Program Reviews by Valerie

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Peninsula Music Club

IMPRESSIONS OF A WINTER'S TALE
 

IMPRESSIONS OF A WINTER’S TALE

It’s a chilly night in early August and well before eight o’ clock St Luke’s Hall is full to bursting. There’s a buzz in the air which is not surprising since the programme notes tell us that the renowned classical pianist Simon Tedeschi will be performing with special guest Roger Benedict whose career as a viola soloist has received worldwide critical acclaim. The promise of works by Schubert, Schumann and Brahms add to our expectations and all eyes are on the stage.

 

The musicians appear to loud applause. Simon Tedeschi announces the first piece; there is a quiet intensity about his demeanour and deep-set eyes as he introduces Roger Benedict who has an easy warmth and we learn that the opening work, Schubert’s Sonata in A minor D821 ‘Arpeggione’ for viola and piano written in 1824, was considered a flop when first performed, but they intend to play it anyway. The arpeggione was a six-stringed, fretted instrument comparable to a bowed guitar but held between the knees similar to a viola da gamba. It is now virtually extinct.  Born in 1797 Schubert was already ill when he wrote this sonata and he died four years later. So young and such a loss to the world of music.

The three movements despite the fact that the sonata was not written for the viola per se, are melodious, delicate and so pleasing that the audience applauds at the end of each movement! This brings a ready smile from the masterful performers on stage and ripples of laughter resound through the hall, the audience recognising a hidden humour in Simon Tedeschi. Written in 1824 it might then have been a flop, but now it is immensely popular and I fall instantly in love with the piece and the viola’s rich warm tones exquisitely played by  Roger Benedict.

Impromptu by the Jewish composer Hans Gál follows. The composer was a household name in Vienna until his music was banned with that of many other composers by the Nazis in the 1930s and he was forced to leave Europe for Britain just before the war. Born in 1890 Gál was a prolific composer, teacher and scholar throughout his long life though sadly was never again to achieve the success he enjoyed during his earlier years.  He wrote this charming and simple impromptu for his son who was studying the keyboard. He died in Edinburgh in 1987.

Franz Schubert wrote the song cycle Four songs from Winterreise - Winter Journey for voice and piano in 1828 as a setting of twenty-four poems by Wilhelm Müller; it is the second of his two great song cycles. Roger tells us they are ‘depressing songs” but that we should not worry because neither of them intends to sing!  The cycle tells the story of a foreboding of death, is difficult to sing and is definitely depressing.  Fortunately in the third song, the mood becomes more cheerful with sudden surges of crescendi that relieve the dark moments followed by an almost pretty melody. But the last song though delicate, is sombre and inward-looking before it gradually fades away. Like Schubert.

Schumann’s Intermezzo from F.A.E sonata for violin and piano is next. This four-movement work for violin and piano, composed in 1853, is the result of collaboration by three composers: Schumann, Brahms, and Schumann’s pupil Albert Dietrich. Schumann wrote the short Intermezzo as the second movement which has been described as ‘virtuosic, romantic and intense.”  This ‘tour de force” described by Simon, brings entertaining moments of humour between the soloists, in particular the last movement which ends with a triumphant flourish.

An unusual item before the interval is introduced by Simon who tells us he is not sure what he is going to play next, and then with his expressive smile asks the audience what they would like him to play. Hopeful voices ring out and he immediately performs an early jazz piece by Gershwin followed by the ever-popular Moonlight Sonata.

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Following the interval we are given the full blast of the Sonatensatz Scherzo in C minor which is Brahms' earliest known piece for violin and piano. The opening statement drags one in with an outburst of extraordinary dexterity from both musicians then becomes more reflective with the melody played by the piano. I notice that the piano chords occasionally overwhelm the viola though played with full force and later read that it took Brahms a quarter of a century to solve this problem of balance between the violin - in this case the viola - and the piano. The Scherzo ends in contemplative mood.

 

Schumann’s Sonata for piano and violin in A minor Op 105 was written in a week in September 1851. The composer was reported to have expressed displeasure with the work: "I did not like the first sonata for violin and piano; so I wrote a second one, which I hope has turned out better". The work proved to be successful though his troubled state of mind was apparently discernible in his three violin sonatas which were considered to be ‘tough works.’ Performed with passion and perfection I find this work a bit disturbing, unsettling even, certainly in the finale.  It was published as a sonata for piano and violin, not violin and piano - and to-night is played on the viola.

 

Amusing exchanges between the two soloists continue on and off throughout the evening, Simon’s humorous observations belie his solemn expression while Roger reacts with amusing ripostes which create a delightfully relaxed link between the serious works being played with such brilliance by both musicians. 

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The concert ends. The audience erupts into rapturous enthusiasm; it has been a superb and rewarding evening in every way. Sparkling wine and delicious sandwiches provided by the committee are handed around as members of the audience join the musicians to express their gratitude.

The last concert of the season offers us something completely different:  “L’Houre Exquise” with  baritone José Carbó and guitarists Andrew Blanch & Ariel Nurhedi on Friday 9th November at 8pm. The venue for all the Peninsula Music Club concerts is the Hall at St Luke’s Grammar School on the Bayview Campus.

valerie copyright Sydney August 2018

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