Music Festival: In praise of beautiful concert

Canberra International Music Festival “In Praise of Creative Women” At Albert Hall, May 19. Review and photos by Judith Crispin

Cellist David Pereira.

Cellist David Pereira.

OF the many concerts of this festival, “In Praise of Creative Women”, was surely the most beautiful. A stellar ensemble performed works by historically overlooked composers – Amy Beach, Rebecca Clarke, Phyllis Campbell, Nadia Boulanger, and Elena Kats-Chernin.

Composed in the romantic artsong tradition, Beach’s “Songs: Ecstasy, Chanson d’Amour, Mirage”, were surprisingly modern. Tamara Anna Cislowska showed real mastery in the Brahmsian piano part, while Madeleine Mitchell and David Pereira evoked a wide palette of string timbres. Soprano Louise Page was simply magnificent. From delicate pianissimo notes to Maria Callas portamenti, Page’s emotionally intense performance was spellbinding.

Violinist Madeleine Mitchell and soprano Louise Page.

Violinist Madeleine Mitchell and soprano Louise Page.

Cislowska, who has performed with extraordinary stamina and skill throughout this festival, brought out the mystical atmosphere of Campbell’s “Nature Studies”, with its undulating Schoenbergian harmonies. Together with Mitchell, she gave an excellent performance of Boulanger’s “Nocturne”. Both musicians underscored the internal dramaturgy of the harmony, moving weightlessly through subtle modulations – often reminiscent of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”.

“Blue Silence” by Kats-Chernin was brought to life by Cislowska and Pereira. This work highlighted Pereira’s sublime cello tones and gossamer vibrato. Grace and simplicity were brought by Cislowska to the piano part of “Blue Silence”, a work drawn from a composer who has walked away from the refuge of post-modernism – deciding to be herself, and only herself, and not the shadow of any past male composer.

Though history has overlooked Rebecca Clarke, it is unlikely that we will do the same. Five pieces by this extraordinary composer were given Australian premieres. Her “Midsummer Moon” with its magical impressionistic parallelism was performed with great pathos by Mitchell and Cislowska. The work features arioso lines in violin, arching effortlessly above the piano scaffolding. From Pereira’s opening bars of her “Passacaglia on an Old British Tune,” the audience were captivated. This hymn-like work, modelled on Bach cello suites, highlighted Pereira’s signature ochre tones – the superb quality of his lowest register. With Cislowska’s graceful pianistic interpretation, this work was an affirmation of the ineffable.

Violinists Madeleine Mitchell, left, and  Anna McMichael with pianist Timothy Young.

Violinists Madeleine Mitchell, left, and Anna McMichael with pianist Timothy Young.

Timothy Young (piano) and Anna McMichael (violin) joined Mitchell for the finale, a performance of Clarke’s “Three Movements for Two Violins and Piano”. The score has lain in a box of medical notes for years, until recently uncovered – sadly with the last movement missing. Idiomatic of the early 20th century, this gentle and mature work reigns in, but does not deny, the emotions. Harp-like piano gestures were delicately rendered by Young. The subtleties of Clarke’s string writing, with its invocation of Berlioz, should come as no surprise as she was well-known as a violinist. This piece features unison violin melodies that float over the piano line like veils – it was stunning. The audience held their breath, motionless, until the very last sound had died away.

Judith Crispin is a composer, writer, photographer and director of  Manning Clark House .


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