ON Anzac eve, Canberra International Music Festival’s preview concert, “Lest we Forget”, was performed by David Pereira and Tamara Anne Cislowska to a full house at the Centre for Christianity and Culture. Sponsored by “CityNews”, this program featured works from the first world war. Immediately one was struck by the unpretentiousness of the evening – two players in an unadorned room, no stage, no professional lighting – intimate as a soirée.
With a sense of ensemble bordering on telepathy, Pereira and Cislowska were always perfectly balanced in tone and dynamic. Pereira’s rapid tempo shifts, his wide rubato, were mirrored by Cislowska so closely that they seemed more like a single musician than a duo. A highly refined pianist, Cislowska drew kaleidoscopic tones from the instrument, reminding me often of a young Rubinstein. Resonant even in the highest registers, Cislowska was elegant and understated throughout.
One of Canberra’s most loved performers, Pereira exemplified what can happen when an artist devotes themselves to one practice long enough for real grace to enter in – grace beyond showmanship or technical mastery. In Enrique Granados’s Madrigal, for example, Pereira played so pianissimo, and with so little vibrato, as to produce almost no sound at all. The audience was spellbound. I recalled late Callas, at the time when experts could no longer define the quality that moved her audiences to tears, a quality that more “perfect” singers like Sutherland could not touch. One might also mention Pereiras flawless intonation and shimmering tone production – but it seems to miss the point somehow.
Of the wide and varied program, the star for me was Ernst Bloch’s haunting “Schlemo”, in which the pianist alone must evoke a backdrop of “deserts, caravans, camels, displaced people”, while the cello floats freely on top. This work by one of early modernism’s great composers, followed light rhapsodic episodes with a great emotional force built with quasi cadenzas and a foreboding lower register.
All these composers were affected by war in one way or another. Warren, Boulnois, and Kelly were killed in combat. Others died far from battle – Granados, trying to save his wife when their ship was torpedoed in the English channel, and Vándor murdered in a Nazi camp. One wonders what masterpieces these composers would have produced had their lives not been cut short. One wonders, too, how many artists will continue to be sacrificed on the altars of war.