Elena Kats-Chernin’s Blue Silence for Piano Trio must be one of the most stunning introductory pieces to a recital. Written in 2006 for her son suffering from schizophrenia, the piece is an exquisite journey into meditation and peace. I defy anyone to listen live to this soundscape that calls up oceans and deep meditative colours and not have their eyes closed in reverie by the end of it.
This piece was the opening salvo to the concert midway through the Selby and Friends’ The Game Changers tour. The tour takes the trio of Kathryn Selby, piano, Susie Park violin, and Julian Smiles, cello from the Southern Highlands, to Turramurra, Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.
Australia’s pre-eminent and much-loved chamber music pianist, Kathryn Selby AM, was joined by two outstanding Australian musicians: Australian String Quartet, Australian World Orchestra and Enso String Quartet violinist Susie Park and Julian Smiles, Australia’s leading cellist, international performer and recording artist and soloist with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Canberra Symphony Orchestra.
At the Sydney concert in City Recital Hall, Selby welcomed the audience in a conversational prologue to the program, painting the background to the ‘game changers tag’ as a presentation of composers who speak with individual voices and in particular, composers who changed the way music was written forever after.
There is no doubt that Kats-Chernin, described by many as Australia’s most loved living composers, speaks with an individual voice and rates as one of this country’s great game changers. As we swam through Blue Silence the music passing effortlessly from violin to cello to piano and back again. Smooth as silk, heavenly, it also served to highlight yet again the wonderful acoustics of City Recital Hall. Way back in the 15th row you could hear a pin drop on stage.
Selby chose the second piece to highlight the moment that Benjamin Britten changed course, under the intense influence of his friendship with famed Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Inspired by his mastery, Britten was compelled to re-enter the realm of instrumental composition with a series of works written especially for the cellist, including the Cello Sonata in C major, Op. 65.
This relationship between Britten and Rostropovich was beautifully brought to life by Julian Smiles, particularly in the first movement, Dialogo, a magical conversation between the piano and cello. The pizzicato in the second movement Scherzo-Pizzicato defied belief as the cello was plucked in a way rarely heard at the time, and which has become part of the art music scene ever since. As we took a moment to breathe in the Elegia, the slow grinding full force of the famous fourth and fifth movements, Marcia and Moto Perpetuo, filled the hall. The finale, Moto Perpetuo, ‘whose cello articulations are chased around a chromatic wilderness by the piano’ according to the program notes about the work, was exhilarating. As Smiles said in his conversation introduction to the Britten, the finale ‘goes right to the bumpers’, and, I would add, complete with burning rubber.
We then dived into the blissful soundscape world of Maurice Ravel. What is it about his incredibly distinct sound? Selby and violinist Susie Park brought the master of abstraction, the impressionist of music, to life in the Violin Sonata No. 2 in G major, M.77. Blending the elements of jazz in the middle movement – called Blues – the violin slides, jazz chords and syncopated rhythms were played with a beautiful lightness and transparency. Written over four years before he travelled to the USA, this piece was suspended in the air around us, and lingered long after it was finished.
After interval we were treated to a dramatic work featuring Selby, in Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Trio in F minor Op. 65. The dramatic first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, showcased the sensitivity and passionate power that is Kathryn Selby in full flight on a Steinway. First performed in 1883 in Bohemia, nearly 140 years ago, this game changing composer took the national roots of his country’s music and blended it within his own volatile artistic voice – restless, relentless and yet wholeheartedly romantic. A beautiful rolling Poco adagio took us to the Finale of this iconic piece, within a program that not only presented composers at their height, but highlighted the beauty of chamber music: when an ensemble of three outstanding chamber musicians create intriguing and fascinating journey together.
The final concert in this series is in Adelaide this weekend Sunday 8 Sept at the Elder Hall.