Reviews 2016

Stephen Martin Memorial Concert

Virtuosi Tasmania
Phillip Joughin (baritone), David Nuttall (oboe), Lynette Smith (piano)
Barrel Room
MONA, Berriedale

This opening series of four performances around Tasmania started Virtuosi’s 2016 season and was dedicated to the memory of founder and manager Stephen Martin. The main work was the premiere of Country – a cantata in three phases with music by Don Kay and text by John Honey. It confronts the audience with the use of contemporary quotations to graphically convey the violent nature of contacts between the Aboriginal inhabitants of Tasmania and the first European settlers. The declamatory music that accompanies this first section of the cantata is suitably unsettling. In the following sections – ‘The Dark Boy’ and ‘Country’ the music is more varied and elegiac with the oboe creating a plaintive mood to match John Honey’s poetic text. Singer, pianist and oboist performed with committed understanding.

The remainder of the program, for this concert in the somewhat stark acoustic of the Barrel Room at MONA, comprised pieces by Saint-Saens, Mozart and Mahler. Saint Saens’ Sonata for Oboe and Piano, Op 16 is a late work in pastoral mood and David Nuttall’s and Lynette Smith’s playing was an absolute delight. Mozart’s Concert Aria K. 538 was charming in this arrangement for oboe and piano. Finally, returning to the dark mood at the start, Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer were vividly and strongly sung by Phillip Joughin with the original piano accompaniment sensitively done by Lynette Smith.

Peter Donnelly

Horn Trio

Virtuosi Tasmania
Heath Parkinson (horn), Edwina George (violin) and Stewart Kelly (piano)
HOME HILL WINERY, Ranelagh

Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) was the Russian composer who coined the term ‘polystylistic’. Anyone familiar with his sometimes chaotic, often experimental sound world would probably have been surprised by the music that opened this concert. Suite in the Old Style for violin and Piano, Op. 80 is an unexpectedly light and airy 5-movement piece with neo-classical roots and ideas that were drawn from Schnittke’s film scores. Violinist Edwina George and pianist Stewart Kelly performed this delightful work with charm and enthusiasm. Sergei Rachmaninov’s popular and soulful Vocalise Op 34 No 14, while originally composed for wordless voice, exists in many transcriptions. Heath Parkinson (horn) and Stewart Kelly gave of their considerable best but I wasn’t convinced that the horn is an instrument that allows this wistful and elegiac melody to flower. The performance concluded with Brahms’s magnificent Trio for violin, horn and piano in E flat major, Op 40. All three performers rose to the occasion with particularly beautiful playing in the Adagio mesto third movement.

Peter Donnelly

String Quartet

Virtuosi Tasmania
Jennifer Owen (violin), Miranda Carson (violin), Jo St Leon (viola), Ivan James (cello)
STEFANO LUBIANA, Granton

Players Jennifer Owen and Miranda Carson (violins), Jo St. Leon (viola), and Ivan James (cello), all from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, came together for this concert in the beautiful surrounds of Stefano Lubiana Wines & Osteria at Granton for the second of three performances around the State. Both of the works presented were essentially thoughtful, inward-looking pieces that required a sureness of touch from the performers in terms of concentration, variety of phrasing and colour, and musical imagination.

Schubert’s String Quartet No 13 in A minor D. 804 is striking for its use of a well-known theme in the Andante movement from the composer’s incidental music to the play Rosamunde. These musicians brought strength, charm and subtlety to their interpretation of this lyrical work with only a very occasional slip in coordination to suggest that this quartet was not a permanent ensemble.

The Mozart String Quartet No 21 in D major K. 575 was, if anything, even finer in execution. The clarity and warmth of textures was enhanced by the excellent acoustic of this performance space. The playing of the concluding Allegretto, in particular, had both poise and spontaneity.

Peter Donnelly

Piano Cello

Virtuosi Tasmania
Karen Smithies (piano), Ivan James (cello)
HOME HILL WINERY, Ranelagh

Ivan James (cello) and Karen Smithies (piano) played Beethoven, Brahms and Prokofiev in the congenial surrounds of the Home Hill Winery. Beethoven’s ‘Cello Sonata in C major, Op 102, No 1’ marks the beginning of the composer’s late period when he was experimenting with structure and refining content in his works. These players brought concentration and a sense of the inner workings of this spare, pared back music. The two movements contain great contrasts and both musicians were attuned to conveying the often-abrupt contrasts of mood. Prokofiev’s arrangement of the ‘Adagio from his ballet ‘Cinderella Op 97 bis’ is attractively lyrical and expansive, here given with warmth and affection. Brahms’s ‘Sonata for Piano and Violoncello in F major, Op 99’ is a work of passionate intensity, imposingly symphonic in its structure and ambition. These two fine musicians brought energy and fine balances to this great piece. The gentle opening measures of the slow movement achieved notable focus and calm.

Peter Donnelly