CIMF / Bringing something fresh to everlasting music

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Tenor Andrew Goodwin. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Canberra International Music Festival / Concert 12, “Schubert Sublime II”, The Fitters’ Workshop, May 4. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE.

IT is easy to imagine a gathering of friends, dressed in their finery, at a so-called “Schubertiade” – a soiree – in a tastefully furnished salon, with Schubert and his musician colleagues playing his latest compositions.

And there were plenty to choose from, for he wrote lots of music that would be perfect for the occasion. Despite his life being cut cruelly short a couple of months shy of his 32nd birthday, he had written more than 600 songs, and a large body of piano and chamber music, as well as symphonies, choral works, operas, and stage works.

So, it must have been difficult to choose the program for this concert, which ended up being six songs and the “Piano Trio no. 1 in B-flat, D898”.

At the piano was the festival’s artistic director, Roland Peelman, accompanying tenor, Andrew Goodwin, in songs about the path of life, the gentle death of an old man, the positivity of the mill turning in the brook, pleasant dreams at night, the scent of a love no longer here, and the nervous wait for a love’s arrival.

Goodwin’s voice was perfect for these songs, which had contrasting styles and moods. Singing in German (thankfully with English surtitles), his light tenor voice, his intonation and expression, his empathy for the messages in the songs, and the “personality” of his interpretations beautifully matched the achingly melodious romance in the music.

Peelman’s accompaniment was thoughtfully understated, but true to the moods of the songs, giving just the right support for Goodwin.

From left, Kristian Winther, Edward Neeman and Rachel Johnston… “The players’ mutual understanding and respect for each other were characteristics that lifted this performance to an otherwise unachievable level,” writes Clinton White. Photo: Peter Hislop.

For the piano trio, written in Schubert’s last year of life, but not published until eight years later (as op. 99), Edward Neeman was at the piano, with violinist Kristian Winther and cellist Rachel Johnston.

That the four-movement work is called a piano trio belies the role of the other two instruments, for there is no specific soloist. Whilst the spotlight does move from player to player, sometimes in rapid succession, the piece is very democratic with the shared roles combining to form equality overall.

And this is exactly what the three players delivered. Quite apart from the superb musicianship displayed, the players’ mutual understanding and respect for each other were characteristics that lifted this performance to an otherwise unachievable level. These qualities underscored Schumann’s observation, as noted in the festival’s program booklet, that: “One glance at Schubert’s Trio and the troubles of our human existence disappear and all the world is fresh and bright again.” The same observation could be made equally well today.

That the work remains at the top of the chamber music canon 200 years after it was written is testament to its everlasting freshness and brightness. In their performance, Neeman, Winther and Johnston put new colours into that freshness and brightness. It truly was sublime.

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