A special concert by the Sydney Schubert Society was performed at North Sydney’s Independent Theatre rather than its usual venue, a fortunate choice in view of the prevailing cold snap. The Schubert Society has been regaling appreciative esoteric audiences for over sixty years – a lot of thought goes into their programming, chiefly along the lines of the well-known Schubertiades, based on the composer’s own times. This afternoon recital was no exception with a subtle departure from the norm.
The first half consisted of four groups of three Lieder sung by David Greco, baritone, and accompanied by pianist Peter Toohey. Familiar songs such as An Die Musik and Der Tod und Das Mädchen were intertwined with lesser known Schubert lieder, with an extra sweetener of three songs by Alban Berg. David took time to explain the backgrounds of the story to each poem which was very helpful. His intonation and expression were excellent and his voice had an adequate range while Peter’s accompaniment was precise and balanced.
I particularly enjoyed the unfamiliar “Der Zwerg” (The Dwarf) with its lengthy dramatic background involving three characters and the later “Auf Der Bruck” (By the lookout) which had a peaceful lyrical feel. The Berg songs “Jugenlieder” (Songs for the Young) were short but enjoyable and their more modern tone complemented the more classical Schubert to form a beautifully framed section. Have I witnessed the most dissonant sounds ever heard at a Schubertiade, I ask myself!
The second part of the program consisted of the Quintet in A major “The Trout” written by a surprisingly youthful Schubert but, as in so many of his works, not published until after his death ten years later. Certainly, it has an optimistic aura unlike many of his later chamber works. The audience was treated to an absorbing preview of the work and of Schubertiades in general by the violinist, Marianne Broadfoot. The piano is conspicuous throughout the piece and particularly in the vibrant opening movement where Brenda Jones strutted her stuff with enthusiasm. The unusual inclusion of a double bass as well as a cello allows the piano to play mostly in the higher registers setting the tone for the work. The andante features serene melodies and intricate modulations and it was here that the importance of the balance between the lower strings (Timothy Nankervis on cello, David Campbell on double-bass) and the other trio was so important. Next is a brisk vigorous Scherzo with a typically laid back trio with the viola (Jacqui Cronin) prominent before a return to the main theme. It’s the fourth movement which is based on the Lied “Die Forelle”, in which the trout is finally caught by the fisherman, but there is no such fate here as the six variations develop on the well-known catchy tune-there is a gradual increase in tempo with runs on the piano before a return to the main theme. The finale, Allegro Giusto, has a memorably emphatic theme, but is perhaps a testament to the composer’s inexperience is merely restated in a different key without any development although the ending is effective enough.
An excellent concert brilliantly conceived by the Schubert Society which really wowed the audience and was superbly performed by all concerned. One small quibble, I feel that the inclusion of the lied “Die Forelle” would have been a great appetiser for the quintet that followed.
Photo thanks to Ranui Young