Philosophical musings in ‘almighty’ music

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Violinists Barbara Jane Gilby and (rear) Pip Thomson. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Music / “Death and the Maiden”. Canberra Strings at Wesley Uniting Church, Forrest. April 18. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

SCHUBERT struggled with the notion of mortality. His “Death and the Maiden” is the culmination of his philosophical musings about death put into an almighty work of music.

In the wonderful acoustics of the Wesley Uniting Church in Forrest, the players in Canberra Strings for this concert were Barbara Jane Gilby, violin, Pip Thompson, violin, Lucy Carrigy-Ryan, viola, Samuel Payne, cello.

To open the concert, Schubert’s “Quartettsatz”. This quartet movement in C minor, D 703, which never made it into a full quartet, is full of light, sweet music that fluctuates between rapid passages and singing tones. It’s a drifting piece that fits a light mood, but it is beautifully written.

It didn’t take long to hear and see that this quartet was similar in their playing styles and sensibility. The music they made sounded connected. It had a unison of emotion impacting across the four voices. It was a treat to hear such fine music played so well.

Canberra Strings. Photo: Peter Hislop.

As memorable as the opening bars in Beethoven’s fifth symphony, Schubert’s introduction to his “Death and the Maiden” is equally powerful and striking. It is one of the greatest works in the chamber music repertoire.

From the opening bar, it spins out of control with passion as it speeds to make its statement. This is a musical ride like few others. The attack in the first few bars makes a listener sit up and take notice. It jumps at you. What follows is music with some of the most impassioned writing. At times it’s a battle, a victory and the sound of suffering, but always wanting to move forward.

The players looked intent on giving a great performance, and they did. They were joined in colour, dynamics and timing. This music engrosses a listener in its anguished story. Those fatal opening bars come back to grab attention throughout the first movement; it drives this whole section.

The song “Death and the Maiden” is in the second movement; voiced by a feeling of loss and sorrow. The first violin gets to sing in this section, and it was perfectly played by Gilby.

The third movement, with its rhythmic and dynamic approach, comes across as the sound of determination. It makes a statement, “I’m not going anywhere”.

The final movement is a gallop, a Tarantella that bounces and dances with vitality and life. It has hints of the other movements in it. It’s a culmination. It’s the sound of someone springing back to life. It sings this is not the end, and it states that strongly.

Music like this demands great playing. As the large audience kept applauding the Canberra Strings to take three bows, they knew they had just heard some great playing.

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