All posts by Paul Nolan

Paul Nolan was born on the New South Wales North Coast. He has been involved with musical theatre and choral groups on the NSW North Coast and in Sydney. Paul has had poetry published in various periodicals. He is trained in classical piano and has a Bachelor of Music from the UNSW.

AUSTRALIAN HAYDN ENSEMBLE : HAYDN’S NATURE @ INDEPENDENT THEATRE NORTH SYDNEY

Above-Quartet cellist for this concert, James Bush. Featured image- second violinist Simone Slattery.

Lovers of string quartet music and the diverse effervescence of Haydn’s mastery of the genre he helped develop are given a huge treat in Australian Haydn Ensemble’s first  concert of the 2019 season. This programme consists of a quartet of quartets and the concert is totally dedicated to AHE’s target or namesake composer.                         Continue reading AUSTRALIAN HAYDN ENSEMBLE : HAYDN’S NATURE @ INDEPENDENT THEATRE NORTH SYDNEY

SYDNEY PHILHARMONIA CHOIRS-AN INTIMATE EVENING WITH BRAHMS @ CITY RECITAL HALL

Above: Soprano soloist, Emma Pearson. Featured Image : Guest conductor, Simon Halsey.

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs began their 2019 season with an exploration of the inimitable expressive voice of Johannes Brahms. Without orchestra, the scope of this performance consisted of selected lieder and the composer’s Ein Deutsches Requiem for solo voices or choir and piano alone.

Central to this exploration was the extremely fresh delivery of the composer’s requiem, a popular and searching choral work, skilfully setting German text from the Lutheran Bible. Choral timbres and
atmospheres were expertly manipulated by guest conductor Simon Halsey as instrumental colour and texture were reduced to piano duet for accompaniment. This was a flashback to the London premiere of the work in 1871 London, in the drawing room of Kate Loder’s house.

This different accompaniment succeeded, however much those familiar with the requiem could have missed the sound of sustained string and wind instruments. The choir elaborated Brahms’ setting over a supple and subtly crafted arrangement for piano duet with origins in Brahms’ own marketable arrangement for domestic use.

Also in this evening of intimate scope, the superb piano colour underpinning a selection of some of Brahms’ most well known and dramatic songs  a were a very sufficient sounding board for the vocalists, and indicated the success of playing with the choral trajectories to come.

True intimacy requires constant and clean instrumental contribution to allow voices to speak to us with keen conversationalor dramatic  clarity. We were supplied such pianistic control with varied soundscapes by sympathetic accompanists Marlowe Fitzpatrick and Claire Howard Race.

The clear and finely sculptured nature of Brahms’ approach to  complex and serious song texts was beautifully explored in this concert’s first half. Soprano Emma Pearson and baritone Sam Roberts-Smith gifted us some weighty miniature gems, ably supported by well-characterised piano tapestries at the hands of Fitzpatrick and Howard Race.

Standout amongst these seven lieder were Emma Pearson’s even and direct recreation of Wiegenlied and Am der Kirchhofe. The latter especially showed impressive focus and intesity in communication of gloomy sentiment. Sam Roberts-Smith’s trajectory in Verzagen (Despair) was likewise one with incredible depth across the small number of lines of text as it blended with the wave-like piano figures.

Above: Baritone soloist Sam Roberts-Smith

This concert’s intimate atmosphere and intimate reading of Brahms’ requiem benefitted from the superb City Recital Hall acoustic. At times perhaps the piano was overwhelmed by the Sydney Philharmonia Choir with Symphony Chorus, significantly more in number than the thirty or so choristers in Kate Loder’s 1871 premiere with piano.

However in this venue’s acoustic the piano duet figures still emerged continually from underneath the blanket of choral sound to provide a constant flow of keyboard sound.

This choir’s interpretation was anything but loud and heavy though. Conductor Simon Halsey achieved quite thrilling sonorous eruptions in joyful climaxes whilst maintaining great momentum and lightness in other passages.

This treasured work’s  wide range of colour  was preserved in the performance of this arrangement. These hues were rediscovered and rendered with careful demarcation of vibrato versus cleaner tone. Halsey’s address to the audience prior to the work was a fine and entertaining explanation of the interpretation. His knowledge of the composer and choral music making was a gift in this exchange to choral concert veterans and eager new audience members alike.

