Two Concerts

by Jennifer Bryce

Macedon Music: Genevieve Lacey, Recorders and James Crabb, accordion

Yes, accordion. I would have expected an accordion to kill recorders. When I was primary school age I desperately wanted to play piano accordion, but as an adult I find its sound rather rasping and artificial – not something I would put with a recorder. I am wrong. James Crabb is a most versatile and sensitive accordion player – this was not a piano accordion but a full-fledged accordion (it has buttons rather than piano keys and the sound is far more variable). Genevieve Lacey is brilliant. I have heard her on several occasions. These two sustained a whole afternoon of music without introducing the tiniest bit of tedium. The only piece with which I was familiar was a concerto by Sammartini. I felt that for the purposes of the afternoon concert the accordion was a suitable substitute for an orchestra – this was the only piece where I felt that there had been a kind of watering down. It wasn’t lack of subtlety – maybe it is simply my familiarity with the piece and I missed the orchestral colour, especially of a harpsichord. In everything else the combination seemed perfect and the program ranged from Palestrina to Chick Corea (yes – the jazz pianist – he wrote some songs for children). The accordion seemed fine in a Bach sonata and we learned a great deal of the possibilities of the accordion in a piece for solo accordion , Fantango, by Jukka Tiensuu. The concert ended with a bracket of lively Scottish pieces arranged by Crabb, who is Scottish. Genevieve Lacey’s recorder playing is superb – her technique is brilliant and her sound pure bliss.

Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM)

Brett Dean is one of Australia’s leading musicians. He performed in the Berlin Philharmonic for some years before establishing himself as a composer. He was artistic director of ANAM for several years but realised that he must devote more of his time to musical composition. He now divides his time between Germany and Australia and was in Australia to conduct this concert.

The first item was Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. The ANAM orchestra is made up of top-rate young musicians, most about to embark on their professional careers – the playing is accurate and full of energy. The violin soloist – the violin is the lark – was a gifted student in her final year, Anne-Marie Johnson. Both orchestra and soloist were able to sustain the faintest pianissimos, which contrasted beautifully with rich sound as the lark soars upwards.

Brett Dean’s Pastoral Symphony followed very well after ‘The Lark’. Brett Dean says: ‘I’m acutely aware of the incredible source of joy and beauty . . . that is to be found just by opening the window and listening.’ The symphony celebrates these sounds but also dwells on the sense of loss from our ‘relentless and respectless rampaging through the world’s forests and wilderness areas’. As Dean says, we love the trappings of modern living more than ‘to stop and bask in the glory of a single butcherbird’.

After interval we heard J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. It was played with great vitality but the final allegro was taken at a tempo faster than I think I’ve ever heard. The virtuoso students could handle it, and it was exciting, but I felt some of the subtleties in the music were lost and I sat there wondering what Bach would think if he could have been there.

The final piece was Paul Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler symphony. The opening of the third movement was the richest unison string playing I have ever heard. The symphony, first performed in 1934, is the distillation of an opera that deals with the conflict between artistic expression and Nazi militarism. A fitting end to a concert that celebrated purity and beauty.