Cygnus Arioso launch Chamber Music Weekend at Perth Concert Hall | Ralph Lauren

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The timeless theme of Debussy’s L’apres midi d’un faune from Andrew Nicholson’s flute christened the Concert Hall’s newly named Chamber Music Stage for Cygnus Arioso’s inaugural festival on Saturday.

The Chamber Music Weekend, conceived by co-founder and WA Symphony Orchestra violinist Akiko Miyazawa, with WASO principal Nicholson, clarinettist Ashley Smith and harpist Yi-Yun Leoi, also featured younger musicians with classical works and premieres from Miyazawa’s husband and co-founder, Lachlan Skipworth.

Leading off the Debussy, Nicholson passed the tune to clarinet, strings and harp, the unhurried grace of the music a cooling breeze in the sun-baked city.

Crystalline tone in the solo violin lifted both timbre and tempo before returning to barely-there flute.

Cathy Potter’s viola introduced second wind, a thread somewhere between silk and steel binding all parts together, harp a perpetuum mobile in the tutti passages while flute harked back to the eternal motif, driving a cadence that revealed a tightly attuned ensemble.

Schubert followed, with Fantaisie in F minor for piano four hands.

Gentle keystrokes over softly rolling bass showed Loei as adept on keyboard as harp, pairing seamlessly with Tommy Seah in deftly dramatic and flowing reflective passages.

Rich instrumentation was never overdone, filling the Concert Hall’s upper level foyer as delicately as the Debussy.

There was a fluid quality in lilting treble and darkly rumbling bass; drama, too, in the grandiloquent close.

Skipworth next dialled up the contemporary world, with a premiere of his Piano Quartet No.2, first written for a VR dance film on the heritage of Perth’s Boys’ and Girls’ schools.

A ruminant piano motif oddly reminiscent of the Debussy over whispering strings was a calm antidote to the high drama of Schubert.

Lyrical change brought folkloric strains as Skipworth’s young daughter danced along just out of sight of the audience.

Sweetly evoking the charms of childhood, the melodic lines faded as enchantingly as they arose; youth being such a brief, precious moment.

Finally, Miyazawa and Nicholson combined with Seah for Cesar Cui’s 5 Petits Duos, the essence of chamber music in its clarity and accessibility.

Each piece answered its name, in badinage (banter), berceuse (lullaby), and scherzino (little joke) – which evinced a laugh in its comic throwaway ending – nocturne and valse.

Nicholson trilled nightingale-like in the nocturne as the voices blended most closely, Miyazawa and Seah matching for lightness of touch in the concluding valse.

WAAPA Brass Quintet of Brent Grapes, Calen Linke, Ewan Potter, Jeremy Mazurek and Hamish McCamley play for Cygnus Arioso’s Chamber Music Weekend.
Camera IconWAAPA Brass Quintet of Brent Grapes, Calen Linke, Ewan Potter, Jeremy Mazurek and Hamish McCamley play for Cygnus Arioso’s Chamber Music Weekend. Credit: Nik Babic

Part two of the afternoon started light years away in mood, with the WA Academy of Performing Arts shredding Fire Dance, by Anthony DiLorenzo.

A sudden burst of energy and verve was nonetheless controlled for the boutique space and audience.

Virtuosic flourishes and jumps were deft in dynamics and delivery yet never overwhelming, with comedy in the timing of the cadence.

Michaek Kamen’s Brass Quintet followed, reflective, almost mournful in contrast, yet always tuneful and richly orchestrated. WASO principal trumpet Brent Grapes led with melody and gesture, the sound harmonised and homogeneous.

It was an interesting switch from the string-dominated first stanza, yet brass and strings share an ability to blend voices in a way small groups do best.

As if to prove the point, Andre Caplet’s Conte Fantastique melded bowed strings and harp in a tale of mystery and misery based on Poe’s Masque of the Red Death.

Harp led a surreptious entry over minimal viola and cello, summoning close harmony in violins, evoking a meditative mood, fractured in the onset.

Strident chords built in intensity to resolve in silvery rivulets of harp. Symmetry asserted itself in the music of the spheres, with a mesmeric mix of imagination and musicianship reaping a deserved ovation for harpist Loei.

Light relief of a sort followed in Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No.1.

Miah Smith’s mellow cello led a lush Molto Allegro agitato, redolent of the home key, D minor.

It was a balanced combination, with Seah’s piano restrained in respect for Smith and Miyazawa’s violin.

In the Andante second movement, youth and experience duetted over warm piano as each led in turn; poignant expression in cello an old-soul moment for one so young; all subsiding as if sighing to close.

Brilliance in piano in the Scherzo was quickly matched in strings, light in touch and dextrous, before the drama of the introduction returned in the Finale.

Here Seah really earned his keep, though all three rightly shared in the warm applause.

Cygnus Arioso’s Chamber Music Weekend continues today at 3pm and 5pm, on the Concert Hall upper level. Tickets at perthconcerthall.com.au. 

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