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Ensemble

Beethoven and Blue Skies

The 2007 Australian Festival of Chamber Music begins,
and MALCOLM TATTERSALL is there

 

The Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville, North Queensland, opened on the evening of Friday 6 July as the festival on the shore of Bantry Bay some distance away was drawing to a close.

Townsville from Mount Stuart, looking north. Castle Hill, almost on the shore of Cleveland Bay, is in line with Magnetic Island. Ross River winds across the middle of the picture. Photo © 2004 Malcolm Tattersall
Townsville from Mount Stuart, looking north. Castle Hill, almost on the shore of Cleveland Bay, is in line with Magnetic Island. Ross River winds across the middle of the picture. Photo © 2004 Malcolm Tattersall

There were just two items in the first concert, Beethoven's String Trio Op 3 and Brahms' Piano Quintet in F minor.

The Beethoven is a comparatively slight work in spite of its length, an early piece more akin to Haydn and Mozart divertimenti than to the mature Beethoven. The Hermitage String Trio seemed to want to extract some nonexistent Romantic drama from the first movement, but from the slow movement onwards their performance was everything one could desire. The ensemble, formed in 2004 by three UK-based Russian musicians, Valeriy Sokolov, Alexander Zemtsov and Leonid Gorokhov, has been very active on the UK festival circuit but this is apparently their first visit to Australia.

Brahms has been well-represented in AFCM programmes ever since Theodore Kuchar started the Festival in 1991 and hasn't been forgotten this year. I have been known to suggest in the past that he has been over-represented but four works, as in this year's programme, seems about right.

The performance of the first of them, the Quintet, was more than 'about right', it was magnificent. The New Zealand String Quartet were joined by British pianist Kathryn Stott, and they played as though they were a permanent quintet. The first movement was a tightly woven drama with every element balanced for maximum impact. The scherzo begins furtively before blossoming into extroverted dance, but if the opening of the scherzo is furtive, the finale's is downright eerie and never quite resolves. The whole movement is a collage of competing ideas and the musicians gave each idea the same passionate commitment, to dazzling effect.

And so out into the crisp midwinter evening. Our weather is now (after the coldest and wettest June on record) exactly what it should be: 10C or thereabouts overnight followed by blue skies and a top of about 22C every day. Visitors' mock-complaints about it started in this evening's speeches. We residents just smiled. It's possible that some of us looked a bit smug.

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Copyright © 11 July 2007 Malcolm Tattersall, Townsville, Australia

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