Musica Viva. Adelaide Town Hall. 15 Nov 2023
What does it mean to compose a piece of music for a specific artist? For that is what Australian Composer May Lyon has done for the exciting duo Noa Wildschut (violin) and Elisabeth Brauss (piano). Lyon’s composition, Forces of Nature, experiences its world premiere performances throughout Wildschut and Brauss’s debut tour of Australia with Musica Viva. It is a relatively short composition of around twelve minutes in duration, comprising two movements without pause that, in the composer’s own words evokes “…the summer melt of ice sheets, and an erupting volcano.” Coincidently, that is potentially what Iceland is facing at the moment! As a piece of program music, it is reasonable that one might ask whether the music does indeed evoke in the mind of the listener the events and phenomena that the composer states are the inspiration for the music. More interestingly, it is worth asking whether knowledge of the composer’s programmatic intentions enhances one’s enjoyment of the music, or whether it is almost a precondition. For this reviewer, and judging by the reactions of other audience members, it is a case of the latter. The first section of Forces of Nature comprises musical content that is ephemeral: phrases come and go with eery transience, and there is little that is easily able to be recalled. The second section is more accessible, with more robust phrases that are discordantly jaunty and perambulating, but when it’s done, little remains in the listener’s conscious mind. That aside, the excellent Musica Viva printed program notes discuss the thought processes behind the composer writing specifically for Wildschut and Brauss. It makes for interesting reading, but ultimately it is the lasting impact the music has on the listener that really matters.
This world première was sandwiched between four other works – it was a generous program and one that tested the mettle of the performers.
The concert included Schumann’s Violin Sonata No.1 in A minor, Olivier Messiaen’s Thème et variations, Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in G minor, and Enescu’s Violin Sonata No.3 in A minor.
The Schumann is a deceptively ‘uncomplex’ sonata – at least from a listener’s perspective – and it takes great care and skill to expose its delicacy and innate musicality. Wildschut and Brauss established and maintained a carefully constructed dynamic balance within and across each of the three movements, and the almost elusive ending was played to perfection, and left the listener wanting more.
By a short nose, the Messiaen was the highlight of the concert. It was played with superb phrasing and such careful attention to changing dynamics that it comes across with the sublime majesty that Messiaen surely intended. The near silence in the closing notes left the audience fearing to breathe, and again, wanting more.
The Debussy follows on perfectly from the Messiaen, and for a brief moment one could almost believe they were movements from the same composition. The almost Iberian influences in the closing section of the first movement segued neatly into the lightness of the second movement which Wildschut and Brauss exemplified. They really know how to combine to underline any delicacy in what they are playing.
The final work of the program is Enescu’s exciting sonata. Where the violin and the piano are often doubling the same notes, the opposite is mostly true in the Enescu. The two instruments take quite different paths, yet the secret is to ensure the dialogue continues, and Wildschut and Brauss communicate so well together that it almost seemed a ‘walk in the park’ for them, despite the physical demands of the piece.
Noa Wildschut and Elisabeth Brauss are a near perfect combination, and a fine example of how acute communication skills are at the heart of successful ensemble playing.
When: 15 Nov
Where: Adelaide Town Hall