This is an interesting report for me to write because I suspect many of you have heard some Beethoven before now, and probably also heard Kathryn Selby and her Selby & Friends tours. Furthermore if you’re reading this on classikON, you’ve hopefully also read Phillipa’s excellent interview with Kathryn covering the themes and rich backstory of this programme. Finally, as a chap whose musical education went as far as Grade One theory and the recorder, trying to say anything incisive about the superb and essentially flawless playing of all three performers on this evening would be tantamount to blasphemy.
So I shan’t attempt to.
The cello of Richard Narroway as introduced in the first piece of the evening, the Cello sonata op. 102 no.1, was played with a touch which brought a silky resonance to the notes and somehow kept a sense of exuberance even through those passages that were reflective of the struggles that Beethoven was experiencing at the time, composed as it was in the period where his brother Kaspar was deathly ill with tuberculosis and the subsequent custody battle that LvB engaged in for Kaspar’s son, Karl.
The violin of Andrew Haveron as introduced in the second piece of the evening, the somewhat longer Violin sonata op. 30 no.2, was played with fluidity and the kind of affectless insouciance that can only come from a true delight in the music and the occasion, combined with a deep familiarity with playing in small chamber groups such as this. All this in a piece reflective of the struggles that Beethoven was experiencing at the time, composed as it was in the period where his deafness was taking hold to an extent that he wrote the famous Heiligenstadt Testament, admitting** the impact that it was having upon him.
All throughout, the piano of Kathryn Selby was played with a confident assurance and command that made it clear that it wasn’t on stage to be mere accompaniment to the strings. By the time we were treated to the Piano trio op. 70 no. 2 – which splits the date difference between the two sonatas so, you guessed it, Beethoven was not a happy chappy then either – having all three performers on stage after the interval brought a wonderful evening to a close as each at times took the lead before passing the baton* to the next in a smooth interplay of musicians at the top of their game.
Lo, I had a great evening. It was led off by Kathryn Selby talking to us about her love of Beethoven: how the picture she formed in her mind of the man when she first started playing piano was so far from the reality, and how she takes inspiration from continuing to learn who he was in life. Both Narroway and Haveron also gave us an insight both in to their own perspectives on the pieces as well as their own unique perspectives on how they fitted in to the corpus of his opera. I genuinely appreciate these kinds of scene-setting, both for the insight in to the context of the music we are about to hear and for the glimpse of what it means to the performers themselves. The setting of a school theatre always gives me some pause – you can almost smell the enthusiastic earnestness of teenage drama – but this is MLC after all; the facilities are top-notch while helping to maintain a more casual ambience than, say, the admittedly superb Elisabeth Murdoch Hall.
What I want to know is, where were my peers in age? I know that you’ve enjoyed classical music: I’ve seen you come out to watch ARCO. I know you can travel to the Eastern Suburbs; I’ve seen you at Xavier College just down the road for the Zelman Symphony. I even know that you can leave the house mid-week; I’ve seen you at the Northcote Town Hall on what I think was a Wednesday.
Selby & Friends will be back again next year for another marvellous season. Will you join me?
Are you a part of the younger generation of classical music lovers? Let us know if you’re planning on attending a Selby & Friends concert in Melbourne in 2020 (or any other concert), and we can connect you with John for some pre-concert drinks!
*Not literally, of course. This is chamber music, not an orchestra!
**At least to himself, for he never showed it to anyone.