If there is a concert that one would describe as perfect, this one had to be in the mix. Internationally recognised Australian musicians Coady Green (piano) and Justin Kenealy (saxophones) make a perfect duo, their choice of “complex and vibrant repertoire” by valued contemporary Australian composers in a perfect acoustic venue with supportive colour enhanced staging, and a perfect audience, which was engrossed, spellbound, held in silent attention for every minute of the performance, contributed to this perfect hour of music. From composers Stuart Greenbaum, Louisa Trewartha and Gulliver Poole, Duo Eclettico requested pieces with an environmental connection, two for world premier performances, music that specifically expressed a relationship between humankind and the natural world.
How salutary too for us was the presence of the acclaimed and prolific composer Professor Greenbaum to present his work, alongside young Gulliver Poole, a rising talent with his second major work for Duo Eclettico being premiered. Noted for her many commissions for highly colourful chamber music, Louise Trewartha was unable to be present for her opening work, Fire Line Suite, introduced by Kenealy from her notes. In four short movements “the musical themes … are inspired by the fire triangle: 1. Oxygen, (a gentle breeze) 2. Fuel (flammable vegetation ) 3. Heat (devastation) 4. Regrowth (a glimmer of hope, regeneration).”
High single notes on the piano introduced spaced bare intervals, calm and airy in the stillness of a hot summer’s night. Against a red and gold lit background, Kenealy’s glorious radiant and incandescent tone set the warmth of the scene, with controlled non-pitched breathing effects complementing the composer’s landscape. Drive and energy developed as the piano built more urgent tremolos under a broad strong 5-time melody, as the Duo skilfully built rising and falling momentum in colourful sound waves. Agitation, fear and scampering rhythmic steps cleverly portrayed the flight of living creatures from fire and weather, as carefully spaced imitative bush cries were sorrowfully heard. More piercing high saxophone trills and downward glissandos above thunderous low clusters on the piano increased our feeling of tragedy in Heat. In a slow and gentle tonal and harmonic conclusion, clear rhythmic steps symbolised forward moving life and hope, with a fine sonic dimension added as Kenealy turned his instrument around, across and into the grand piano’s strings, producing surreal and unique echoes and resonant overtones. Magical. New tonalities, new life. A super piece, at times illustrative but musically powerful and spiritually connecting.
In 2021, young emerging composer Gulliver Poole’s work Solicitude struck a chord with Duo Eclettico, and this continuing partnership is an exciting result. Poole introduced his new work, Forlorn, describing his inspiration from a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, sharing both his deeply felt response in a celebration of beauty and colour with an honest recognition of the increasing loss of the dying coral. The back lighting on the majestic walls of the auditorium became a fusion of fabulous glowing aqua, turquoise and deep marine blues, with hints of Debussy and Ravel textures taking us into a flowing and enchanting musical underworld. Turbulence and danger grew with alarming signs from insistent crescendos and tremolos on piano, accented loud low themes signalled warnings of destruction, and foreboding and solemn chords illustrated the last pulse beats of time. It was a most expressive and sad close, as rich and dense harmonies on the piano under a gently spaced repeated single soprano sax note repeated a weakening death toll. The effectiveness of this new music was very well received with staunch applause.
Stuart Greenbaum “hears music in time as a journey. Often this involves viewing our home planet earth from a distance.” Written in 2002, his three-movement Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano came from his love of the piano and the sax, with both instruments so wonderfully triumphant in their centrality to both classical and jazz genres. Today, Greenbaum is proud of his Sonata project – a full list of 23 Sonatas, this second Sonata being a special exploration of the widest pitch range, emotional expression, dynamics and technical demands for both instruments. This mature 20-minute work is firmly in the repertoire for young students, with its colourful, imaginative and inventive structures, complex rhythms and extended sax cadenzas. In an unusual ending to the first movement, the solo alto sax climbed an ascending slow diminishing pathway to a great height as Greenbaum took us to look beyond Earth.
The popular second movement begins unusually with contemporary, almost prayerful, thoughtful piano chords that introduce a sweetly lyrical sax phrase, akin to a developing jazz ballad, with subtle ornamentation, and a sophisticated bluesy style. The highly experienced musicianship of Duo Eclettico showed in their fine symbiotic partnership, their pristine accuracy and attention to perfectly tuned and detailed expression.
An exploratory, vigorous and rhythmically free closure to this imaginative and sophisticated Sonata was greeted with lengthy applause and loud exclamations of praise. Duo Eclettico is setting a high bar for bringing unique classical and contemporary Australian saxophone works onto the concert platform.
Julie McErlain reviewed “From the Forest”, performed by Duo Eclettico at the Melbourne Recital Centre on July 4, 2022.