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Australian Festival of Chamber Music

Gillian Wills

It’s not every Music Festival that can conjure up breaching whales on the boat trip to a concert on Orpheus Island.
Australian Festival of Chamber Music

Photo courtesy of Ed White.

This year’s eclectic chamber music Festival roiled with tropical theatre. Emotion ran high. Not entirely due to the well-designed programs that featured chamber giants Dvorak, Brahms, Schubert, adventurous 21st Century works and neglected gems, but, because it was award-winning Artistic Director, Piers Lane’s 11th and final Festival. Incidentally, it’s not every Music Fest that can conjure up breaching whales on the boat trip to a concert on Orpheus Island which featured the accomplished Nexas Saxophone Quartet. 

With Matthew Hindson as composer-in- residence there was a crowd-pleasing selection of Hindson’s blazing rhythmical curlers, fired at lightning speeds with bluegrass strains and daubs of techno. Audiences enjoyed AK7 rendered by Jayson Gillham (piano) and Timothy Constable (percussion.) In ‘Beginnings,’ the first concert, Goldner Quartet gave a wonderful world-premiere of Hindson’s String Quartet.

In ‘Governor’s Fandango’ Goldner made a massive contribution especially in Dvorak’s ‘Quintet No. 2 in A major’ with Kathryn Stott, Festival Director elect, who flashed consummate pianistic skill. Chamber music gold, the dazzling performance danced to the moon and back.

Not everything worked. For instance, a performance of the Goldberg Variations played at breath-taking speeds by harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani who flitted between harpsichord and piano with amazing associate artist James Crabbe (accordionist.) The new colours piqued curiosity initially. But Esfahani was unsuccessful on the grand piano’s different action. His blistery, rippled lines, colourless. There were frayed edges.

In ‘The Farewell Concert’ the performance of Rachmaninoff’s ‘Suite No. 2 for two pianos, Op. 17,’ Stott and Lane scorched the keys with an expertly dovetailed ensemble framed by the duo’s well-matched, amazing virtuosity.

Genevieve Lacey (recorder) and Poul Hoxbro’s (pipe and tabor) ‘Estampie’ seemed to stop time with their uncanny brilliance on the humblest of instruments. Hoxbro played pipe and frame drum simultaneously.

‘German Romantics’ boasted white-hot narratives. Orli Shaham, piano, Francesca Dego, violin, Christopher Moore, viola and Barta made a formidably classy team for Brahms’ ‘Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor.’ The initial ‘sighs’ from the strings, riveting. Shaham powered edgy challenge for the trio of string players, each glorious tune spinners.

Jayson Gilham and Orava Quartet’s heart-on-the-sleeve, oratory of Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat was stunning. The second movement’s poignancy spirited an aching sense of grief. And in this tropical setting, Adani’s gathering threat to the Barrier Reef sprang to mind.  In ‘Bach By Candlelight 1’, Gillham executed a thrilling account of Bach’s ‘Toccata in C Minor.’ He walked the fine edge between control and of spontaneity with flair.

‘Concert Conversations’ in which Lane interviews the artists also presents a recital. When UK horn player Martin Owen performed Messaien’s ‘Appel Interstellaire, he asked the crowd to imagine a star-studded sky. Owen acquitted the Olympian challenge seamlessly and revealed a wealth of tonal effects in particular a creepy half-valve keening which pimpled the skin.

‘Phoenix Rising’ presented memorable deliveries. Especially Jack Heggie’s powerful ‘Pieces of 9/11.’ Skilfully directed by Julian Smiles, the brilliance of sopranos Natalie Peluso, Sophie Ricca and baritone Henk Neven’s heart-piercing singing with superb instrumental support won a deserved standing ovation.

4 ½ stars out of 5

Australian Festival of Chamber Music, Townsville
28 July – 5 August 2017
www.afcm.com.au

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Gillian Wills writes for Arts Hub and has published with The Australian, Limelight Magazine, Courier Mail, Townsville Bulletin and The Strad, Musical Opinion, Cut Common, Loudmouth, Artist Profile and Australian Stage Online. Gillian is the author of ‘Elvis and Me: How a world-weary musician and a broken ex-racehorse rescued each other’ Finch Publishing, which was released in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and America in January, 2016.


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