CIMF Review / Triumph of happy, mournful and reflective

Music/CIMF Concert 18: “Russian Roots and Rags”. At the Fitters’ Workshop, Kingston, Saturday, May 6. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN

Elena Kats-Chernin and Tamara-Anna Cislowska. Photo by Peter Hislop

THIS was a delightful concert which presented a catalogue of shortish Elena Kats-Chernin compositions written during the period 1996 to 2017.

Kats-Chernin in fact started composing when only six years old and living in Russia. She has since written more than 100 works specifically for piano and this concert allowed an opportunity to present a varied selection in a show of many musical moods, mostly happy, but occasionally mournful and reflective.

There were lovely excerpts from “Sunshine Journal”, a collection written for a gentleman’s 75th birthday and commissioned by his wife to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary alongside a bright “Dance of the Paper Umbrellas”, a piece inspired by a visit Kats-Chernin made to the leukaemia ward at the Royal Children’s Hospital. “Remembering Bialystok” sadly reflected on Holocaust victims while “Tropical Nights” afforded a completely contrasting image in its musical depiction of a friend of Kats-Chernin (who loved wearing most colourful socks) enjoying a night out in the cocktail bars of Townsville.

David Pereira joins Elena Kats-Chernin and Tamara-Anna Cislowska. Photo by Peter Hislop

Kats-Chernin was joined at the piano by Tamara-Anna Cislowska. It was visually as well as aurally exciting to see them get arms out of the way of each other as they tackled the varied repertoire with a lovely mix of aggression and excitement then gentleness. Both are fine players and have a well developed bond of musical understanding.

Cislowska was the primary MC for the show and was simply charming as she told stories and anecdotes which gave fantastic insight into the motivation behind the writing of tunes. There was the sad story of French composer Erik Satie and the discovery, upon his lonely death, of 40 odd years of unsent love letters to the only woman he’d ever loved but who had rejected him and the yarn explaining that Kats-Chernin only came to write ragtime music because ABC Classic FM urged her to write in a style she’d not previously attempted. Then the very funny story describing how Cislowska herself gatecrashed a concert which featured 30 pianos and 60 pianists (she’d not been invited and was most insulted) to play Kats-Chernin’s piece “Promenade”. She duly secured her own piano and joined in only to be asked by other players if she really needed to “play so loudly”.

Canberra’s brilliant cellist David Pereira joined Kats-Chernin to perform in three of the pieces. This was a lovely touch, his shimmering tone wonderfully resonate in the Fitters’ Workshop confines.

The players were obvious in their enjoyment of performing this concert and the audience loved the fine playing as well as the casual, informative presentation. Perhaps the best known Kats-Chernin piece on the program was the “Russian Rag” and a most Victor Borge-like mess about with it was the perfect way to send everyone away with big beaming smiles.

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