The Strelitzia Ensemble was first formed as a Trio in 2008 and has been offering a five stage subscription series since 2012, producing interesting and original programmes with Sunday’s offering in Glebe being no exception.
The resident trio of Lucy Warren (violin), Eleanor Betts (cello) and Michael Curtain (piano) was joined by flautist Jane Bishop and clarinettist Rowena Turner for the introduction, entitled Petroushskates by Joan Tower, a contemporary composer and pianist from the USA who has received many accolades in the Northern hemisphere but is underexposed here. The title stems from the composer’s dual loves of Stravinsky’s ballet Petroushka and of figure-skating. Certainly one could detect the theme from the Shrovetide act of the ballet and other idioms of the Russian composer but the contemporary composer asserted her authority with wild runs on the cello and assertive weaving by the flute representing the contours of skating.
I was lucky enough to hear the ensemble play Kapustin’s Trio in C minor at St James Church and this helped to interpret the work by the Ukrainian pianist turned composer which is heavily influenced by his love of jazz and in which the flute replaces the piano. Certainly the piece is jazzy throughout even in the slow movement and flows naturally with the flautist prominent and the pianist maintaining the syncopated rhythms. The full range of the cello is displayed, the high register in the Andante and the lowest notes grinding in the Finale. I can’t imagine a full time jazz combo displaying the texture more successfully and I’m glad that Kapustin made his career change as I found the piece which maintained its classical structure exhilarating.
Missy Mazzoli is another composer/pianist well-known in the USA and hers was the title piece, Still Life With Avalanche where the trio was joined again by Rowena, doubling with bass and tenur clarinets as well as percussionist, Timothy Brigden. The composer describes this work as being about finding beauty in chaos and vice versa and was very busy with both string players and the percussionist using harmonicas in unison to produce a stark background to joyful sounds on the piano and clarinets mid-section before they returned to their original tasks including runs on the xylophone.
After refreshments, we were treated to Andrew Norman’s “Light Screens” for flute and string trio, which I also was previewed at St James. Another contemporary American composer, he is known for his love of architecture and its relationship to music. This is an early work which features the flute building on intertwining themes before a change of roles with prolonged woodwind notes being layered over the strings at a slower pace before acceleration is halted by an abrupt and effective ending.
Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring provided the only familiar work while this version for thirteen instruments is ten minutes longer than the Orchestral version. The above five instruments were joined by three violins, a viola, cello, double-bass and bassoon. Copeland named the piece after songs from the Shaker religious group and the term “Appalachian” after the mountain range south of New York was added by others. The piece lends itself particularly well to this smaller group and the first repeated triplet motif resounded effectively while the second popular tune from a song “Is the gift to be simple” was beautifully displayed. The whole work had a marked impetus to the very end and brought to life the only music on the agenda written by a composer no longer with us.
This concert was nothing short of superb in its programming and delivery. Strelitzia have taken great pains to tread unbeaten paths, exposing us to less well-known works and we are much the richer for it. The playing was faultless and I can’t recall having a warmer feel: the performers and audience enjoyed themselves immensely in an intimate setting and were well prepared to exit into the ferocious storm outside.