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Canberra Today 7°/11° | Monday, May 16, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Joyous finale to the music festival

Ukrainian musician Larissa Kovalchuk.. an unprogrammed performance that was wistful and poignant. Photo: Peter Hislop.

CIMF, Concert 22: “The Last Mile”, Fitters’ Workshop, May 8. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN

AFTER a moving speech, in which he confirmed ongoing solidarity with the government and people of Ukraine, the president of the European Union Delegation to Australia introduced the final concert of the 2022 Canberra International Music Festival with an unprogrammed addition – a performance by Ukrainian musician Larissa Kovalchuk. 

She first played a lament on the bandorna, a stringed instrument of her homeland, then sang a soulful, restful folk song. Following the ambassador’s words advocating a “sense of hope and aspiration” her performance was wistful and poignant allowing an appropriate pause for a moment of reflection.

In the mid-19th century, when chamber music performances in private homes flourished, it was not financially feasible for large orchestras to be present. 

However, there was a market keen to hear the famous music of the time, so musical arrangements, for smaller forces, were often made. Such was the case with Beethoven’s 6th symphony with some 18 different versions published. 

One such interpretation was written by Hummel, a student of Mozart and sometimes friend of Beethoven, who scored the “Pastoral Symphony” for piano, violin, cello and flute. 

The Australian Haydn Ensemble played and, having only previously known the symphony in its complete orchestral form, it was fascinating to hear the reduced version. The performance was highlighted by exquisite ensemble sound with wonderful dynamic contrast, meticulous attention to neatness in phrase endings and visual and aural joy from the players in their individual and collective music output. 

The instrumental combination allowed more open expression than is possible in the orchestral environment and this was particularly evident in the delightful second movement, known as the “Scene by the Creek”. Imagery is important in this work and although a quartet must, by necessity, lose some musical colour, the essence of the symphony was truly retained and the pastoral pictures of an Austrian countryside were always evident.

Edward Neeman was indisposed so, after interval, the listed “Variations on a Paganini Caprice for two pianos” was substituted with two short pieces performed by young Polish pianist Lucas Krupinski. 

The winner of the world renowned Chopin Prize played a number of concerts during the festival to outstanding reviews so it was a treat to have him agree to perform again at short notice. 

His delicate touch was simply silky and absolutely smooth and the accuracy of his rapid playing was quite breathtaking.

The ensemble plays “The Carnival of the Animals”. Photo:Peter Hislop.

In his opening remarks the ambassador had commented that it was important that the festival end on a joyous note and it certainly did that with a wonderful performance of “The Carnival of the Animals”. 

Jonathan Biggins had updated and re-written the narrator’s script to reflect modern-day Australia and it was witty and very clever. Everyone from Elon Musk, Ash Barty, Kim Kardashian and the RSPCA rated a mention as he brought gender equality into play by renaming the “Royal March of the Lion”, the Lioness, then explored the pros and cons of battery verses free range in his prelude to “Hens and Roosters”. This frivolity was accompanied by more delightful playing with the ensemble terrific in “Aquarium” and the fluttering flute of Sally Walker flying beautifully in “Aviary”.

Indeed, a joyous finale to the 2022 Canberra International Music Festival.

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Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

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