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Stephen McIntyre’s Birthday Celebration

by Suzanne Yanko

This concert, featuring a who’s who of Australian musicians – let alone the inspirational teacher and pianist whose birthday they’d come to celebrate – would be my first 100 star review (if the editor permitted me to go so far off the radar). My reasoning is thus: there were 20 stellar musicians, most of them pianists, every one of them delivering a five-star performance in an impressive and highly entertaining program. Caroline Almonte was credited with having the idea for this concert so it was fitting that she and fellow pianist Ian Munro started proceedings – after the Recital Centre CEO Mary Vallentine had assured us that her warm tribute speech to Stephen McIntyre was “not a farewell”. Almonte and Munro’s performance of a piano duet by Schubert – Lebenssturme (‘Storms of Life’) – was beautifully executed, and allowed the full range of the Steinway concert grand to sing. It was typical of Stephen McIntyre’s modesty that he shared his first appearance on the platform with soprano Cheryl Barker. Soon to star in Opera Australia’s premiere production of Korngold’s Die tote Stadt Barker was in good voice as she sang Schubert’s Gretchen am Spinnrad and then Schumann’s Liebeslied with pleasing light and shade. McIntyre was a respectful accompanist, keeping a flowing sound yet allowing the piano part to be heard in equal partnership with Barker’s voice. The pianist is well known for his love of the Romantic repertoire and it was no surprise that he also chose Schubert for his first solo: the Andante sostenuto from Sonata D.960. McIntyre’s style appeared pared back, with no flourishes but rather an empathy for the long, concert-style work. He kept an evenness of tone, even as the work developed to a declamatory, Beethoven-like climax. The lyricism carried through to the last work in this half of the program, the first movement, Allegro, from Schubert’s Quintet in A major, D.667 (‘Trout’). With Wilma Smith, Justin Williams, Rohan De Korte and Steve Reeves joining Stephen McIntyre, the audience expected a memorable performance – and got it, as the five presented a joyous rendition of the well-loved work. After interval came the pianistic equivalent of bells and whistles in a 12-item program, About a Barcarolle. Not only did well-known performers continue to grace the stage, there were also composers in evidence – with Peter de Jager and Michael Kieran Harvey playing their own works. Bearing in mind Stephen McIntyre’s great influence as a teacher this program reminded one of a school concert with irrepressible, excited students taking turns to play duets, trios, duo piano pieces and more – except that all of them formed a who’s who of Australian musicians. Pianists Ian Munro, Caroline Almonte, Anna Goldsworthy, Michael Kieran Harvey, Benjamin Martin, Kristian Chong, Raymond Yong, Stefan Cassomenos, Daniel Yim, Stephen Ma (and of course Stephen McIntyre himself) were joined by sopranos, Cheryl Barker and Helen Noonan with baritone Michael Leighton Jones, Jeffrey Crellin (oboe), Prudence Davis (flute) – and the quartet that had played the ‘Trout’. It seems unfair to single out particular items, so high was the standard throughout, but some were notable: Stefan Cassomenos’s elegant renditions of works by Stuart Greenbaum and Gordon Kerry, then later joining Goldsworthy, Yong and Chong in Cecile Chaminade’s Les Noces d’argent. Yim and Ma triumphed in the demanding Tarantella by Rachmaninov – keeping eye contact and in perfect synch across two grands, and a complex piece. McIntyre joined old friends Crellin and Davis for the lovely ‘Trio for flute, oboe and piano’ by Madeleine Dring, with the oboe melody promising charm and harmony from the outset. The three were then upstaged by Noonan and Leighton Jones as the two cats of Rossini’s famous duet. Both were in great voice, but it was the baritone’s take on the (usually female) meows that had the audience weeping with laughter and captured the celebratory feel of the whole occasion. As for my idea of 100 stars: as Stephen McIntyre has had a hand in the musical development of so many performers (and many more, who are on stages or rostrums or in classrooms across the world) multiply that initial idea by ten. One thousand stars. Rating: 5 stars out of 5 Stephen McIntyre’s Birthday Celebration Melbourne Recital Centre May 27

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