The entire concert began with an engaging performance of Brahms’ Intermezzo in B minor Op 119 No 1. This was both a pleasant preamble to the vocal music and an excellent multilayered example of Brahmsian utterance. The performance was full of miniature shifts in gesture in the course of its steady-arrow direction to the conclusion.

This concert was an effective change of pace from large choral concerts with orchestra. These events are soon to come however from the various Sydney Philharmonia Choirs in what promises to be a vibrant and varied year.

AUSTRALIAN HAYDN ENSEMBLE-‘HAYDN’S FAREWELL’ @ SYDNEY CONSERVATORIUM OF MUSIC

Above: Guest conductor and fortepianist Dr Erin Helyard with AHE Artistic Director Skye McIntosh.

In the history of Australian Haydn Ensemble concerts it has always been a special event when we have had the chance to hear the group in its extended orchestral complement. Collaborations with early keyboard and historically informed performance expert Erin Helyard have also been a highlight of any subscription series.

In a special end to the 2018 concert season, the Sydney audience was treated to both of the above. The concert was a strident offering rich in dramatic contrast, humour and dazzling execution. A stunning calibre of performance practice with charismatic eagerness to convey fine emotion, architecture and context of the music quickly and consistently endeared the works and performers to us.

 AHE launched into the afternoon with an exciting reading of JC Bach’s Symphony in G minor Op 6 No 6. Following an interesting overview of the programme from Erin Helyard, this was a focussed and bold start to the event.

 With Erin Helyard conducting from the keyboard, the Sturm und Drang sentiment was solid and contrasts well harnessed. The full bodied horn declamations were particularly effective throughout and their tone was well blended with the precision and crispness of the parts from strings and other winds.

 This was an inspiring reminder of the expressive power and agenda of JC Bach’s music. It was a good choice by Erin Helyard to include in this programme alongside the colourful drama of the works of Mozart and Haydn. We could well benefit from the chance to hear more of JC Bach’s output in concerts in future.

Erin Helyard’s performances on the 2014 replica of a late eighteenth century Anton Walter fortepiano were as always a wonderful showcase for the fluid and unique tone of this instrument. The Piano Concerto No 12 in A major K 414 dates from Mozart’s time in Vienna The joy of Mozart inhis new environment plus the promotion of his pianism and more dramatic compositions such as opera is evident here. 

The slow movement of this work is based on an overture by JC Bach, which is a good tie-in for this concert as well as an interesting link historically between the two progressive composers. AHE as led by Helyard as soloist from the keyboard helped us make our own parallels between the two composers’ emotional directness and ease of writing for orchestral forces. 

This early concerto shone in the hands of Erin Helyard. Interaction with keyboard and orchestra was keen and intimate fortepiano voice was eloquent and well balanced at all times. Cadenza moments were especially poignant utterances endearing us further to this choice of instrument.

Such historically informed performance success from keyboard and orchestra continued after interval in the Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in A major K 386, her in its joyous restored manuscript version courtesy to the editing and research of Alan Tyson and Charles Mackerras. This true survivor of a single movement work restored from fragments various was performed vibrantly and gave us more seldom heard Mozart in a convincing and colourful expression. 

To conclude the concert, the colour, rhythmic variety, skilled orchestration and humour of Franz Joseph Haydn’s much loved ‘Farewell’ Symphony was a timely way to conclude the 2018 AHE’s 2018 series. As well as fine Haydn playing in is atypical but compelling symphonic score from this orchestra’s namesake composer, the legendary conclusion with the parts stopping and leaving the stage was expertly updated here.

To emphasise the idea of impending vacation, as much of the audience would be feeling, a theatrical enactment of trekking, skiing, kayaking, diving partying and other holiday activities other than performing were brilliantly enacted by AHE members. Concept by James Eccles and Glen Hamilton brought this excellent concert and yearly concert season to an even more colourful and dramatic close than fine orchestral stage performance alone.

 

 

ACACIA QUARTET AND ALICIA CROSSLEY- ‘MUSE’ CONCERT AND CD LAUNCH @ THE UTZON ROOM

Recorder soloist Alicia Crossley joined Acacia Quartet for the ‘Muse’  concert and recording project of Australian works. Featured image: watercolour artwork by Clémentine Campardou (Blule) inspired by the Muse project.

