Monday, May 18, 2020

“Let’s Get Personal”, Selby and Friends online concert, May 14.

Reviewed by Tony Magee

Pianist Kathryn Selby has inventively and most professionally countered the COVID-19 live concert lockdown, by recording Tour 2 of this year’s subscription season privately at Sydney Grammar School. In this case, we are seeing and hearing what should have taken place in Llewellyn Hall on Thursday 7th May: “Let’s Get Personal” - Mozart, Beethoven and Dvorak.

Pianist Kathryn Selby

To be fair to the artists and to be able to give my readers as accurate an impression as possible of the quality of the music played, I’ve been able to dispense with the tiny computer speakers and instead run a line-out through a Sansui AU-717 amplifier and a pair of exquisite Rogers BBC Studio 1 Monitor speakers.

Kathryn Selby is joined by Andrew Haveron, principal violin and concertmaster of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Umberto Clerici, co-principal cello with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Mozart’s “Piano Trio No. 3 in B flat major, K.502” opened the program. Immediately, one is struck by the clarity of tone from the piano, as well as the excellent balance between it, the violin and cello. Phrasing is crisp and clear, quite structured and precise, in keeping with the fashion of the classical era, with just enough elasticity to keep the music flowing with energy and emotion.

The microphones were able to capture the wide dynamic range of the players. Forte passages came across with intensity, quieter passages were delivered with style and grace.

Intonation within the trio was superb. One of the most “in-tune” and intelligent performances of any work I’ve heard in a long time.

Selby plays her Mozart with a relaxed technique, extracting a singing tone from the piano. Cadence points were all executed with a suitable flourish from all three players. The performance was one of authority and precision, with the slow movement allowing for some contrasting rubato and gentleness, played with great feeling, almost verging on Romanticism.

The third movement revealed a return to strict classical structure and precision. Mozart’s intense compositional style here requiring a great deal of technique and ensemble playing from the trio, something they delivered with conviction and purpose.

The “Piano Trio in E flat major, Op.1 No.1” by Beethoven followed and revealed an even more beautiful singing tone from the piano. One of the hallmarks of Selby’s style is her ability to make every note count with extreme clarity, even in fast passages, where it can be easy to gloss over details. All her ornamentation is precise and clipped. Phrases and cadence points all end with a suitable crescendo.

Violin and piano exchanged melodic riffs almost in a conversational manner. Later in the first movement, the cello switched from a supporting role, creating a fascinating three way musical dialogue, definitely not an argument, rather an animated, creative and very enthusiastic discussion about something tremendous and exciting.

The slow movement was a showcase for the violin and cello to speak with each other in alternating musical phrases, the piano dropping back into an accompanying role. Both Haveron on violin and Clerici on Cello delivered tone production of beauty and depth.

The fourth and final movement revealed intense and thrilling passages of allegro and vivace, played with precision timing and phrasing by the trio. It was an electric performance.

Dvorak’s “Piano Trio No.4 in E minor, Op.90, subtitled ‘Dumky’, closed the concert. The plural form of the Slavic / Ukrainian ‘Dumka’, it is a term referring to epic ballads, in this case, a brooding, introspective composition with cheerful sections interspersed within. A complex work, there are five movements, but these are then divided into no less than thirteen musical sections.

Piano and cello together open with a dramatic, mournful, melancholy introduction before being taken over by a heart-wrenching melody from the violin. Then suddenly, a contrasting “cheerful phrase” bursts forth, which descends into a black, depressive mood. The three musicians very successfully created an atmosphere of a person or persons, struggling with a myriad of mixed emotions, lurching from sadness to despair, with moments of joy and hope, dashed by what ever ghastly circumstances have befallen them, only to rise up again defiantly. And so life goes on.

The myriad of dynamics and musical shadings created by the trio were of a magnitude that ranged from the sublime and delicate to massive, thunderous, almost torturous climaxes.

To quote the psychiatrist from an episode of “Fawlty Towers”, “there’s enough material here for an entire conference”.

Dvorak’s ‘Dumky’ trio is surely one of the greatest musical works of the late 19th century. It portrays every possible human emotion and feeling, all wrapped up into a complex, mind-blowing experience. In the hands of Kathryn Selby, Andrew Haveron and Umberto Clerici, this all came across with incredible conviction and seriousness. It was as though they lived the piece. I, the listener, did the same. I can only begin to imagine what the effect must be like to hear this piece live.

Review first published in an edited format in Canberra City News Digital Edition, May 15, 2020