What appears to be just a square, red-bricked industrial building in urban Brunswick is home to the excellent arts space, Tempo Rubato, a bar and classical music venue hosting weekly concerts. In such an unpretentious performing space, where varying shades of grey brick walls and concrete floor provide a cool and contemporary arts space for 100 patrons, the focus is the colourful 102 key Stuart & Sons concert grand piano. Most admirable is the volume of classical events held, and the partnership with Piano Project, a Melbourne charity that supports music tuition.
Being a Friday night, city life occasionally could be heard, either from a distant band pumping it out in Sydney Rd, an overhead helicopter or a wine glass on the stone floor. More important was the excellent repertoire chosen by popular artists Josephine Vains and Stewart Kelly, with a Romantic program that honoured the venue’s namesake, the musical language – Tempo Rubato.
In Mendelssohn’s Variations Concertantes in D, Op 17 a simple sweet melody introduced us to the very broad, round and strong acoustic of the space, where the acoustics favoured the lower depths of both instruments. Vains’ very rich and mellow instrument, a Thomas Dodd 1800 cello, was truly perfect for the evening’s repertoire, and the influence of Mozart and Beethoven was clearly felt in these classically structured variations. A surprising coda added a lighter flavour with more delicate textures for both instruments. Zwei Stücke (Two pieces) for Cello and Piano by Webern, written in 1899, are his very early compositions, both marked Langsam, both calm and unsentimental Romantic soliloquies for cello with long and lusty sustained melodies reaching across slow wide intervallic steps. There was a full-bodied tone from both instruments in this venue’s sonorous atmosphere, the cello magnificently at home in these beautiful and passionate arrangements.
Two popular songs written by Schumann, and later arranged for piano solo by Liszt, were full of elevated passion and emotional power. The first, Widmung (Dedication) was dedicated to Clara Wieck as a wedding gift, a very beautiful and moving piece with a rapturous build-up described in continuous rippling piano arpeggios across the full keyboard. The second, Frühlingsnacht (Spring Night),was declared by Schumann to be his most romantic song ever for his beloved Clara, and showed a more virtuosic accompaniment, with high rippling piano parts almost overshadowing the melody line. In this venue the upper register of the Stuart piano did produce a hefty, almost metallic percussive sound in Liszt’s virtuosic, ecstatic writing with sweeping arpeggios and abundant flourishes. In these passionate arrangements, Vains’ romantic cello never missed a heartbeat.
French cellist and composer Franchomme, a close friend of Mendelssohn, refined and developed bowing techniques for the instrument, developing its unique solo potential, concentrating on melodic purity of tone, a deep and rich timbre, and much double stopping in harmony and contrapuntal lines. The unaccompanied Caprice – No 9, Op 7was a showcase for Vains’ fine technique, balance and control of string effects, especially through the many sustained double stops and elegant two part melodic phrases. Her strongly connected legato work truly connected this music with a warmly receptive audience.
Also well-connected and most interesting was the carefully ordered repertoire – with Largo from Chopin’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 65allowing Kelly to show new colours in a more lightly textured accompaniment. Chopin dedicated this four-movement work to Franchomme, and together they first performed it at Chopin’s last public performance, in 1848.
From passion and romance to the art of story telling, Schumann’s Fünf Stücke im Volkston, Op. 102 (Five pieces in Folk Style) is a vibrant suite of contrasting rhythms and timbres. Vains and Kelly produced a meaningful narrative, with Mit humor aptly being full of spice and good cheer. In Langsam a rhythmic and consistent piano accompaniment allowed Vains to have a freedom of line, and solo with a very beautiful expression and tone, with the duo producing the best pianissimo of the night in this meditative, lovely piece. Nicht zu schnell balanced legato cello lines over staccato, edgy repeated piano rhythms, and gorgeous double stops and defined meter changes added to this interesting story. Nicht zu rasch showed the more passionate and vibrant side of Schumann, with the more complex rhythms of Stark und Markiert creating a dark, fiery and impetuous mood that built through dark key changes to a triumphant close. Moszkowski’s Guitarre was a charming encore, its folk melodies creating feelings of nostalgia for the gypsy dance, theatre and spirit.
Tempo Rubato gave us a warm and engaging program with excellent playing by Vains and Kelly connecting admirably with their audience. If you haven’t been to this fine alternative and popular Brunswick venue, check it out.
Julie McErlain reviewed the recital by Josephine Vains, cello, and Stewart Kelly, piano, given at Tempo Rubato on November 12, 2021.