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‘Marvellous’ keyboards step into the spotlight

John Ma and Ariana Odermatt performing. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Music / “Friends Historical Instruments Showcase Concert”. At Llewellyn Hall stage, August 10. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD.

THIS week has seen a series of piano concerts at the ANU School of Music, sponsored by the Friends of the School, including a lecture/demonstration/concert using five of the instruments in the school’s collection of historic keyboards.

For this performance they used a harpsichord, two fortepianos and two grand pianos. The harpsichord is a new instrument, based on a 17th century Ruckers and built by Sydney harpsichord builder Carey Beebe within the last couple of years. The pandemic has meant that this was its first public outing. The two fortepianos are also modern reproductions by American builder Paul McNulty, one a copy of an instrument by Anton Walter from 1796 and the other based on a fortepiano by Conrad Graf from 1819. The two grand pianos were a French Playel from 1847 and a Bluthner from 1911.

The other concerts in this series have taken place in the Larry Sitsky Recital Room, but the organisers must have realised that five keyboard in that space would not have left much room for an audience, so the keyboards were installed across the Llewellyn Hall stage, facing backwards with the audience seating at the back of the stage. A little disconcerting to be looking past the instruments at an empty auditorium, but the acoustics worked quite well.

The performers and the keyboards on stage, with Scott Davie, R. Photo: Peter Hislop.

The lecture/concert was arranged chronologically the performers playing music that would have been played on similar instruments around the time the original instruments were built. Each instrument and performer were introduced by deputy head of the School of Music Scott Davie, who also programmed the concert.

It started with Ariana Odermatt, a recent graduate of the School of Music, at the harpsichord with a selection of early 18th century music. This included music by Elizabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre, Antoine Forqueray, Francois Couperin and an anonymous work where she was joined by viola d’amore player John Ma. The selection covered a range of music of the period and Odermatt capably demonstrated the range of the new harpsichord.

The focus moved to the 1796 fortepiano with the opening movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” played by piano student Caitlin Manning. It was a charming and quite different sounding Beethoven. The trebles are muted to some extent, without the clarity of a modern piano, but Manning’s playing captured the essence of the music.

Marie Searles also played the Walter copy, with sonatas by CPE Bach and late 18th century French composer Jean-Frederick Edelmann, joined by John Ma on violin for the second work. She then moved to the second fortepiano for a short impromptu by Franz Schubert, all played with great poise and skill.

The next work was a Chopin nocturne played with assurance by Michael Anthrak on the 1847 Playel, a piano maker much favoured by Chopin. This instrument certainly sounds like a piano (where the fortepianos have a subtly different tonality) but at 175 years old there is a crumbling delicacy to the top end.

The newer Bluthner grand brought to a more modern sounding piano with Scott Davie playing an early Debussy nocturne on this instrument with a deft touch before another of the students, Madelie Joubert, played a later Debussy piece with great confidence.

This was a most enjoyable hour and half of keyboard music across 200 years of musical styles played on the instruments that the music was originally heard on. The music was played with conviction and skill from all involved and a wonderful opportunity for the wider public to hear and learn a little about this marvellous collection of keyboards.

 

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