This concert and CD launch of ‘Muse’ was an inspiring contribution to the Australian live and recorded music scene for 2018 and for many years to come. The blend of recorder virtuoso Alicia Crossley with the expressive and stylistically flexible powerhouse of Acacia Quartet yielded exciting results.

The works both on CD and heard live in concert were all by Australian composers. These works were commissioned, adapted or freshly recorded to make this project a significant musical event. The contribution of printed programme, CD cover design and other artworks from visual artist Clémentine Campardou’s watercolour workshop to the event merchandise elevated this concert to classy festival status.

What was truly classy and more touching about this afternoon however was the exposure and blend of recorders with the colourful and precise instrument we have come to know as Acacia Quartet. The string instruments demonstrated seamless blend to evoke vivid atmospheres and to speak as one. Also a thrill at this concert was the keen balance with the quartet and promotion of the recorder family by Alicia Crossley, correctly described in her programme bio as “a recorder rockstar” (Fish Fine Music) Continue reading ACACIA QUARTET AND ALICIA CROSSLEY- ‘MUSE’ CONCERT AND CD LAUNCH @ THE UTZON ROOM

MUSICA VIVA PRESENTS BENEDETTI ELSCHENBROICH GRYNYUK TRIO

Above : Violinist Nicola Benedetti played Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No 2 in D major Op 94. Photo credit : Simon Fowler.  Featured image :  trio members Nicola Benedetti (violin), Alexei Grynyuk (piano) and Leonard Elschenbroich (cello). Photo credit: Vancouver Recital Society.

A huge thanks must go to Musica Viva and Artistic Director Carl Vine for rounding off the 2018 International Concert Season by bringing this exciting piano trio to our shoresfor the first time. The solid global solo reputations of Nicola Benedetti, Leonard Elschenbroich and Alexei Grynyuk precede them. The virtuosic calibre of their solo lines when combined in balanced and vivid chamber music works made a memorable debut for the second Sydney concert.

The rewarding programme also began with works for two of the trio members at a time to completed the concert’s first half. In this way virtuosic communication by cellist Elsenbroich and violinist Benedetti as well as the consummate skill of accompanist Grynyuck were showcased in no less than two challenging sonatas by Prokofiev.

Leonard Elschenbroich dug deep into  Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata in C major Op 119 to offer us beautifully delicate moments of refined tone and challemged us with prolonged focussed sections of loaded stillness. Moments of string effects such as pizzicato and multiple stop strumming brought us a fascinating array of colour. Prokofiev’s inventiveness on the cello was ably supported at all times by the piano.

Fireworks followed with Benedetti’s rendering of Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No 2 in D major Op 94. Continuing the all-Prokofiev  first half with sonatas from the 1940’s, This violinist introduced herself to Sydney audiences in stunning style. The unique narrative thread of this work, with Prokofiev’s concise gesturing and angular twists, was in good hands here. This violinist’s signature precision and widely varied emotional colouring was impressive.

At times in this work even a single note or small phrase fragment delivered by Benedetti spoke volumes. The support from Grynyuk’s accompaniment was once again suitably pointed and exciting. A refined and eloquent balance was heard across the shifting textures.

The concert’s highlight came with the fine soloists collaborating as a trio after interval. Very satisfying in the trio format was their choice of Gordon Kerry’s Im Winde (Piano Trio No 2) from 2002. This work filled the Musica Viva concert criteria of visiting artists playing new or recent Australian
works.

This trio displayed a keen aptitude for new music in a beautiful interpretation of the fragments of atmosphere which make up Kerry’s work that explores seasonal contrasts in nature. This was a seamless reading of the score by the ‘BEG’ Trio, continuing the ensemble balance displayed previously during the instrumental sonatas with piano.

The flautato string effects were particulary beautifully here. They were reflected in the piano with carefully chosen degrees of nuance from the softer dynamic spectrum.

Closely nterlocking intimacy and elegance continued in the performance of Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor. Although the earliest work in the programme by decades, Ravel’s meticulous craftmanship made it a perfect match to join the other works this concert programme.

With this trio performing, this  work came alive with a spontaneity and respect for the architecture. The arsenal of virtuosic resources at this ensemble’s disposal presented reiterations of motives such as the first movement theme with a gorgeous subtlety and persistently clever variation.  This made Ravel’s work a fresh and thoroughly engaging conclusion to this concert of ensemble gems various.

