Jewels In The Crown

Jewels in the Crown Selby and Friends 2024Selby & Friends. Elder Hall. 7 Jul 2024


Selby & Friends begin their current national tour in Adelaide with a program of chamber masterworks for violin, piano and clarinet entitled Jewels in the Crown, and what jewels they are! Joining Kathryn Selby AM are violinist Natalie Chee and clarinettist Lloyd Van’t Hoff, and they are all at the top of their game.


The “jewels in the crown” include Clarinet Sonata No.2 in E flat major, Op.120 by Johannes Brahms, Dances for Violin, Clarinet and Piano (arranged by Andrew Howes) by Béla Bartók, Contrasts for Piano, Violin and Clarinet, Sz.111 also by Bartók, and Sonata for Violin & Piano No. 9 in A major, Op. 47 "Kreutzer" by Ludwig van Beethoven.


In addition to being a first-rate concert pianist and ensemble player, Kathryn Selby AM is an educator, and an enjoyable feature of her concerts is the musicians congenially addressing the audience from the stage to outline interesting facts about what is to be heard. For this concert, it was fascinating to learn reasons why Brahms and Bartók were encouraged to pen their compositions. Brahms had basically retired as a composer and heard a particular clarinettist in concert. He was so struck by what he heard that he felt compelled to write for the clarinet, and it resulted in some of the most iconic works for clarinet ever written. Bartók was experiencing financial hardship and was helped out by Benny Goodman who commissioned Contrasts for Piano, Violin and Clarinet, at the encouragement of Joseph Szigeti who was a significant virtuoso concert violinist of the day and who championed new music. An interesting fun-fact is that, when Contrasts was premièred, the program also included Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, as it is today in Jewels in the Crown!


Lloyd Van’t Hoff is an engaging clarinettist to watch. His beaming face smiles throughout his performance as he acknowledges his collaborators, and the audience. From an audience perspective, it feels that he is playing just for you. His body is animated, and he rises and falls with the music’s arc. The tender opening of the Brahms hears Van’t Hoff produce beautifully rounded tones, and it only gets better in the allegro appassionato second movement in which Van’t Hoff and Selby are sharp as a razor with the good-humoured conversation between the two instruments, especially in the gorgeous trio section. The final movement fells as if it is jazz inflected, and it seems Brahms and Beethoven may well have both been jazz vanguards at the ends of their careers.


Violinist Natalie Chee then joined Selby and Van’t Hoff and they give a spirited performance of Bartók’s Six Romanian Dances. Originally, they were written for solo piano, which Bartok later orchestrated for small ensemble. Today we heard an arrangement for clarinet, violin and piano by Australia composer Andrew Howes, and the arrangements are superb, particularly because of Van’t Hoff’s acuity and intonation. He and Chee faced each other head on and the interplay was mesmerising. Selby’s impressive cross-hand action at the very start ensured we were put on alert from the outset, and the middle eastern sounds evoked in the Pe loc third dance were particularly haunting.


The highlight of the concert was the next piece, also by Bartók. His Contrasts for Clarinet, Violin and Piano were eye-opening! Not only did we see both Chee and Van’t Hoff change instruments several times – him between A and B-flat clarinets, and her between standard and scordatura violins. Van’t Hoff’s cadenza in the first movement was sublime, and Chee and Selby combined beautifully to capitalise on the changing moods in the second movement, with Selby remarkably producing delicate tones reminiscent of a celeste. The racy and incredibly difficult final third movement allowed all three musicians to show us their chops, and they didn’t disappoint. This one movement alone was worth the price of admission!


After the interval, Chee and Selby combine to give what turned out to be a relatively tame reading of Beethoven’s ever-popular Kreutzer sonata. Before they started, Selby outlined a little of the history of how the sonata was dedicated, and it is a fascinating story that is worth the reader spending some time looking up. Suffice to say, Beethoven held grudges for a long time, and as well as being a musical genius, he was also a flawed human being like us all! The piece has become a bit of a war horse, but the audience never tires of hearing it. The pace set in the first movement by Chee and Selby was gentle and measured, which allowed Chee to carefully draw out the hauntingly exquisite melodies. The first movement develops from a slow introduction into a vigorous presto. The free flowing and highly melodic second movement gives way to an energetic final movement which is passionate and commands your attention. It demands to be played with attack, especially by the violin, but Chee opted for something less demonstrative. With the final almost discordant note, the audience erupted into applause and wolf whistles could be heard.


As enjoyable as the Brahms and the Beethoven were, the other ‘B’ won the day, and the jewel in the crown was Bartok’s Contrasts!


Kym Clayton


When: 7 Jul 2024

Where: Elder Hall

Bookings: Closed