With an impressive list of singing competition wins and opera roles, not least her brilliant Eurydice and Sibyl in the Pinchgut Opera’s production of Haydn’s opera of the Orpheus myth L’anima del Filosofo in 2010, Elena Xanthoudakis is now directing her energies toward researching and rediscovering Romantic Lieder written for trio, here soprano, clarinet, and piano, and she is doing done so in style with a definite passion for the genre, which is fitting to the original spirit of the music. The trio have recorded a CD called “The Shepherd and the Mermaid” of some of their finds (which I haven’t yet heard) and here perform the songs on it, including parts of Franz Lachner’s version of von Chamisso’s Frauenliebe und -leben cycle better known perhaps in the Schumann version and perhaps even the Loewe version. They are also publishing these pieces in print under the Kroma Editions name so all can have the opportunity to play them, obviously many of these are not on the usual free sheet music sites on the ‘net, having had to be dug out of libraries in London and Vienna, and some (according to Xanthoudakis) have never been recorded.
Stephen Hough says that he chose this program to be one of strange sonatas, which is altogether fitting for Liszt’s 200th birthday. The program, consisting entirely of sonatas — no préludes, études or the like (not counting the three encore pieces) — might theoretically have been stranger with, say, one of Pierre Boulez’s sonatas, but Hough seems to have been after a more subtle variety of strangeness. A sense of mystery and a very personal quality, very expressive of the internal world marry these pieces under Hough’s playing. The honesty and faithfulness to the Truth in his playing brought the music close to poetry. Though making music and poems are not the same or even parallel activities, the word ‘sonata’ shares an etymology with ‘sonnet’, the stem son- having to do with sound, and, as Stephen Hough points out in the program note, a sonata is sounded rather than sung, the piano having to make do on its own without words. Hough also pointed out in his short speech in-between the Beethoven and his own piece (usually I’d be against spiels in amongst the music, but Hough is a very good public speaker, thoughtful an interesting, with the voice of a 1930’s radio presenter), that Liszt, whose birthday fell on the very day of this recital, invented the concept and the word ‘recital’ as a sort of pure recitation of music of a single musician. Thus, though sounded and not sung there is the similar expectation in the audience, the similar solitude of the performer as in a poetry recitation, far from a mere reading, but an honest expression of the sonata as if it were naturally being created then and there, as Hough says ‘as if the notes were still wet on the page.’ Mozart wrote something similar once, that the height of piano playing is to play as if you had composed the music yourself.
The boronia and the pink eriostemon are at the height of their bloom, most of the wattles are just finishing, the parrots, lorikeets and galahs are busy eating and nesting while the magpies are belligerent again and the air has taken on that warm, sweet, dusty polliniferous fragrance of spring. At least it has in this neck of the woods around 33 degrees South, but it isn’t so unlike May in New England. It was when these times came around my piano teacher in school would drop everything to play something with sharps — nothing too hairy, G or D or A major, say. As spring suggests sharps, seeming to say ‘up,’ so does ballet. In the classical technique one seems to dance always thinking ‘up’: relevé, sauté, piqué, even in a simple run across the stage or studio, the feet press up, up, up. Even standing in place, the hips tip up and the body seems to lift buoyantly. Even coming down from a jump, the feet and legs push up as the dancer lands. A dancer maintains a respectful and gentle relationship with the ground, as the surfer to the sea. Naturally, it is spring the Australian Ballet announces its new season and we turn our thoughts to a new year of ballet, but those already looking for wildflowers in the Bush need not turn their heads far.
Resident Australian Ballet choreographer Stephen Baynes just in the act of choosing Fauré’s Requiem mass for a new ballet for the (Australian) Federation Centenary in 2001 clearly stated his concept. He bravely steered to a huge and personal topic in creating a ballet around death with that intimate choral music, and his keen understanding of the music and inventive choreography insure that neither the dancing nor the musical elements step on the other’s toes, as it were. On the contrary the close marriage of choreography and music, though of course not written with the slightest intention for the ballet, sets it as an excellent example of ‘old’ music though already near perfect, benefiting from the added dancing, the choreography finding new depths, no deeper or shallower than the music’s alone, but different depths found only in theatrical arts. Indeed, Stephen Baynes’ ballet introduced me to new approaches to Fauré’s music. Beyond Bach, the other ballet in this all-Baynes double bill showing only in Melbourne, is powerful enough to stand alongside Requiem with neither overshadowing the other. It is almost abstract and shows a deep love for history and J. S. Bach.
To disparage Canberra is every non-Canberran Australian’s birthright. To many Sydneysiders and Melburnians, the bush capital, seemingly custom built for cars and the public servants they contain, is not a proper city. As with Washington, what goes on there has not helped the city’s image and “Canberra” has become shorthand both for government, and for the kind of self-referential political sausage-making which thwarts true progress. During my visits to ‘our nation’s capital’ I’ve often wondered if the city was the result of a scaling error; there is a weird discrepancy between what your brain envisages when looking at a map of the city and reality. All those circles which one might imagine to be urban boulevards turn out to be dusty suburban streets, their radii too large to be perceived, yet just curved enough to get the visitor well lost.