Now in its 20th year, and its first with author/pianist Anna Goldsworthy as Artistic Director, South Australia’s Coriole Music Festival continues to solidify its position as a unique and intimate occasion where young talent, be it locally based or from further afield, inventive programming and music lovers convene for something very special. Over a series of three generous recitals the audience was treated to a diverse platter of chamber music, lieder cycles, and even a Bach cantata. Amongst familiar names and the more specialised, the work of two young composers, London-based Luke Styles and the talented award-winning local, Jakob Jankowski, was also aired.

Coriole Music FestivalLucinda Collins and Konstantin Shamray at the 2019 Coriole Music Festival. Photo © Coriole Music Festival

Styles On Bunyah, a song cycle in its Australian premiere, proved to be rather appropriate due to its setting by the recently departed Les Murray. Lasting for nearly 40 minutes, the work is a fine example of modern Australian composition with beauty found in a neo-tonal idiom, rather than resorting to Sculthorpian bird mimicry and the like. Tenor Michael Smallwood gave an affecting performance, delivered with the clearest of diction and beauty of tone, but these are things that one would expect after hearing his beautifully burnished tone brought to bear in a youthful and touching Die Schone Mullerin, given during an earlier recital. Jankowski’s  ‘…the Voices of Silent Things’ après Baudelaire, was a post-structural take on the sort of vocalise and setting associated with the likes of John Cage and Cathy Berberian – prepared piano, Eastern influences and all.

Not so familiar chamber music by familiar composers was also featured, with pianist Lucinda Collins in Saint-Saëns’ Quintet with the eloquent Flinders Quartet and an unrated Divertimento (K.136) by Mozart. The festival opened with familiar fare in unfamiliar clothing when Lucinda Collins shared the piano stool with the marvellous Konstantin Shamray in a four handed arrangement of Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Appropriately the Festival would close with another of Felix’s early marvels, the brilliant Octet, wherein all eight of the string players were heard to great effect.

Amongst the rarities encountered was a delightful lieder cycle by the other musical wunderkind, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, 6 Einfache (or Simple) Lieder, Op. 9, wherein soprano Miriam Gordon-Stewart excelled in the radiance of these post-Straussian settings. Some of these songs have been recorded in a later orchestral setting and it’s hard to be believe just why these, and indeed so much of Korngold’s obviously inspired material has been passed over. And here, Anna Goldsworthy provided thoughtful and appropriate accompaniment.

However it was 2008 Sydney International Piano Competition winner Konstantin Shamray who was the stand out. Within the central recital, he was heard as soloist and accompanist. As accompanist to tenor Michael Smallwood in Schubert’s Die Schone Mullerin, he proved to be attentive, a true collaborator who even seemed to breathe at one with the singer. Perhaps some of the tempi were a trifle fast, but it can be successfully argued that this was simply a means of presenting impetuosity of youth as personified in Wilhelm Muller’s Miller. And here it should be mentioned that Shamray had a singer who was worthy of partnership in Smallwood with his great diction, variety of vocal colour and idiomatic German employed throughout the performance.

Shamray commenced the solo section of this generous recital with Bach’s early Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother, BWV992. I don’t find the work to be top-drawer Bach; however the pianist found much colour to extract from it, before launching the contrapuntal fun of the final movement. As an encore, Shamray chose two Scriabinesque pieces by the Roumanian Georges Enescu. But it was his Chopin that enthralled. Choosing three of the Études, Op. 10, here was pianism to truly savour. His way with the familiar No. 3, Tristesse was as fine as any recorded performance I’ve heard; for Konstantin Shamray is one of those unique colourists like Gilels or Richter. Perhaps it’s a Russian thing? Anyway, we should treasure the opportunity to hear this pianist while he resides in Australia.