well as the marvellous Busoni piano arrangement of J. S. Bach's "Chaconne in D minor" from the Partita No 2 BWV 1004 for solo violin. Jennifer Marten-Smith played this masterwork with authority and concentration. Mozart's "Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor K 478" is a magnificent piece, though it was considered too technically difficult back in 1785. Marten-Smith on piano, with Monica Naslow (violin), William Newbery (viola), and Brett Rutherford (cello) launched into the first movement with tremendous energy and unanimity, but they were able to relax the tension later to allow a necessary contrast; the slow movement was warmly and affectionately phrased. The single movement from Schubert's unfinished "String Trio in B flat major D 471", poised and vital, was followed by four "Terzetti" (Nos. 8, 9, 4 and 3) from the "15 Three-part Inventions by J. S. Bach BWV 787-801". Schubert's "Adagio and Rondo Concertant in F major D 487" is little known but totally delightful. The rondo is music of pure, uncomplicated joy, providing a fitting conclusion to an enjoyable evening.

Peter Donnelly
Mercury 14 June 2014

Flute, Oboe and Strings

Virtuosi Tasmania
Flute, Oboe and Strings
Shene
Pontville

A vivacious "London Trio No 1, Hob. IV: 1" by Joseph Haydn introduced this delightful program before a packed audience in the restored stables at Shene. The superb flute playing by Jillian Norton was complemented by her witty introductions to each piece. Georg Phillip Telemann was a highly prolific German Baroque composer, and two of his short pieces for flute were given spirited improvisational renditions. The irreverent spirit of the 20th century jazz-influenced world of the French group of composers known as "Les Six" inhabited Sir Arthur Bliss's "Conservations" for flute, oboe, violin, viola and cello. It was given stylish treatment by Norton, Dinah Woods, Edwina George, Jo St. Leon and Martin Penicka respectively. This was entertaining and great fun with the work having movements with amusing titles such as "The Committee Meeting" and "In the Tube at Oxford Circus". Finally there was Mozart's "Flute Quartet No I in D major, K 285" with its sublime Adagio featuring a plucked string accompaniment to the exquisite flute line. This was all hugely enjoyable and beautifully presented by all the performers.

Peter Donnelly
Mercury

Spirit of the MJQ

CD review
Virtuosi Tasmania
Spirit of the MJQ

Virtuosi Tasmania bring together Kelly Ottaway (vibraphone), Stephen Martin (double bass), Daniel Sulzberger (piano), and Mathew Ives (percussion) to share the spirit of the Modern Jazz Quartet - one of the most legendary American ensembles which spanned four decades of hits and performances. Milt Jackson's 'Bags' Groove' opens the album with the eternally cool tones of smooth jazz. 'Skating in Central Park' follows with a pleasantly relaxed dance through which the melody is carried gracefully by the vibes, and it is utterly reflective of its name. 'Cool Thing for Attractive People', 'Flow', and 'Mr Schifrin' are part or complete original works by Ives and Ottaway, and hold their place strongly alongside the greats. 'Cool Thing' demonstrates the true spirit of Ottaway as it merges with that of the MJQ - sophisticated and cool, with a respectful balance between the players. This is not restricted to this track alone, and the excellent quality of the recording combined with the spaciousness between parts allows for each player to be heard crisply and independent lines to flourish. Perhaps the most joyous piece on the release is 'Rise Up in the Morning'. Out of respect for classical composition, John Lewis borrowed from J. S. Bach's baroque chorale Sleepers Awake and crafted it into a jazz hit performed spectacularly by Virtuosi. John Lewis' 'Django' appears to complete the release on a sentimental note, perhaps lamenting the ending of both the album and the MJQ. However, empty textures and wide spacing eventuality progress into a playful conclusion which leaves you in none other than high spirits.

Stephanie Eslake
Warp Magazine June 2014

Spirit of the MJQ

CD review
Virtuosi Tasmania
Spirit of the MJQ

Virtuosi Tasmania's double bass player and founder Stephen Martin contends that jazz was "the chamber music of the 20th century". These musicians have explored the music of a number of jazz greats in concerts over the past few years. Since 2012 they have been presenting their tribute to the music of Modern Jazz Quartet. The original MJQ featured pianist John Lewis and vibraphonist Milt Jackson. They exemplified the "cool jazz" style that emerged in 1950's New York. On this album Martin, Kelly Ottaway (vibraphone), Daniel Sulzberger (piano) and Matthew Ives (drums) present ten tracks featuring well-know MJQ compositions, including three original pieces by Ottaway and Ives composed "in the spirit of the MJQ". An elegant and sophisticated recreation of the original MJQ sound, the players lead off with a very cool take on Milt Jackson's "Bags'Groove", led by Ottaway and Ives, with fine keyboard playing from Sulzberger and Martin's swinging bass line. Sulzberger's imaginative playing is much on display in John Lewis' "Django", with Ottaway's vibraphone work always superb throughout. The original compositions - Ottaway's "Cool Thing for Attractive People" and "Flow", as well as Ives' "Mr Schifrin" - a tribute to Lalo Schifrin - are a definite bonus, adding considerably to the attractions of this CD. The recorded sound is vivid and well balanced, making this a must for jazz devotees, and other as well.

Peter Donnelly
Mercury 28 April 2014

Debussy and Haydn

CD review
Virtuosi Tasmania
Huon Quartet
Debussy/Haydn

The Huon Quartet's first performances took place in June 2013, immediately establishing it one of the very best of a number of local ensembles. The members of the quartet - Elinor Lea and Rohana O'Malley (violins), Doug Coghill (viola) and Jane Tallon (cello) - are individually among the finest local instrumentalists. However, together they consistently display that magical quality of empathy and the ability to function as a single musical organism. The two quartets on this new CD were the repertoire chosen for the inaugural concerts; the excellent performances preserved here are enhanced by the glow and warmth offered by the acoustic of the ballroom at Government House, Hobart. The Debussy "String Quartet in G minor, Op 10", in particular, is quite an achievement for these players – poetic and atmospheric. Haydn's "F minor Op 20, No 5" is also very fine - smilingly genial and nuanced – the antithesis of the taut, hard-driven approach to Haydn performance favoured by many latter day string quartets. The CD is dedicated to the memory of His Excellency The Honourable Peter Underwood AC, Governor of Tasmania.

Peter Donnelly
Mercury 3 November 2014