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HE’s quite an affable chap, pianist Andrew Rumsey, fresh back from his successful international tour, including a performance at the pinnacle venue for any musician, New York’s Carnegie Hall.
And so were his friends affable – clarinetist, Thomas Azoury, guitarist, Ciaran Edwards-McKeown, and composer/pianist, Michael Dooley – in a concert of friendly banter between musicians, self-effacing stories and satisfying music.
Setting the scene for the laughs to come, was “Viktor’s Tale”, by John Williams, from the comedy-drama movie, “The Terminal”. Straight away, the audience saw Azoury’s fine talent, with the clarinet dancing effortlessly through lively, cheery note sequences. Rumsey had a much easier time of it, giving nicely understated accompaniment.
But Rumsey’s easy times were soon to be over for Ferrucio Busoni’s arrangement of JS Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D-minor”. Transcribed for piano, this arrangement loses none of the drama and power of the organ scoring. Rumsey did not disappoint with huge dynamics, massive chords, and impeccable runs, capped off with thoughtful tempi, giving the piece even more light and shade.
Later in the first half, Ciaran Edwards-McKeown took to the stage for two guitar solos by Spanish composers. Tarrega’s “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” is a familiar but challenging work, featuring a tremolo melody over an arpeggiated accompaniment. At times there was a little loss of clarity in Edwards-McKeown’s playing, but this was more than countered by some delicate rubato phrasing, giving it a beauty and personality very befitting its late-Romantic period.
Edwards-McKeown closed the first half with “Zapateado” by Joaquin Rodrigo, the third of his “Tres Piezas Españolas”, written in 1954. This lively piece required quite some fretboard gymnastics, which Edwards-McKeown executed beautifully, keeping the tempo moving along and maintaining its many tonal structures and textures.
Rumsey opened the second half with the Australian premiere of Michael Dooley’s composition, “Australian Landscape Sketches”, a work in five short movements, evoking mountains and snow gums, green pastures, river, outback and ocean. And evocative it is – indeed one of the most evocative Australian descriptive works in the canon. “Green Pastures” stood out, with a beautiful French Impressionistic style creating thoughts of rolling paddocks in the good times. And “River” took the audience along rumbling rapids to peaceful pools.
Someone had asked Dooley: “Why wasn’t he playing his work?” But he replied it needed a virtuoso to bring it to life. Rumsey took the music and created vivid mind’s-eye images, drawing sustained applause for both pianist and composer.
But then it was the composer’s turn, with “Soliloquy”, written in the jazz idiom for piano and saxophone, but this time featuring Azoury’s clarinet. Dooley wrote it for his wife and the piece would have melted her heart as much as it did the audience’s. Both musicians performed thoughtful improvisations, playing with much sensitivity.
To close the concert Rumsey returned to the stage for the four-movement “Carmen Fantaisie” by Pablo de Sarasate, based on Bizet’s opera, with a transcription of the violin part to clarinet by French clarinetist, Nicolas Baldeyrou. This was an exciting piece, with extraordinary playing by Azoury of very rapid note sequences and stretching the clarinet’s range to impossible limits.
Demanding an encore, the audience got the rock-blues classic, “I Feel Good”, but in a nice, laid-back style. And they certainly did, smiling all the way out into the chilly Canberra evening.