Review: Singing violins ‘an inspired decision’

“The Violin Sings”, Concert 8

Canberra International Music Festival

The Fitters Workshop, May 12

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

IT was an inspired decision by artistic director Christopher Latham to present a showcase of five outstanding violinists in the context of a new book about the career of a neglected Australian violinist, Alma Moodie.

Anna McMichael

Anna McMichael

As we discovered at the book launch which preceded the concert, Moodie left Australia at the age of nine for studies in Brussells. Through the tumultuous years of the First World War, the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich, she forged an exceptional career until her death in 1943.

Moodie never returned to Australia, nor are then any recordings existing of her work, but as author Kay Dreyfus told Sydney Festival Director Lieven Bertels, during their book launch conversation; she was able to learn much about Moodie’s brilliance by studying her repertoire. As all the music selections in this concert were chosen either from repertoire Moodie herself played or by composers from Moodie’s milieu, the audience were to discover that in addition to being treated to a thrilling showcase of superb violin playing, their appetites would be thoroughly whetted to learn more about this extraordinary Australian musician.

After some thoughtful pre-concert remarks from the German and Belgian ambassadors, the first violinist to perform was Anna McMichael who got the concert off to a dramatic start with a stunning virtuoso performance of Paul Hindemith’s unaccompanied “Solo Violin Sonata op.11 No.6”. McMichael attacked the fierce complexities of this piece with a confidence that was absolutely arresting.

Rebecca Chan accompanied on piano by Timothy Young

Rebecca Chan accompanied on piano by Timothy Young

Then followed the lush, romantic “Violin Sonata in E minor”, by Australian composer Arthur Benjamin, played by Rebecca Chan accompanied on piano by Timothy Young. Although beautifully performed by both musicians, the ultra-bright acoustic of the Fitters favoured the piano, which often dominated the detailing. In the second half of the program Chan and Young got full measure of the acoustic to present a superbly balanced performance of Belgian composer Georges Antoine’s melancholy “Assez lent from Violin Sonata”.

Rebecca Chan and Yuhki Mayne

Rebecca Chan and Yuhki Mayne

Rebecca Chan was to provide another program highlight when she teamed with young violinist, Yuhki Mayne for a sparkling performance of “Allegro Vivo con fuoco”, a piece by another Belgian composer, Eugene Ysaye,  or which they made ingenious and amusing use of six music stands to support the sheet music.

Klara Hellgren, accompanied by Bengt Forsberg

Klara Hellgren, accompanied by Bengt Forsberg

Performing on a glorious 1773 Antonio Gragnani violin and accompanied by Bengt Forsberg on piano, Klara Hellgren contributed a compelling account of Igor Stravinsky’s six-part “Suite italienne”, a piece which Alma Moodie performed in concerts with Stravinsky himself. This intricate suite with its contrasting movements provided an excellent showcase for Hellgren to display her impressive technique as well as the special qualities of her superb instrument.

Bernt Lysell with Bengt Forsberg

Bernt Lysell with Bengt Forsberg

The final violinist, Bernt Lysell, also teamed with Bengt Forsberg to present a sublime performance of Dora Pejacevic’s “Adagio from Sonata in B Flat minor op 43”. The pleasure of two consummate musicians sharing their love of this music, and each other’s performance was obvious in their performance and very special for their audience. They went on to give a moving performance of the Fritz Kreisler arrangement of the famous Dvorak “Negro Spiritual Melody” known to most as “Going Home”, before providing a masterful finale to what had been a stunning concert with Erich Korngold’s romantic “Garden Scene” from “Much Ado About Nothing”.

All photos by Peter Hislop.

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