Kathryn Selby put together yet another intriguing programme, on this occasion based on one composer’s works. She is, of course, an accomplished pianist in her own right and her reputation enables her to lure top class international and local performers to play with her.
Grace Clifford studied at The Sydney Conservatorium of Music until 2014 when she won the Young Performer of the Year prize playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and other major competitions. She then embarked on a Bachelor of Music programme at Philadelphia’s Curtis institute though still amassing frequent flyer points playing with four major Australian Orchestras.
Clancy Newman was born in Albany, New York State but claims Australian heritage via his parents. Among others, he won a gold at the Dandenong Youth Festival and the Juilliard School Cello Competition. More recently, he has concentrated on solo performance and also composition. His works, including a Clarinet trio and a Piano Quintet have been featured at many centres in the US.
Beethoven was our featured composer and we started with the Piano Trio in B-flat major, WoO39. This piece was written for his friend Franz Brentano’s daughter, Maximiliane whose main claim to fame is being musicologists’ top candidate for the “Immortal Beloved”. At this time, she was only ten and the music reflects this being simple in construction and expression despite the composer’s maturity. A simple theme is developed in sonata form and the piece provided an ideal appetiser.
The “Spring” Sonata op 24 was not so named by Beethoven but certainly deserves it’s epithet being light and optimistic in nature. It was published shortly after his First Symphony and has remained the most popular of his works for piano and violin. Simply expressed themes abound but are developed in Beethoven’s inimitable mature style. One innovation is the inclusion of a third movement Scherzo, short as it is, an experiment which must have succeeded in the composer’s mind as he used it repeatedly after. The balance and empathy between the performers was excellent and the character of the work was expressed perfectly.
An amusing incident followed when most of the audience exited for a premature interval which allowed the cellist to show his talents as a raconteur while they returned to hear the cello sonata op 69 in A, again the best known of its genre and the first to give the two instruments equal status. It was written around the same time as the Fifth Symphony and the Waldstein Sonata.
A lyrical theme on cello opens the work and the movement soon becomes more dramatic and modulates to the minor mode before arpeggios on the cello and tremolo figures on the piano give way to a coda featuring précis of the main themes. The Scherzo is just that a jokey piece, highly syncopated and contrasted by a typically bland Trio featuring double stopping on the cello. The only slow part of the work is a brief introduction to the Finale which is in Rondo style, a jaunty theme being followed by a more complicated and chromatic development. Again, the poise and accuracy of the duet produced an invigorating performance.
The Trio in B flat op 97 is known as the Archduke because of its dedication to Archduke Rudolf of Austria. It was written in 1814 by which time the composer’s deafness was a huge problem, and is thought to be the last work in which Beethoven performed in public. It is a work of huge proportions, breaking new ground in places yet maintaining a joyful and tuneful essence. A majestic opening theme soon morphs into an eerie version and many themes follow introduced mainly by the piano. It is in the Scherzo which follows that ,to me , Beethoven shows his mastery. The simplest theme on the strings comes to life and grows with exposition to be interrupted by a sublime Trio with ascending minor chromatic figures resolving into tunefulness and a very un-Trio like crescendo into the major. I feel this episode is a test of the performers’ mettle and they passed with flying colours. An introspective and heavenly slow movement is followed by a bustling Finale, the Coda being a particularly optimistic summary of the work.
I have already extolled the virtues of the soloists – Kathryn Selby was as reliable as ever and searching for a wrong note or tempo is fruitless. Grace Clifford’s sensitivity of tone and touch showed a maturity beyond her years. Clancy Newman showed a great application to rhythm and moulding with his “friends” and it is often the Cello which contributes most to accuracy in timing.
All in all – a great concert!