Musica Viva. Adelaide Town Hall. 17 June 2021
Musica Viva’s latest national concert tour – featuring Nicolas Fleury (horn), Emily Sun (violin) and Amir Farid (piano) – is a world première sandwich, and it’s delicious!
Lockdowns caused by COVID19 have conspired to shorten the tour with the cancellation of the Brisbane and Perth concerts. That means Adelaide played host to the first concert of the tour and therefore also hosted the world première of Gordon Kerry’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, which was only composed last year. Kerry’s Sonata features second on the program, and is sandwiched between two horn trios: Mozart’s Horn Trio in E flat major, KV 407 (arr. Naumann) and Brahm’s Horn Trio in E flat major, Op. 40.
Gordon Kerry is an Australian composer, music administrator, music writer and music critic. He is an erudite and prolific contributor to various programme notes, including those for tonight’s concert! The sonata was commissioned by Julian Burnside AO QC who was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2009, “for service as a human rights advocate, particularly for refugees and asylum seekers, to the arts as a patron and fundraiser, and to the law.” Thank you Julian Burnside!
It is a common and comfortable practice at Musica Viva concerts for the artists to address the audience from the stage and provide personal insights into the music. Tonight, Emily Sun speaks about the idyllic pastoral vista that Gordon Kerry’s music studio overlooks and suggested that the music invokes the changing light, life and rhythms of the very countryside upon which the composition was written. This is not to suggest that the sonata is programmatic in that sense, but it does provide a metaphor that the audience can hold in mind and contemplate as the music washes gently over them. It is an unconventional sonata and doesn’t follow the expected pattern. In Kerry’s own words it is “a kind of mosaic” and “an abstract piece, concerned with the dramatic possibilities of bringing together virtuoso performers.” It turns out to be a very apt description. The piece begins with an elegiac violin line over gently shimmering broken chords on the piano. The violin shoulders the thematic load before the piano substantially enters and asserts itself. The dialogue between the violin and piano is contemplative but also agitated, like viewing dappled sunlight that is trying to break through ever-changing clouds and flickering leaves on trees. (Emily Sun’s metaphor is working through our minds.) The agitation gives way to a textured and rhythmically varied melody on the piano that contrasts a gentle legato violin line that rises and falls like a bird on the wing. The metaphor deepens. The violin now begins a textured journey that is encouraged by a sublime piano accompaniment and the piece finishes in gentle submission as the day draws to a close. It is a gentle and evocative composition that demonstrates Kerry’s inventiveness. Sun and Farid are to be heartily congratulated for a sensitive reading in what is a world première.
Mozart’s Horn Trio was originally a quintet scored for horn, one violin, two violas (unusually) and one cello. Tonight we hear Ernst Naumann’s arrangement for horn, violin and piano, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to hear a horn virtuoso in action. Nicolas Fleury demonstrates mastery of his instrument, and a deep understanding of the music. In the andante second movement, he enunciates the most beautiful hushed tones and produces languid crescendos with no wavering of tone. The rondo third movement is dominated by the horn and the interplay between the three instruments is superbly directed with fastidiousness by Sun from the violin. Farid on piano takes great care to never dominate.
The highlight of the evening is the ensemble’s reading of the Brahms Horn Trio. Written specifically for a ‘natural’ horn (that is, no valves), the melodic line is very much grounded in the harmonics of the instrument’s natural key and exudes melancholy in the first movement. Brahms reputedly wrote it as a response to his grief over the death of his mother, and Farid and Fleury produce achingly beautiful tension from the outset. In the sprightly allegro section of the second movement, Farid extracts remarkable bell-like tones from the piano that combined exquisitely with the violin and horn. In the adagio third movement, which to this reviewer’s ear is the heart and soul of the composition, Sun is at the top of her game and ensures the ensemble combines to create longing sadness that is, at the insistence of a well-articulated melody on the horn, also hopeful and inspiring. This gives way to the fun and jauntiness of the well-known melody in the allegro final movement that has all the fun of a pursuit! Farid is on fire as he wonderfully executes emphatic crashing chords, while Fleury soars above with the melody. All the while, Sun keeps the exuberance in check and ensures the rambunctiousness and briskness of the chase doesn’t escape them all!
At the end the three artists embrace, (but in a COVID-safe socially-distanced manner) to underline their great relief that the concert finally made it to a stage in front of a real audience.
This concert offers so much: a very satisfying program, a combination of instruments that is infrequently heard on the concert stage, artists of international repute, and a world premiere performance as well!
When: Closed in Adelaide
Where: Adelaide Town Hall
Bookings: Refer to musicaviva.com.au for concert dates in other cities, including livestream on Monday 21 Jun 2021.