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15 August 2007

Second Viennese School meets Modern Australian

Kammer // NSW // 16.06.07

Kammer ensemble Image: Kammer ensemble  

Sydney-based ensemble Kammer’s varied program mixed contemporary Australian ideas with their global lineage, anchored by classic works of the Second Viennese School. Raffertys Theatre within the Riverside Theatre complex provided an intimate venue for a friendly and relatively informal concert; the ambience was relaxed and engaging although the dry acoustic proved rather unkind during exposed passages. Kammer demonstrated commendable flexibility, splitting into smaller groups for the first two works that fed off the collective energy of the larger ensemble when reunited.

Violinist Scott Taggart, clarinettist John Lewis and pianist Alan Hicks offered a gently winding performance of the Adagio movement of Alban Berg’s Chamber Concerto (as arranged by the composer), demonstrating a spacious yet motile approach to Berg’s lyric intensity. The hall left the violin rather dry in its sotto voce solo passages but Taggart’s softly coughing pizzicato practically melted into a singing upper register, and was balanced by the throaty murmurings of the clarinet and the mellow clarity of the piano. Precise ensemble work enabled free and natural rubato; an introspective performance highlighted the repressed passion of the work.

The trio was replaced by flautist Lisa Osmialowski and cellist Daniel Yeadon, who demonstrated a wonderful connection in their performance of Villa-Lobos’s Assobio a jato, ‘The Jet Whistle’. The duo’s synchronicity highlighted the sensuality of the dance-like movements. The restrained uncertainty of the first movement dissolved into the pensive second movement, enriched by the full-throated low register of the flute and the warm double-stopping of the cello. The more robust third movement was coloured by the contrast between the ever-lyrical cello and exponential curves of sound generated by the ripping scales of the flute. The small venue gave back to the low register of the flute what it stole from the high range, as well as highlighting the shooting ‘jet whistles’.

The young composers of the two Australian works premiered at the concert were both enthusiastically received by the audience; the full ensemble (supplemented by alto flute, piccolo and bass clarinet in the hands of Osmialowski and Lewis) emerged for Daniel Rojas’s vigorous and sparky Danzas Amorosas. The larger ensemble produced a rich and burnished tone with great clarity of line, highlighted by Rojas’s piquant orchestration. The shimmering opening evolved into a highly rhythmic movement, with pulses marked by broken pedal-point in the piano and by cello pizzicato. The shrill twirling of the piccolo juxtaposed against the almost percussive background gave the work a raw, almost ritualistic feeling. Melodious moments and flashes of syncopation were scattered among the mild dissonance, with reminiscences of salsa overtaken by the chromatic poignancy of the tango. The ensemble attacked the work vigorously; Yeadon – sandwiched between the thundering piano and piercing violin slides – emerged periodically with his own more lyrical dances.

Alex Pozniak’s more adventurous electroacoustic work, Waveforms, was by necessity more abstract than its precursor. As the composer noted, the work is sustained by the dichotomy of singularity versus plurality. This finds its expression in musical fractals, with the basic wave shape of the work repeated endlessly on multiple levels, from the fluttering trills of the flute to the rather oceanic structure of the work itself, ebbing and flowing in great rolls of sound. The work opened on the very edge of audibility – a sustained electronic pedal point hinting at a profound but inaudible tonal centre in the depths – but built up to a dense texture including seagull-like glissandi in the strings and a frenzied foam of sound in the electronic voices, before slowly evaporating like receding whale-song. The ensemble maintained an even-handed dialogue between the acoustic and electronic elements of the work.

Kammer was comfortable and confident in Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony. Webern’s reduced orchestration achieves a clarification of line at the expense of ensemble richness. The orchestration is crisp, yet warm enough to be closer to a stereotype of Berg rather than Webern. The ensemble embraced the work with gusto; Hicks’s resounding piano chords added weight to the performance without overshadowing the other players, and brought a hint of quirkiness to the march-like section. Yeadon’s cello was once again a sweet shadow seemingly unable to cut through the texture, but bursting through when required. The ensemble demonstrated their increased comfort with the vagaries of the venue with a playful, slyly mischievous performance.

The announcement of Percy Grainger’s Molly on the Shore was greeted by a fond chuckle from the audience; the work began at a somewhat staid tempo but the ensemble responded with greater abandonment to the emergence of the second Irish reel. Yeadon’s gutsy pizzicati and delightfully raucous chromatic ‘skirling’ from Lewis and Osmialowski gave zest to an energetic performance.

The program, an interwoven tangle of history, reference and influence, established a stylistic context and sketched a compositional lineage for the two new works presented. Schoenberg, Berg and Webern were all represented, and the choice of works and Kammer’s dedicated performances combined to remove the hard edge of the Second Viennese School’s intimidating reputation. The strong Latin American influences on Rojas’s Danzas amorosas immediately align it with Villa-Lobos (who was himself influenced by contemporary European developments), while the abstraction and veneer of melodic formlessness present in Pozniak’s work descends more directly from the aesthetic of the Austro-German modernists. Lineage and memory were also important within the new works themselves; the Peruvian influences on Rojas’s work delineated his antecedents, while Pozniak’s work in many ways took shape from the sounds of his own seaside childhood. The dissonant undercurrent of Grainger’s Anglo-Australian cheerfulness served as a reminder of local heritage and a century of new Australian music.

Performance Details

Kammer: Lisa Osmialowski (flute), John Lewis (clarinet) and Alan Hicks (piano). With two colleagues from London, Scott Taggart (violin) and Christine Jackson (‘cello)
Works by Alex Pozniak, Daniel Rojas, Percy Grainger, Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern.
Riverside Theatre, Parramatta NSW, Saturday 16 th June 2007

Further Links

Angharad Davis is currently completing a Masters degree in musicology at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, studying the potential applications of phenomenological analysis to musical collage and quotation. She is associated with a number of musical organisations as a teacher, performer, and a writer of program notes.


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Lost in translation

..gently winding performance = all over the shop

a spacious yet motile approach = the players were spread out and shifted in their seats alot

The hall left the violin rather dry = the hall acoustic was crap

sotto voce solo passages = couldn't hear a damn thing

softly coughing pizzicato = the violinist had a cold

melted into a singing upper register = may have been humming to cover poor intonation on the high notes

throaty murmurings of the clarinet = shame about the poor articulation (also needs a new reed)

mellow clarity of the piano = couldn't find the sostenuto pedal

Precise ensemble work enabled free and natural rubato = managed to play in time but got a bit lost here and there

introspective performance = played with their eyes shut

repressed passion of the work = Berg was a sad mother

More later......

Beam me up.

Try I will

...trawling through someone else's stuff to see what you can knock off. aka sampling...

go in peace Little Alia

Beam me up