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18 February 2009

Collins & Woodward at the MRC

Melbourne // VIC // 11.02.09

Roger Woodward and Geoffrey Collins Image: Roger Woodward and Geoffrey Collins  

Internationally prominent Australian virtuosi Roger Woodward (piano) and Geoffrey Collins (flute) gave the opening performance in the Melbourne Recital Centre’s intimate Salon. The title 'First Performances' was perhaps a misnomer, as none of these works were premieres, but came across as personal favourites of the performers. All were presented with a typically high level of assured musicianship and warmth.

Woodward and Collins are representative of a traditional style of concert performance, eschewing overt communication with the audience and allowing the music to speak for itself. This it did most eloquently, as we were treated to a convincing performance of twentieth-century repertoire. All works presented were inspired or commissioned by the performers themselves and date from the 1960s and '70s. Possibly due to hurried preparations, the program was significantly different to that originally advertised, with only two of five scheduled works being heard.

There is also the possibility that the program amendments were suggested by the idiosyncratic nature of the venue’s acoustical properties. The Salon is an intimate space with a clear and honest acoustic. The audience sits in close proximity to the performers, especially when the stage area is set up along the longest wall, as on this occasion. The high ceiling ensures good projection, and there is a notable absence of extraneous noise such as air conditioning. Effective soundproofing has created a truly silent room, where it is possible for performers to communicate at very quiet dynamic levels but where any audience noise is embarrassingly noticeable.

The recital opened with a couple of duets by Anne Boyd, whose music attempts to combine Christian love with Buddhist silence. This is realised in a timeless modality, incorporating Indonesian and Japanese pentatonicism and an absence of harmonic movement. Her music does not develop or progress but concentrates attention to the single moment. Goldfish Through Summer Rain (1978) was memorable for Collins’s rich and full lower register, used to great effect in the simple pentatonic melodic shapes.

Red Sun, Chill Wind (1981), based on much of the same material, is a more fully developed work. Boyd exploits extremes of register and extended instrumental technique, and the pentatonic scale material is augmented by an added note, which gives the piece a sour chromatic aspect and allows for intriguing harmonic possibilities. The flute part explores quarter tone colourings, overblown harmonics and glissandi, and there were also moments where Collins directed his sound into the strings of the piano, which might have been more convincing in a more reverberant room. This more sophisticated approach to articulation, harmony and density revealed a deeper yet more refined manifestation of Boyd’s distinctive musical voice.

The advertised Xenakis work was replaced by Takemitsu’s For Away (1973) for solo piano. Woodward displayed his fantastic range of tone and dynamic control in this kaleidoscopically impressionistic work, one of the highlights of the recital. Not a nuance was lost as the pianist highlighted the slow-moving middle register heart of the work, balancing the more obvious dramatic gestures that shifted in and out of the foreground. This was a compelling performance, where the textures remained complex but clear. Woodward also played with exquisite timing and sense of space, revealing a perfect understanding of the venue’s acoustics.

Next, the pianist moved to a prepared piano for a third piece by Boyd, the well-known Angklung (1974) for piano solo, which requires that the note E natural be retuned to an untempered F flat. The resulting pitch places the work in a bewitchingly alien yet personal sound world. A work of extreme economy, the austere pitch material is manipulated into short phrases that wind down into subtle ostinati, where time is suspended in subtle variations of repeated single notes. Woodward’s dynamic control produced a meditative and compelling performance of this proto-minimalist work. It would have been enlightening to also hear the advertised work Book of Bells III (1998) as an example of how Boyd’s personal expressive language has evolved since the 1970s.

Woodward was rejoined by Collins for the final work in the program, Richard Meale’s Sonata for flute and piano (1960). A busy, complex work in three movements, this dramatic conflict-based music contrasted well with Boyd’s more static pieces. Both players negotiated the considerable difficulties of this work with virtuosic aplomb, the flute arabesques supported by ever-evolving ostinati in the piano part. Most memorable was the short final movement: there is a definite sense of arrival as the flute triumphantly blasts out fanfares in the piercing top register, where the work abruptly concludes.

The performers briefly acknowledged applause at the end of each work, but some more information about the music might have been instructive, since both performers are intimately involved with the works themselves. There were no program notes apart from performers’ biographies. Although none of the presented works could lay claim to being exactly new music, it was satisfying to hear these works presented so expressively as established concert repertoire, in such a sympathetic venue.

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Mark Viggiani is a Melbourne-based composer. His recent works include pieces for the Melbourne and Tasmanian Symphony Orchestras, the Song Company and Speak Percussion. In 1997 Move Records released The Rainmaker, a CD of original compositions, to international critical acclaim. In 2009 Viggiani was awarded an Australian Postgraduate Award towards a PhD in composition, following studies with Stuart Greenbaum and Elliott Gyger at Melbourne University.


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