‘Utterly entertaining’ Mothers’ Day concert

The Vessel – Concert 5

Canberra International Music Festival

Fitters’ Workshop, May 11

Reviewed by Clinton White

I felt as if I were at a party. There were jokes and laughter, lively and joyous music, entertaining banter from the artists and a light-heartedness that makes a mockery of the seriousness of most so-called fine music concerts.

Elena Kats-Chernin

Elena Kats-Chernin

But Elena Kats-Chernin’s music, whilst creating all those qualities, was seriously good. This very delightful concert of piano duets, mostly specially arranged so, was entirely of Kats-Chernin’s compositions, featuring her and a festival favourite, pianist Tamara-Anne Cislowska. It celebrated Mothers’ Day and, as someone on stage put it, the power of women. Both artists left their audience in no doubt as to the validity of that statement.

Kats-Chernin’s music mostly is exuberant, lively and loud – just what a party needs. She was dressed accordingly with a glittering sequined outfit and her enthusiastic on-stage banter matched it. Indeed, Cislowska, who did most of the (equally light-hearted) talking, had to tell her to slow down a bit because the live (and fine) reverberation of the Fitters’ Workshop was melding her words into one.

Featuring four world premieres, the concert began with a new work dedicated to festival artistic director, Chris Latham. He wasn’t at the concert, so Kats-Chernin and Cislowska made much of his failure to turn up, even suggesting the music would start sooner because there would be no pre-concert talk! “Marcarto: Festival Direction” had an engaging and strongly driven rhythm with a couple of brief quieter moments.

Equally paced was “Two Stolen Pieces”, two movements taken from a string quartet of Kats-Chernin, featuring a syncopated motif which seems to be a feature of Kats-Chernin’s writing. It returned in “Eliza Aria”, a transcription for piano duet, taken from her “Wild Swans Concert Suite” and again at the end of the concert in “Scherzino”, which Kats-Chernin described as Bach in a disco, with Cislowska adding, “In platform shoes”.

Playful and fun was “Dance of the Paper Umbrellas” a piece written for the Hush Music Foundation, a program for kids in hospital suffering leukemia.

Tamara-Anne Cislowska, photo Peter Hislop

Tamara-Anne Cislowska, photo Peter Hislop

A quieter, more reflective piece was “April Code”, which featured Cislowska playing a melodica, a kind of harmonium with a small keyboard driving a series of reeds aired by blowing through a tube. The piece was quite evocative and I kept thinking the style was very much after Rachmaninov.

“Prelude and Cube” had strong references to Bach, indeed was to honour him, although Kats-Chernin refused to write or call the second part of the work “Fugue”, “Because,” Cislowska said, “she can’t stand fugues.” After plenty of lively, loud playing the piece ended rather incongruently just with a couple of soft octaves in the lower register, much like the end of Rachmaninov’s “Variations on a Theme of Paganini”.

A couple of program changes saw the premiere of the “Chris Latham Rag”, played just from a sketch and a lovely performance by the Dutch lyric soprano, Simone Riksman, of a song based on Judith Wright’s poem “All Things Conspire”.

A standing ovation greeted Kats-Chernin and Cislowska at the conclusion of this quite remarkable and utterly entertaining concert. We were rewarded with an encore, a work, appropriately enough for the festival, based on Turkish themes, but called “Turkish Delight”.

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