While the opening concert of this year’s Musica Viva Festival showcased primarily solo voices, the second offering, billed as Connections, saw musicians pairing up, beginning with a robust outing of Rachmaninov’s 1901 Suite No 2 for two pianos – written in the wake of the Second Piano Concerto – by Auro Go and Konstantin Shamray. From the boisterous fanfare of the opening, the pair embraced the powerful textures that can be drawn from two Steinways placed side by side, hints of playful repartee shining through Rachmaninov’s lush writing. The second movement’s waltz had a rippling energy – and some beautiful soft moments – while Go and Shamray captured the intense lyricism of the music in the Romance, and indeed, throughout the piece, before the mad fingers-flying dance of the Tarantella.

Aura Go, Musica Viva FestivalAura Go. Photo supplied

Following the Rachmaninov, Shamray was joined on stage by violinist Tessa Lark for Grieg’s Third Violin Sonata, written in 1887. Lark brought a shining, polished sound to her solo Bach in the Festival’s opener, but here her tone took on a smouldering edge, Lark giving us charged opening gestures and plenty of folky lilt in the first movement, Shamray an ardent duo partner. Violin and piano channelled both the fire and pastoral tranquillity in Grieg’s writing, which is infused with the character of Norwegian folk music. Shamray’s piano took on a sweetness in the opening of the second movement, before Lark introduced a broader lyricism and bright, crisp pizzicatos. Sparkling piano and wild, inflamed violin lines in the Allegro animato brought the work to a close.

Henri Dutilleux wrote his 1943 Sonatine for flute and piano as a test piece for the Paris Conservatoire – a wellspring of repertoire for flute in the 20th century after the relative dry spell of the Romantic period – and it’s one of the few early works by the composer that he didn’t later disavow. English flautist Adam Walker was more than equal to the technical demands of the work, designed to test the mettle of young flute players in Paris, his soft-edged opening tone expanding over twinkling, deft piano lines from Go. Walker infused the work with plenty of character, snappy ornaments and a natural, flowing technique, in a performance that highlighted the work’s playfulness over its drama.

Drama and passion were very much to the fore in the final work on the program, pianist Andrew Tyson joining the Goldner String Quartet for César Franck’s 1879 Piano Quintet. While the Quintet might not be quite the taut masterpiece of the composer’s famous Violin Sonata, written some seven years later, it shares the work’s heat – it was written during Franck’s infatuation with his student Augusta Holmès and premiered with Saint-Saëns’ at the piano – and Tyson and the quartet stoked that heat right to the final bars in a performance of sustained energy. Highlights included Tyson’s glittering piano in the Lento, Dimity Hall’s smokey violin in the opening of the finale – soon picked up by Dene Olding – and the tenebrous growls of Julian Smiles’ cello.


The Musica Viva Festival is at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music until April 28

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