Our appetite for this trio’s special brand of solo and ensemble wonderful was truly piqued as Musica Viva brought this group to our attention and also brought their International Concert Season  for 2018 to a stunning close.

 

AURA GO PIANO RECITAL : UTZON ROOM SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

Above :  Musica Viva  FutureMakers for 2018-2019. Pianist Aura Go and percussive artist Matthias Schack-Arnott. Featured image : Pianist Aura Go, photo credit: Maarit Kytoharju

Pianist Aura Go is one of two artists selected by Musica Viva to participate in the FutureMakers initiative for 2018-2019. Her recent recital as part of the Sydney Opera House’s Crescendo series for emerging artists quickly demonstrated her potential and worth as an artist to foster innovative musical exchange in the decades ahead.

Her debut Sydney concert, In the Changing Light : Colour Poems for Piano was a fine start to such practice, featuring a concert structure and feel which was a fresh, imaginative and well explained group of musical poems, captivatingly played and cleverly structured.

As a selected musician in this initiative, concerts such as this engaging Utzon Room event will exist alongside networking opportunities and the creation of a major musical project. It was quickly evident that Auro Go’s return to Australia to take part in this initiative will be an exciting and productive time. Continue reading AURA GO PIANO RECITAL : UTZON ROOM SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

THE METROPOLITAN ORCHESTRA : MET CONCERT # 5 @ EUGENE GOOSSENS HALL

Above : Composer Jim Coyle, whose new work ‘Dancing with Billy Bray’ received a world premiere by TMO in this concert. Featured image : TMO Principal Cello Ezmi Pepper, soloist in Elgar’s Cello Concerto.

The Metropolitan Orchestra ended its 2018 Met Concert series in very fine form with a trio of exciting events making up the programme for the orchestra and audience. A work from local composer Jim Coyle in world premiere began the evening. A TMO principal collaborated as soloist with the orchestra, showcasing TMO’s comprehensive talent and capabilities.

The third feature of this concert, ‘Drama’, was a major work of the orchestral repertoire being presented for the audience to discover or revisit. This work further illustrated TMO’s skill as an interpreter of significant works from the canon. They have often filled the role of audience educator and provider of significant listening experiences for the lovers of orchestral music.

Dancing With Billy Bray for orchestra by Jim Coyle was a stunning opening to the event. The narrative traced with challenging energy aspects of a larger than life character in Cornwall. during the nineteenth century. When depicting the person, actions and environment of the miner turned preacher, Coyle wrote for orchestra with impressive subtlety and detail. Continue reading THE METROPOLITAN ORCHESTRA : MET CONCERT # 5 @ EUGENE GOOSSENS HALL

MUSICA VIVA GALA PIANO RECITAL: ANDRAS SCHIFF @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

Andras Schiff returned to Sydney after an absence of two decades to wow Sydney audiences in the Musica Viva Gala Piano Recital.

The return of András Schiff to Australian stages after a long absence was much anticipated. And the Gala Piano Recital in Sydney was well worth the wait. His intelligent and refined pianism was the ideal vehicle for sharing profound and for the most part late period expressions from Schumann, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart and Bach.

This programme was studded with sets of small-scale compositions from the final five years of Brahms’ life. This enabled us to experience his Opus 117, 118 and 119 in the same evening’s listening. Continue reading MUSICA VIVA GALA PIANO RECITAL: ANDRAS SCHIFF @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

SYDNEY CHAMBER CHOIR : BEHOLD-THE SEA! @ SYDNEY CONSERVATORIUM OF MUSIC

Above: Dan Walker, whose work Yúya Karrabúra (Fire is Burning) was given a world premiere at this concert.                                                                                                                                                                               Featured image: Detail from concert programme cover design by joshmurray.com.au

Just as the title for this final Sydney Chamber Choir concert of 2018 boldly calls out for our attention, the programme choices here were captivating and mostly modern in style and compositional date. Compiled by guest conductor Jonathan Grieves-Smith, the concert let us witness vivid works evoking nature, the sea, the outdoors and the spiritual or otherworldly environment.

This choir’s affinity for church and early musics delighted the crowd as well as  the group demonstrating a stunning aptitude for also performing new and contemporary choral works.

