Danish nineteenth century linguist Jens Otto Harry Jespersen said, “…in the beginning was the voice…sounding breath, the audible sign of life.
At the first concert in their 10th Anniversary Season 2016 at Melbourne, Selby & Friends musical voices spoke eloquently about excellence in the performing arts
This too divine trio of piano, violin and cello presented a delightful diversity of piano trios and duos, composed on the musical form of variation over the course of a century by a quartet of very different musicians
Katherine Selby on the baby grand piano, Andrew Haveron on Violin and Timo-Veikko Valve on cello displayed all the ‘varied virtues’ as promised, classic, exotic and elegiac Romanticism.
The works ranged from the days of eighteenth century European elegance by perhaps the most influential composer of all, the mighty Ludwig van Beethoven, born the year Australia was discovered when music was at its heart – simple, restrained and refined in style, always fashionable.
Then we were treated to a work by youthful genius Franz Schubert, whom Beethoven influenced but sadly passed on before his full potential was released.
Then there was a work by the former child prodigy Ferruccio Busoni and the man whose works are considered ‘dramatic, lyric and dynamic’, Anton Arensky.
There has been so much written about Beethoven, it is often hard to find the words to express just how truly great his achievements were
Articulate, proud and with convincing assuredness, Beethoven was an integral part of the movement that helped to make the modern world by converting its capacity for vigorous activity into sheer creative power.
Beethoven, in a patriarchal society was convinced about the dignity and excellence of man and that if a man possessed virtue, he owed it to his own efforts and so accordingly, deserved higher consideration than ever before.
His music, which is truly heroic and uplifting, echoes this truth.
Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E-flat major, Op. 44 No. 10 ‘Variations on an Original Theme’, provided an interesting start, emboldening three very different voices to enjoy making musical conversation.
As Katherine Selby explained before they started, the first piece may sound simple, but it is complex to play, the timing of each solo player having to be impeccable if they are to achieve a coherent whole.
Beautifully articulated the performance fizzed frequently and effervescently with life, reflecting the love and eternal respect for the master who created such beautiful harmonies and inspiring sounds.
It started by scaling the heights with the strings soaring stylishly while Kathryn Selby underpinned their voices by providing clear bell like notes in a lilting melody hard to define, except to say it was captivating.
Beethoven was the eternal man, one who lived the whole gamut of human experience and then poured his emotions into the body and soul of his music.
This may have been one of his early pieces, but it shows all the promise, which was to come, as he moved music forward from the realms of the beautiful to the sublime.
The glory passed from his imagination through Katherine Selby’s fingers for those present to enjoy, spanning the centuries in a moment.
Kathryn, Andrew and Tippi (Timo) elevated the audience into a place where we would be able to understand how and why the music of the age of enlightenment had an ability to transform minds and those matters vital to society’s inner well being.
The next work by Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) was composed during the period when he spent two years in the ‘cold’ of Finland, absorbing and being influenced by local folk music.
He composed his ten Variations for Cello and Piano on a Finnish Folksong as a gift to his new Finnish wife Gerda, although her views as far as I can ascertain, are not known.
Ours on the other hand, I would have to say may be mixed.
Seems extraordinary to me that he would dedicate to ‘my dearest’ such a sad, slightly odd and both sad and melancholic piece. I suppose there must have been some advantages to knowing his ‘darker side’.
For piano and cello only, the technical playing by Timo Veikko-Valve was virtuosic and flawless.
Love the way he treats his awesome Guarneri cello like a beloved friend, blessing its intimacy and ability to reflect all his emotions when playing music influenced by his homeland.
The notes emerged from the very depths of his soul.
One of the composers I admire most from the so-called age of elegance was Franz Schubert (1797-1828) born into the age at the confluence of classicism with romanticism.
His now well known among music lovers ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy for Violin and Piano in C major, Op. 159, D 934 composed in 1822 had a new voice, one that spoke earnestly of a march towards a desire for unity in all the arts.
This piece offered us great examples of the runs and trills Kathryn Selby had commented about in her prologue to the concert. It was a device that composers loved for variations.
Schubert offered great sweetness of form from the strings in the work’s softer moments.
Beethoven believed Schubert, who was such a great educator, possessed a ‘divine spark’. His chamber music would eventually illuminate and pierce the drabness of every family’s everyday existence.
Must say it always does mine.
The devil may play it, he’s reputed to have said about this work, referring to the technical virtuosity required to attempt it, let alone play it with such commitment, passion and perfection as Selby & Friends managed to do, and at their expansive best
As they progressed through each variation, from the simple to the sublime, the technical and interpretive powers required to deliver his message were amply demonstrated as our trio sparked off each other, as the piece thundered dramatically towards its conclusion.
Russian composer Anton Arensky (1861-1906), clearly influenced by his countryman Pyotr Tchaikovsky, provided the lyrical finale for this evening of excellence in chamber music performance.
His Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 32 demonstrated his easy gift for melody, which was delivered with beguiling warmth by Selby & Friends displaying all the passion so characteristic of the Russian style.
Arensky has not had good press over the past century, but this seems to be based on his personally louche lifestyle, rather than on his music, which is gaining in admirers.
He is often criticised for it being ‘too pretty’, but I did not find it here.
Arensky was on the cusp of the music of a new century that started with the end of romanticism and ended with its foot firmly in reality.
His music is not self indulgent or excessive, but instead leads the listener through a range of emotions.
The piano in this piece was at the centre of his lyrical style, the strings echoing each other while weaving an achingly beautiful melody.
Sometimes it is difficult to express in words how much you admire musicians of this calibre.
Having the three of them playing together in concert was for me, a truly special event. Kathryn Selby and her friends have certainly started her 10th Anniversary Season, 2016, with a fabulous flourish.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016