Ensemble Liaison is blessed with a wealth of friends willing to augment a repertoire of works written for clarinet, cello and piano either as solo instruments or in various combinations. Collaborating with students from the Australian National Academy of Music, violinist Adam Chalabi and soprano extraordinaire Greta Bradman (pictured), they presented a splendid program in a much more expanded form than usual.
The concert began with a spirited and disciplined performance of what David Griffiths called “one of my favourite works” and “one of the most beautiful pieces ever written”. Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring was originally written for a chamber orchestra of thirteen instruments and Griffiths chose to perform this less commonly played version. With a bunch of talented ANAM students led by Adam Chalabi and underpinned by the ever exuberant Griffiths himself on clarinet, Svetlana Bogosavljevic on cello and Timothy Young at the piano, it was easy to understand his enthusiasm. ANAM student Kim Falconer added substantially to the beauty of the work with her mellow rounded tone in the prominent part for flute.
Ensemble Liaison’s ninth season has the title “Il Bel Canto” and that is exactly what was delivered with Greta Bradman’s stunning voice illuminating the other two items on the program.
As the recipient of the 2014 Melbourne Recital Centre and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music Composition Award, which provides MCM’s emerging composers with the chance to write a six to eight minute work for one the MRC’s Local Heroes ensembles, Mark Viggiani approached the so aptly named Ensemble Liaison. The result, Cleopatra, is a dramatic study of the Egyptian queen as portrayed in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. By editing various excerpts from the text to highlight different aspects of her character, the work explores the relationship between these two legendary lovers, culminating in her decision to end her life. Viggiani’s writing is accessible and inventive, with moments of high drama juxtaposed against bleak despair reflecting the shades of Cleopatra’s personality and predicament. He paints a striking portrait using Greta Bradman’s unique gifts to great advantage.
The mezzo quality of her middle and lower range is alluring and merges effortlessly with limpid soft singing in the upper register that seems to hang in the air. As was apparent in her brilliant performance in Handel’s Rodelinda, Bradman knows exactly how to tune into the superb acoustic of the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall. Although it was often difficult to understand the text, the instrumental nature of Bradman’s voice projected the general sense of the narrative and was a constant joy to hear. To fully appreciate the work, however, a copy of the text in some form was needed.
Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony was originally written for twenty-five wind and percussion instruments, strings, harp and voice. Klaus Simon’s arrangement for fifteen instruments (seven winds and percussion, strings, piano, harmonium, and voice) is a far cry from the usual lush orchestration to which audiences are accustomed. Chalabi’s unobtrusive, musically defined leadership ensured a convincing performance of an arrangement that posed considerable challenges. The horn component, such an important feature of Mahler’s work, was concentrated from four horns into one and ANAM’s Alden Cai is to be commended for managing it so well. Fine playing from all ANAM students made this a satisfying musical experience, but Greta Bradman’s contribution made it an exceptional one in the final movement as she sang the words of simple faith and joy with ravishing, pure tone.
Ensemble Liaison is renowned for its innovative programming and this was collaboration at its best as all artists worked together to create, nurture and perform with the support of Melbourne’s major musical institutions. The MRC, ANAM, the University of Melbourne and Monash University each played a role in what deserves to be one of many such projects for the further enrichment of Australia’s cultural life.
This concert was reviewed at the Melbourne Recital Centre on August 21.