The Velvet Revolution: From Prague to Berlin

The Velvet Revolution: From Prague to Berlin
 Photo by Peter Hislop

In concert 11 of the Canberra International Music Festival, we got to hear the strong reverberations of the "The Velvet Revolution"

From the solid opening of Janáček’s 1925 “Concertino”, we heard on piano, Lisa Moore, Darryl Poulsen – horn, Orit Orbach – clarinet, Ben Hoadley – bassoon, James Wannan – violin, Tor Frømyhr – violin, and Florian Peelman on viola.

Janáček’s work is in four movements, and in some of those movements, only a couple of the instrumentalists perform, which added to the originality of the piece. At the beginning, the piano and horn chase each other around. The music seems to be searching for a home but never finds it, which sets up the mood for this strange but interesting work.

The piano and the clarinet talk to one another through a speech rhythm motif in the second movement. This is something that Janáček developed (as Lisa Moore mentioned before the performance); he created music through a speech-melody theory.

When the whole group came together, it was in a Prokofiev-like march, until the pianist broke out into a flowing tune that ran up and down the keyboard, then back to another group march.

Sounding like a small orchestra, the group put this together well. It must have been a fun piece to write as he used many different colours and rhythms, which gave this work a wide tonal range.

Next up was the “Trio for violin, horn and piano”, "The Velvet Revolution", by Elena Kats-Chernin

The Velvet Revolution: From Prague to Berlin
 Photo by Peter Hislop

It begins with a turbulent and ominous feel which reminded me of music from a horror movie. More eerie music followed in the second movement, the violin taking the lead. This music crept through a murky fog of sound.

The themes in this trio could be described as atmospheric, stormy, troubled and Hitchcockian. The fourth movement opens with Poulsen playing his horn into the housing under the lid of the piano, which didn’t work if it was meant to be atmospheric.

The piece never really hits its mark, despite the excellent first movement. It fell back on too much dissonance and relied on a use of over colourisation to achieve an outcome. Its story remained unclear.

After the interval, we heard the “String Quintet no. 4 in G KV 516”, by Mozart

The Velvet Revolution: From Prague to Berlin
 Photo by Peter Hislop

Played by the award-winning Paris-based Van Kuijk Quartet, with Florian Peelman on viola.

This lovely understated work was performed with perfection by the players. What a well-balanced group this is. They have a clear and resolute tone. The delicate quintet ebbed and flowed with what you could describe as the essence of great chamber music.

The group’s ability to hit the same dynamic after a rest is impressive. They regularly watch one another to get all the music happening at the right moment and at the right volume. This created a beautifully synchronised and splendid unity that made the music a joy to hear.

They performed so well the audience wouldn’t let them go. They had never planned on an encore, but when urged to, they returned to the stage, and for a few moments they were unsure what to play, until someone in the audience said, “play the whole thing over”.

What they did play was the final movement of the Mozart quintet again, to even greater applause. It was an exceptional performance that reminds us that Mozart is one of the foundations that most music and composers stand on.

This review first appeared in CityNews