Among The Birds And The Trees

Among The Birds And The Trees 2023Musica Viva. Adelaide Town Hall. 26 Apr 2023


Musica Viva can be relied upon to present the uncommon, and the combination of flute, viola and harp is about as uncommon as it gets. Put together three young international artists who are at the very top of their game, throw in infrequently performed repertoire, and you have the makings of an evening of exceptional music making; and remarkable it was.


Tonight’s concert is the opening night of Musica Viva’s current national tour featuring virtuoso artists Adam Walker (flute), Timothy Ridout (viola), and Anneleen Lenaerts (harp). Titled Among the Birds and the Trees, the program featured diverse compositions that channelled the natural world and explored the human response as mystical appreciation.


The three artists laid bare their impressive musical credentials with solo performances that included George Benjamin’s challenging Flight for Solo Flute (written in 1979), Debussy’s Estampes (1903) arranged for solo harp, and Telemann’s Fantasia No.7 in E-flat major for solo viola (1735). The three compositions are starkly contrasted, with the uber atonality of the Benjamin, the ethereal delicateness of the Debussy, and the warmth and nobility of the Telemann. The soloists imparted a sense of theatre to their performances. Walker performed in a single spot of light on far stage left, which underlined the sense of loneliness of the Benjamin; the light faded on him and Lenaerts took to stage centre with the Debussy, and when the last ripple of sound disappeared into the expanse of the Town Hall (too big for a solo harp), the lights came up on Ridout on stage right.


With the final note of the Telemann, and with Ridout’s final bow, the three join each other at stage centre and give an impassioned performance of Sofia Gubaidulina’s Garden of Joy and Sorrow (1980, 1993). As Ridout remarked from the stage, the piece “forcefully juxtaposes” both western and eastern musical traditions, and the sound world of the work is quite astonishing. The harp is played to produce sounds that are quite at odds with what we would normally expect (can you imagine the drone sounds produced as the harp’s tuning key is drawn across the strings?), and the flute and viola combine to heighten our emotional response to what is an exotic and poignant piece. For this reviewer, it was the highlight of the evening.


After the interval, the trio performed Messiaen, Takemitsu, and finished with Debussy, who essentially provided the backbone for the entire program.


Messiaen ‘s Le Merle noir (The Blackbird) (1952) is a prime example of Messiaen’s preoccupation with spirituality. The piece is infused with lightness and eerily evocative sounds (particularly from the flute) that almost induce a meditative state. As ones’ eyes involuntarily close, one briefly drifts away in a state of contemplation.


Takemitsu’s And then I knew ‘twas Wind (1992) was originally composed as a companion piece for Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp, which finished the program. The harp provides its backbone, with fragments of diverse melodies always gravitating back to the harp, which is exquisitely played by Lenaerts. The piece is, for obvious reasons, infused with eastern sounds, and ‘fits’ with being performed alongside of the Messiaen. This is no accident of programming.


Lenaerts then performs Debussy’s most recognisable composition Clair de Lune arranged for solo harp, for which it works especially well.


And then to Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp (1915), which was revolutionary when it was written and a testimony to Debussy’s genius for combining three diverse instruments. Again, it all fits. The finale highlights superb partnerships between the viola and the harp in particular.


The sizeable audience left the Town Hall well satisfied by three extremely talented artists and an unusual program.


Bravo Musica Viva, again.


Kym Clayton


When: 26 Apr

Where: Adelaide Town Hall

Bookings: Closed