Australia Ensemble UNSW | Dream Tracks
Kensington, UNSW, April 10 2021
It was great to be part of the audience for the first concert at the Sir John Clancy Auditorium for over a year and it was fitting that it should feature the stalwarts, namely the members of the Goldner Quartet, the most celebrated musical group in Australia – if not the World.
A stimulating and original programme began with three well known English folk tune adaptations by the champion of this genre, Percy Grainger. Dimity Hall was joined by ensemble members David Griffiths (clarinet) and Ian Munro on the piano, the latter almost unrecognisable with the addition of a large beard, but with the same driving rhythm which suited Grainger’s visions. The well known Shepherd’s Hey and Molly on the Shore provided the cornerstones for the more soulful but just as familiar Danny Boy. A boisterous way to welcome back the patrons.
I had not heard Peter Sculthorpe’s Dream Tracks before – it summons up visions of the Northern Australian outback and features Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island melodies especially Dijile which represents the Whistling Duck on a billabong. Surprisingly, the commission for the work came from Michigan State University. The piano takes over from the clarinet and violin in evocating the bareness and wild nature of the subject and the beautiful phrasing of the melodies is typical of the composer. Surprisingly listenable for a first hearing of a work producing such a remote atmosphere.
Jean Françaix is one of a group of composers who is unfamiliar to many but whose work nearly always receives a positive response (perhaps he should have a better agent! – although he was the star composer for one year’s Huntington Festival). His work is usually jazzy and ebullient and the Trio for violin and piano written in the last year of his life is no exception, although most of his work features wind instruments. There was audible appreciation by the audience of the jumpy harmonic effects, even during the playing, and the humour and time variations resulted in rapturous applause at the end. By Poulenc out of Dave Brubeck perhaps.
Carl Maria von Weber related by marriage to Mozart belongs like Hummel and Spohr to a group of talented composers whose music has been overshadowed by famous contemporaries such as Schubert and Beethoven. His own instrument was the clarinet and the layout of his compositions reflects this – the music is designed to bring out the best in the performer and this is particularly true of his quintet for clarinet and strings. It goes without saying that David Griffiths rose to the task superbly including very tricky arpeggios in the slow movement that must have been marked Pianississimo. Theatrical and perhaps operatic in nature but very well received.
This programme was brilliantly conceived and equally well performed by the Australia Ensemble, whose standard never falters, and appreciated by a very receptive audience, many of whom would have found the completion of Sydney’s new Light Rail very convenient!