Robert Macfarlane & Leigh Harrold
The Advertiser, 15th November, 2010
FOR the singer of German Lieder, Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey)is Mount Everest.
Physically, emotionally and musically it is supremely demanding. Young Adelaide tenor Robert Macfarlane proved his mettle in a performance that was gripping and moving from beginning to end.
Without being patronising, it was a young man’s performance. It was at times a bit impetuous, occasionally maybe over-wrought, but absolutely honest and completely compelling. It’s worth remembering that Schubert was only a few years older than Robert Macfarlane when he composed the music, as was the poet Wilhelm Muller. In that sense it is a young man’s work, although we rarely hear it performed by a singer quite as young as this. But then Robert Macfarlane is an unusual phenomenon, with a remarkable capacity for mastering works that would daunt most singers. And of course he has a very fine, expressive voice capable of the many nuances and colours that are essential for a good Lieder singer.
Macfarlane was rarely stretched vocally by the music. He was very ably assisted throughout by Leigh Harrold, whose carefully considered accompaniment was a vital ingredient in the success this recital. It's impossible to nominate highlights in performance that was all of a piece really. The emotional arc of the performance was sustained without flagging for a moment. After the stunning climax of ‘Die Nebensonnen’ came the numbing, haunting conclusion of Der Leiermann. It was a memorable performance that left the audience and the performers emotionally drained.
New Visions of Chopin
The Advertiser, 4th August, 2010
ALTHOUGH the cello is the most melodic of instruments, Chopin wrote precious little for it. However, that didn’t stop members of Adelaide’s composers’ collective, The Firm, producing their own visions of Chopin’s greatest public successes, his Nocturnes, by entwining the cello and the piano together in original music with a nocturnal Chopinesque flavour.
Firm composers Luke Altmann and Quentin Grant were fortunate to have at their disposal cellist David Sharp, a musician of great sensitivity and golden tone with pianist Marianna Grynchuck, mature beyond her years with a technique to match.
These two engaging artists ensured Altmann’s Nocturne No. 3 and Grant’s Nocturne in E flat minor were heard to advantage and provided the principal supporting pillars of this rather unusual program.
Altmann’s Nocturne inhabits that twilight world between sleep and wakefulness, using gentle piano ostinati with long cello cantilenas to create a most persuasive and decidedly soporific melange.
In contrast, Grant’s Nocturne uses dialogue between cello and piano to build considerable anguish at times over a developmental canvas that certainly explores the drama of the night.
Raymond Chapman Smith’s Dichtungen, in essence 12 small poems for piano, contributed complete contrast with its expertly conceived, charming Schubertian gemutlichkeit.
The Advertiser, 19th July, 2010
THE Firm’s spotlight this year is on Chopin and its second subscription concert comprised his complete Etudes Opus 12 and 25.
Each of the 24 shortish works is a masterpiece, brimful of technical challenges and creative surprises, and every one is imbued with Chopin’s poetry and brilliantly coloured sonorities.
Any pianist who plays them all in one concert needs, of course, immense stamina, emotional depth and a genuine love of Chopin’s idiosyncratic style that permeates every note.
That pianist will also be brave enough to know that most of his listeners have an affectionate relationship with most of the music.
Mark Kruger is clearly such an artist. His familiarity with everything he played goes without saying and his abilities as a concert pianist are considerable.
It was, therefore, a disappointment that only the final seven or eight Etudes started to make a significant impact although there were many individual moments of beauty earlier.
In particular, there was real pathos in Opus 25 No 7 in C sharp minor, charm aplenty in The Butterfly and intense drama in The Winter Wind.
For the remainder, this talented player too often led his audience into a maelstrom of blurred harmonies and up tempo speeds that left them in a state of some incomprehension and the composer out in the cold.
A story in true Italian flavour
The Advertiser, 3th July, 2010
ANTHONY Legge, Musician in Residence for the Accompanists Guild, is not only an expert accompanist, he is also a gifted story-teller.
By grouping into threes and fours the 46 songs of Hugo Wolf’s Italienisches Leiderbuch and succinctly introducing them, he revealed the rarely smooth path running through the complex conceits of Paul Heyse’s always romantic, occasionally bizarre, lyrics about a pair of young lovers.
Legge’s playing was authoritative, supportive, sympathetic and as aware of the texts as though he, too, was singing them.
The beneficiaries of this expert in his art, soprano Rosalind Martin and tenor Robert Macfarlane took turns at the music stand beautifully.
Step on musical stairway to heaven
The Advertiser, 3rd June, 2010
THE musical symbiosis between soprano Greta Bradman and pianist Leigh Harrold took another step up the ladder of excellence with a recital of unremitting demands on their technique (formidable), their tone (beautiful) and their instinctive appreciation of their composers’ intentions.
They opened with three songs in Polish by Chopin, chosen by The Firm to celebrate its 200th anniversary. First to charm was Spring, ending with a skylark soaring joyously into the sky, then a flirty Handsome lad. Next, the desperately sad Leaves are falling – Poland at war and its desolate aftermath, with only the faintest hope of recovery.
In a batch of recent Australian works, Romanticism with a Gothic twist from Firm founders Raymond Chapman Smith (Im Grase ) and Quentin Grant (In the Park ) was capped by intricately woven vocal and piano lines of the mysterious Christina’s Lullaby, by Ross Edwards. Singer and pianist were at their finest in the passionate, rhapsodic Vier letzte Lieder, by Richard Strauss, poetry packed to bursting with images of love for all living things, music to match, eloquently expressed with maturity way beyond their years.
The soprano floating on untrammelled wings was so lovely that it hurt. The clarity of Harrold’s piano dispelled any reservations about the loss of Strauss’s opulent orchestration.