THIS was the main concert for Monday at the Canberra International Music Festival, again in the wonderful acoustic of the Fitters’ Workshop in Kingston. It was a concert in three parts, linked by the composers’ names all starting with the letter B.
The first section was a selection of pieces by Bach, Beethoven and Brahms written or arranged for four-handed piano and played by Edward and Stephanie Neeman.
Edward is well known to Festival audiences, but for this performance he teamed up with his wife Stephanie for some energetic duo work. Bach’s “Sheep may safely graze“ BWV 208 was deftly arranged by the duo, followed by Beethoven’s “8 Variations on a theme by Count Waldstein” Wo0 67 and four of Brahms’ Hungarian dances, all originally scored for four hands at the piano. These were played with great skill and an obvious enjoyment of performing together plus a little theatre.
The centre section of the concert was Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No.4, played by the Alma Moodie String Quartet. This ensemble was formed when the four young, previously European-based, musicians were caught back home in Australia in 2020 and named after an Australian violinist who performed and taught in Europe in the ’30s and ’40s.
Bartok wrote this quartet in 1928 and it is a vibrant piece of music. It opens sounding like a swarm of bees and the ensemble went at it with vigour, rewarded with sustained applause and not a little cheering at the finish. This is a quartet of great individual skills, who have that rare ability for their quartet playing to sound like there are more than four instruments on stage.
The final piece of the concert was a quintet for piano and strings by the almost forgotten American composer and pianist Amy Beach (1867-1944). The NZ String Quartet was joined by Edward Neeman for Beach’s Piano Quintet Op 67 in F#. This is a work very much in the late romantic style, written in 1905, but with no hints of any modernism in the scoring. It was very much a co-operative work for the five musicians with Neeman at the piano constantly watching and working with the quartet to make the most of this music with obvious enjoyment from all involved.
It is hard to see how this concert was thematically linked (other than by the initials of the composers) but it was an opportunity for a concert of contrasting music, all very well played.
This article was written by Graham McDonald from Canberra City News.
Featured Image: The Alma Moodie String Quartet… a quartet of great individual skills, who have that rare ability for their quartet playing to sound like there are more than four instruments on stage. Photo: Peter Hislop