A Tale of Two Cities

Selby and Friends A Tale of two Cities 2020 adelaideSelby and Friends. Elder Hall, University of Adelaide. 1 Mar 2020.


Selby and Friends concerts are relaxed: Kathryn Selby (or one of her associates) speaks amiably to the audience from the stage about the music we are about to hear, idiosyncrasies about the structure of the concert, and… ‘housekeeping’. Today she thanked the Adelaide Harmony Choir for again providing the catering for afternoon tea, and noted that today’s concert – entitled A Tale of Two Cities – featured music created in two of the world’s greatest cultural hubs of the 18th and 19th centuries, Vienna and St Petersburg. She mused that with travel restrictions the way they are in today’s world (think corona virus), we could use the music to imagine being in these far flung corners of the world. The audience tittered, settled back and relaxed into an outstanding programme.


Mozart’s Piano Trio No.5 in C, K.548 is less complex than his earlier trios, and was composed later in his career. Selby, on piano, combined beautifully in the cantabile second movement with Emily Sun (violin) and particularly with Clancy Newman (cello), and did not dominate, which on occasions was almost the case in the first movement. Newman was particularly eloquent in the cantabile and produced warm and lush tones. Selby’s pedalling was authoritative and any piano student in the audience witnessed an object lesson in legato playing. Sublime.


Brahms wrote his Trio in A Minor for clarinet, cello and piano, Op.114, after being inspired by the playing of clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld. The combined timbre of this combination of instruments presents compositional challenges, and the repertoire deriving from the romantic period is comparatively thin. Many more pieces have emerged since the 1900s as musical styles and tastes have changed. The robust gypsy-style of the allegro fourth movement of Brahms’ Trio is particularly pleasing to a modern ear, and Selby and Sun combined well to draw out its spiky rhythms. Benjamin Mellefont on clarinet plays with the confidence of someone who is at the top of his game.


The second half of the program wrenched us from German traditions to Russian styles, and Stravinsky’s Suite from L’Histoire du Soldat (for violin, clarinet and piano) demonstrated to us that the combination of instruments truly has something special to offer. Selby, Sun, Newman and Mellefont individually and collectively shine during their bravura performances of this exciting work. Their timing and articulation is precise, and the dialogues between the instruments are passionate but never self-serving. Mellefont and Newman somehow create an uncommon concordance from the two instruments.


The excitement continues with a lush and richly layered performance of Arensky’s Piano Trio in D minor, Op.32 No.1. The piece teems with lyrical melodies which are echoed across the work, but it is the painfully beautiful third movement which is marked elegia/adagio. The piano and cello sustain a dream-like quality to which the violin adds empathetic embellishment showing Sun at her best. Selby’s delicate and light treatment throughout the movement is a highlight of the afternoon. The fourth movement draws the whole piece together and is explosive and sternly unrelenting. The tension that is evident on the faces of the musicians says it all, and its release at the final chord is palpable as they smile beamingly at each other and accept the applause from the large admiring audience.


Kym Clayton


When: Closed in SA, but playing until 8 Mar in other states.

Where: Adelaide Town Hall