Review / Finest playing produces enthralling concert

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Pianist Kathryn Selby.
LUDWIG van Beethoven was quite the innovator in his day. He raised the symphony bar a couple of feet from where Haydn and Mozart left it, and he pushed the envelope with his chamber music, paving the way for the romantic period picked up by the likes of Mendelssohn and Chopin.

It was he who cemented drama, intensity, and power in the music world, thus establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with – a force that remains so today.

The concert by pianist Kathryn Selby and her friends, violinist Daniel Dodds and cellist Timo-Veikko Valve, had a slightly untidy start in the Opus 11 piano trio, struggling a little to settle the tempo and timing. But that only lasted a few bars and was the mere subtlest of blemishes on an otherwise brilliant performance.

In fact, the Opus 11 work itself is a little untidy with rather disjointed passages and tenuous links between the movements. The third movement – a theme and variations on a popular song of the time – really stands by itself. It is full of wit and charm and Selby & Friends played it accordingly.

The second work, the third and final trio in Beethoven’s Opus 1, even though written a few years before the Opus 11, seems the more mature work of the two. The trio played it with the kind of fire-in-the-belly passion that Beethoven’s music demands. In the contrasting second movement, marked “cantabile” (in a singing voice), Selby & Friends had their instruments singing the sweetest of sweet sounds with leads moving seamlessly one to the other. It was simply gorgeous. And the wit and humour of the very last few notes of the final movement got exactly the reaction Beethoven would have wanted. There was an “lol” response!

After interval, the trio turned to Beethoven’s own arrangement for piano trio of his 2nd Symphony. Here there was passion, fire, and intensity aplenty. The tension in the room was palpable.  

After only the first of the four movements, there was a figurative collective wiping of the audience’s brow. The familiar third movement scherzo was played with the playful humour required of that music form.  

But the playfulness quickly yielded to tension again in the finale, with the players rising boldly and assertively to the extraordinary dynamics, demanding tempi and very fast finger work, passing the lead around such that the sound became a visual effect as well. This was playing and teamwork at its very finest, enthralling the audience to the very edge of their seats.

Selby & Friends are as popular as ever and becoming more so, such that their concerts in Canberra are sell-outs. They’re struggling to work out how to accommodate the many unable to secure tickets. Is it any wonder?

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