From the balcony of the South Melbourne Town Hall, eleven trumpeters, two euphonium players and a timpanist heralded the Australian National Academy of Music’s 2018 season with a stirring account of Janáček’s powerful Sokol Fanfare. It was the beginning of a concert marked by the inviting melodies of Bohemia and a remarkable degree of coordination between the elite young musicians of ANAM and a handful of their teachers.
From the opening brass fanfare to Andreas Tarkmann’s arrangement for wind octet and double bass of a Suite from Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, Faculty members “led by example”, as ANAM’s Artistic Director Nick Deutsch put it in his opening remarks. An oboist of international renown, Deutsch guided the nonet in a succession of eight movements of contrasting melodies and tonal effects. Faculty member, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Principal clarinet David Thomas brought further expertise to gracefully sweeping dance gestures and precisely articulated moments of prestissimo playing, especially as required in the familiar Dance of the Comedians finale. Of the pairs of wind instruments, it was pleasing to see the animated involvement of Matthew Ventura’s bassoon and some accomplished playing by the pair of horns.
Smetana’s dancing rhythms continued to lift the spirits and set toes tapping in the second half of this joyous celebration of nationalistic pride. The choice of several works by him was particularly appropriate for this occasion because of his importance as an educator. In addition to being a pianist, conductor and composer of note, he established his own academy in Prague and wrote several exacting pieces for student concerts, including the works for two pianos, eight hands presented in this concert.
With Faculty member Timothy Young leading the charge on the lower half of the first piano, Smetana’s Sonata in E minor and his Rondo in C major received the most enthusiastic applause for the evening. Whether it was because of the placement of the lid of the piano played by Young and a spirited Liam Wooding or Smetana’s writing itself, the fine playing of Berta Brozgul and Alexander Waite tended to be overshadowed a little in this exciting performance.
Josef Suk’s Serenade in E flat major for string orchestra added appealing lyricism and further excitement to conclude the program. Short solos for violin and cello from Faculty members Robin Wilson and Howard Penny were part of an assured performance that depended on vigilant awareness on the part of all players in order to maintain cohesion. With what appeared to be fairly minimal direction from Wilson, Suk’s surging rhythms were navigated with a combination of pleasing elasticity and admirable synchronisation. Rich, vibrant tone from all string sections and clean articulation in an exhilarating final movement brought Bohemia to vivid life.
There is perhaps some irony in the fact that Australia’s flagship educator of musicians did not include a work by an Australian composer in a program focused on a country’s search for a national musical voice and identity. Last year’s opening concert of British music was similarly devoid of an Australian work, so it is to be hoped that 2019 will feature at least one work by Australian composer. It might be an opportunity to show how characteristics of certain European traditions have contributed to shaping our country’s creative voices via a line of inspired teachers.
Nevertheless, this was a program that showcased the talent and vitality of another cohort of gifted young musicians who brought joy to an appreciative audience.
Reviewer Heather Leviston attended the ANAM concert at South Melbourne Town Hall on March 10, 2018.