Nine of the concert’s eleven works were composed after 1977, and the evening was made particularly special by the performance of Dan Walker’s piece Yúya Karrabúra (Fire is Burning) in world premiere. Continue reading SYDNEY CHAMBER CHOIR : BEHOLD-THE SEA! @ SYDNEY CONSERVATORIUM OF MUSIC

MUSICA VIVA PRESENTS BORODIN STRING QUARTET @ CITY RECITAL HALL

Borodin String Quartet members: Sergei Lomovsky (violin), Vladimir Balshin (cello), Ruben Aharonian (violin) and Igor Naidin (viola).

Borodin Quartet is a  breathtakingly capable and refined quartet instrument. It was a thrill to hear them again in Sydney towards the end of their national concert tour with Musica Viva.

As always, its polished voice delivered the expression of master composers with formidable restraint and precision from the combination of players Ruben Aharonian (violin), Sergei Lomovsky (violin), Igor Naidin (viola)and Vladimir Balshin (cello).

Perfect placement of musical gesture and great synergy of both  the architectural and passionate ambitions of the nineteenth century music were evident during the concert’s first half. Continue reading MUSICA VIVA PRESENTS BORODIN STRING QUARTET @ CITY RECITAL HALL

OMEGA ENSEMBLE : ‘JOY’ @ CITY RECITAL HALL

Above : Violinist Veronique Serret and pianist Clemens Leske performed Beethoven’s Spring Sonata. Featured image: Omega ensemble musicians played Farrenc and Elena Kats-Chernin. Photo Credit : David Vagg.

Omega Ensemble’s most recent concert, titled ‘Joy’ , was as usual an event  full of ensemble music to blissfully lose yourself in. It was full  of everything musical joy requires. The assembled musicians communicated the diverse works clearly, a range of colourful atmospheres were provided and the audience had the pleasure of hearing concert favourites as well as having the chance to discover newer or less frequently heard works.

This event began with a piano trio consisting of Veronique Serret (violin), Paul Stender (cello) and Clemens Leske (piano). Here the atmospheres and carefully combined colours in Schubert’s Notturno in E flat major D897 were finely shaped and the lyricism from all instruments was woven together well. It was a serene yet vivid offering with which to start.

The first half of the concert concluded with a joyous performance of Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Violin in F major Op 24, ‘Spring’. As spring tries to assert itself in Sydney, this commanding interpretation was blooming with appropriate seasonal colour and warmth.

The dialogue and ensemble interaction between Serret and Leske was a pleasure to watch. The overall keen momentum maintained kept the work fresh and was led clearly by Veronique Serret as these players worked hard to jointly shape Beethoven’s unique dramatic gestures.

Sudden shifts in articulation and nuance were striking, in particular those led by Serret. Her realisation of the emotional and thematic architecture was exemplary here and was exchanged in suitable tone with Clemens Leske’s keyboard voice.

As well as exciting Beethoven-esque outbursts in the opening movement, the balance of melody and accompaniment lines in the second movement Adagio molto espressivo was one of the evening’s several solid listening highlights.

The chance to be exposed to less frequently heard chamber music works came via an elevated performance of Louise Farrenc’s Nonet for Strings and Winds in E flat major Op 38 (1850).

This sprawling work was given an airing by the musicians with Omega Ensemble’s signature bright clarity and a refined, elegant homogeneity to the group statements. Alternating solos across the line-up were boldly voiced and the blend of string and wind sonorities was clear and focussed throughout.

This concert reached a colourful conclusion with Elena Kats-Chernin’s Russian Rag. As the contrasting twentieth century work on the programme, it was heard in an arrangement especially written for the talents of a full Omega Ensemble.

Kats-Chernin’s music in the hands of these skilled ensemble players immediately communicated a quirky joy. This piece’s previous use as soundtrack music for Adam Eliot’s 2009 film Mary and Max would have resonated with familiar fun for quite a few listeners.

Via the infectiously lilting delight of Kats-Chernin’s uniquely recognisable musical brand, the assembled troupe of Veronique Serret (violin), Neil Thompson (viola), Paul Stender (cello), Alex Henery (double bass), Sally Walker (flute), Nicola Bell (oboe), David Rowden (clarinet), Todd Gibson-Cornish (bassoon), Michael Dixon (horn) and Clemens Leske (piano) shone once again with ensemble excellence.

The playing here had a very joyous, accessible and direct evocation of character, which was a consistent feature of this entire concert success.