Home » MDCH: Australian National Academy of Music – Strauss and Brahms, and Beethoven and Suk

MDCH: Australian National Academy of Music – Strauss and Brahms, and Beethoven and Suk

by Julie McErlain

As the programming from the creative and inspiring Melbourne Digital Concert Hall series is now inviting a wide audience to hear Australian artists in overseas and interstate concert venues, we are hearing a growing array of fabulous home-grown artists, both experienced performers and emerging young talent. Full credit must also go to the teachers and mentors in the music faculties who are dedicated to educating young performers for a career on the world stage. The Australian National Academy of Music has a proud track record for nurturing brilliant careers, with alumni achieving their dreams as soloists and in orchestras and chamber ensembles around the world. This year, many students have returned to their home states, but have continued to engage with ANAM through on-line lessons, continuing their goals of becoming musical leaders in the country.

In the opening bars of Brahms’ Sonata No 2 in F, Op 99, cellist Daniel Chiou and pianist Caleb Salizzo established a powerful, and confident opening with intensely contrasting dynamics and a surging, passionate stream of sound. I loved the youthful drive and energy of the explosive piano chords, which ended the first movement, and the robust and rich beauty of the third movement Scherzo. The cello was highly outspoken in the second movement Adagio affettuoso with affective pizzicato alternating with bowed beautiful themes in the upper register, and a significantly broad and masculine strength on the low notes. This well balanced partnership impressed with its sensuous, mature, confident but respectful performance.

Alex Raineri has emerged as an exciting soloist and accompanist who partnered violinist Leanne McGowan for Richard Strauss’ Violin Sonata in Eb Op 18.His scintillating technique shows poise and fluidity when he moves from delicacy and warmth to more explosive fireworks and pronounced accents. As the first movement progressed, the violin grew in confidence and authority, with the piano providing tones of a rich orchestral accompaniment. There was much sensitivity in this artistic partnership, and some gorgeous, lyrical and delicate violin entries shining out in the second movement, Andante cantabile.

However, in this highly quantitative piece, the camera work did become increasingly busy, which can be a distraction as attentive listeners are focussing on rarely performed complex repertoire. Certainly, part of the experience of virtual audiences is the visit to splendid concert venues, and we appreciate the technical challenges associated, especially with staging larger ensembles. The second ANAM program was also a challenge for the staging as for both ensembles the pianists were mostly hidden – by the bassoon in the first, and the violin in the second. While not affecting the wonderful sound of both groups, a small adjustment of seating, pre-performance, could have eliminated this quite strikingly blocked camera view. In these short concerts we hope to savour every minute of music without visual distractions or question marks.

Hannah Woolley, guest oboe, with alumni Ashley Smith, clarinet, Adam Mikulicz, bassoon, Julia Brooke, horn and Gladys Chua, piano, put full heart, spirit and clarity into this splendid piano quintet.

Beethoven’s Quintet in Eb Op 16 for piano & winds is described as being more like a piano concerto accompanied by orchestral winds, and pianist Gladys Chua showed robust and strong demarcation of notes in all virtuosic runs and cadenza-like flourishes. The opening Grave showed some tension and forward drive, and was perhaps a little determined, rigid and hurried, heroic without melancholy or tenderness, but the players did become more relaxed and melded with each other’s dynamic flow as the minuet styled Allegro ma non troppo progressed. Andante cantabile gave us an increasingly relaxed and more balanced ensemble with some very beautiful colourations from each soloist. The third movement, Rondo, featured the horn in delightful passages calling horse and hounds to the hunt, creating an enjoyable but modest and carefully controlled adventure.

Bohemian composer Josef Suk (1874 – 1935) is not seen to have the stature of other “great” composers and child musical prodigies, but at the age of 17 he composed his first published work, the magnificent Piano Quartet in A minor, Op 1, a highly welcomed inclusion in this program. Accomplished ANAM alumni and artists Shaun Lee-Chen, violin, Jared Yapp, viola, Jeremy Garside, cello and Liam Wooding, piano, showed they were top of their class, from the powerful opening chord and sensuous exposure of the subsequent highly dramatic theme to the lyrical romantic second theme. There was a shared musical understanding and uniform style, whether gently relaxed or passionately joined with a depth of sound, breadth of dynamics and balanced textures.

Shaun Lee-Chen showed strong leadership as we felt much enjoyment from this ensemble’s finesse, passionate aura, lyricism and wonderfully wide dynamic range achieved in Adagio. It is well known that Joseph Suk studied composition with Dvorak and we could feel his spirit in the characteristic strong pulses of the national folk dance, a taste of the romantic lusty crescendos of Borodin’s melodies, and the fresh and youthful energy of an inspiring Allegro con fuoco.

MDCH again brought us the opportunity to hear rare performances of fine repertoire and meet new performers, always providing detailed accompanying program notes.

Image supplied.

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Julie McErlain reviewed two concerts by the Australian National Academy of Music presented live stream via Melbourne Digital Concert Hall: Strauss and Brahms from QPAC, Brisbane on September 11, and Beethoven and Suk from Perth Concert Hall on September 16, 2020.

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