A Little Lunch Music, Sydney – Schubert’s Sensational Sounds

Kathryn Selby OA, Artistic Director "A Little Lunch Music"

On Friday 20th June, 2014 I attended a lunch time concert at City Recital Hall in Angel Place at Sydney where Schubert’s String Quintet in C major, D 956 [Op. Posth. 163] was performed.

The initiative, “A Little Lunch Music”, in essence makes classical music concerts accessible for everyone.

The tickets are inexpensive and the City Recital Hall and is easily reached by public transport.

In addition, it offers the city workers a chance to attend concerts during their lunch breaks.

Food and drinks can be taken into the Hall and this is convenient for many patrons at lunch, many of whom come from offices in the area.

This was Franz Schubert’s final chamber work and was composed in 1828 and completed only two months before his death.

Although his life span was less than thirty two years, he was a prolific composer.

In music circles, this String Quintet is regarded as his finest chamber work as well as being considered one of the greatest compositions in all chamber music.

The music inspired me and made me marvel at the miracle of composition and the wonder of performance.

Nestled amid the bubbling restaurant precinct in the heart of the city of Sydney is the world renowned City Recital Hall at Angel Place.

Helen Rathbone, Principal Violin, Australian Chamber Orchestra

Artistic Director Kathryn Selby introduced her ‘friends’ – five great artists, Helena Rathbone, Christopher Moore, Timo-Veikko Valve, Johannes Rostamo and Ike See, who were all current members or guests of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

This special grouping shaped an informal intimacy between the performers and the audience.

Rathbone (Violin) was asked about how she approached the work.

She emphasized “the humility and reverence” she felt about the work.

She also expressed her love of the piece and that to do it “justice was scary”.

Moore (Viola) said this was the fourth time he had played the piece.

His opinion of the work was that the “thematic material was unbreakable and other worldly”.

The two cello players, Timo-Veikko Valve and Johannes Rostamo (solo Cello Swedish Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), both originally from Finland, had previously met when they were fourteen years old.

Johannes was very animated about surfing and the mildness of the winter season in Sydney.

These personal glimpses and opening conversations into the lives and thoughts of the musicians nurtured the connection between audience and performers.

Timo Veikko Valve, Principal Cello, Australian Chamber Orchestra

I recently heard an interview with a conductor who suggested that the dynamics of being in a concert is triangular.

That is the composer performer and audiences are the three pivotal points on the triangle.

This concept certainly resonated with me at this concert.

Yehudi Menuhin’s observation of Schubert’s music is that it is “purity itself”. Usually in a string quintet there are two violins, two violas and one cello.

However Schubert composed the music for an extra cello rather than the viola in this Quintet.

This has created a richness, darkness and depth in the lower register.

Schubert’s String Quintet has four movements that transported the audience into introspection and engaged them in an emotional response from the very first exquisite note of the first movement.

For me the melancholy notes of the cellos and the wistful sounds of the violins and viola echo the theme of innocence.

The purity and intensity of the sound is a source of beauty. I was reminded of the wonder of exploration and discovery in childhood.

The light and shade of the music conveyed to me moving from the naivety and ideals of childhood to the confusion and controversy of youth.

The pitfalls and turmoil of development are underscored by optimism and the prospects of tomorrow. The length of the first movement is one third of the whole String Quintet.

Christopher Moore, Principal Viola, Australian Chamber Orchestra

During this movement, particularly Christopher Moore the viola player was moving around almost dancing, immersed in the vocation of performance.

I felt in the second movement a wistful longing tinged with despondency was reflected in the music.

Every note was beautifully conceived, delicately played and full of emotion for the audience.

I could not help but think if grace had a resonance it would be the serene notes from the violin in this movement.

The trials and tribulations of successes and failures in life’s journey both spiritually and creatively rebounded in the music.

During this movement the sensitive interplay and communication between the performers was central to their successful collaboration and chemistry.

They were united in their commitment to honouring and celebrating Schubert’s composition.

Austrian Composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

For me goodness and serenity pervaded this section and the emotional impact was manifested in my tears.

I was deeply moved in the second movement by the virtuosity of Helena Rathbone’s remarkable violin performance.

It was breath taking!

The third movement begins strong and positive and suggests immersing ourselves in life’s challenges and experiences with relish and appreciation.

My mind was racing with responses I was challenged by the thoughts of life’s hidden threats and ambushes.

Woven through the movement were thoughts of tragedy and the pain of suffering the imperfections of humanity.

Juxtaposed to these difficulties was the triumph of courage and resilience.

The fourth movement began joyously and dance was threaded through the music.

On retrospection, joy and sorrow were woven into one tapestry of pure sound.

The build up in the finale is exuberant and rewarding.

It has been said that Schubert’s music radiates with “almost painful beauty”.

The whole audience was mesmerized by the music and the performance. I could sense the concentration within the Recital Hall and the audience breathing in the musical sounds of perfection.

There was stillness within the Hall that came from the waves of the music resonating in the space

I long for a repetition of the emotional and spiritual uplifting experience that vibrated through the auditorium in this performance.

Rose Niland, Special Features Correspondent NSW, The Culture Concept Circle 2014


The City Recital Hall opened in 1999 and it was the first specifically designed concert venue to be built in Sydney since the Opera House in 1973.  It was specially planned for the quality of sound and is known world wide for its acoustics. Three tiers of sloped seating provide for an audience of up to 1,238 guests. A grand white marble stairway leads patrons into the Hall where the décor is restrained and soothing. Grey, gold leaf, light timber panelling and plum–coloured upholstery help create this ambience.

Next Concerts

Friday 22nd August 2014

Mozart and Mendelssohn

Principal Conductor Dr Nicholas Milton leads the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony with guest soloist Artistic Director Kathryn Selby AM playing a Mozart concerto.

8 October

Stars from Opera Australia

Taryn Fiebig, soprano and Margaret Plummer, mezzo soprano, present a fabulous program of opera aria favourites!

City Recital Hall Angel Place – BOOKINGS


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