The final concert in the Australian Festival of Chamber Music’s Sunset Series, which brought together three works inspired by Jewish music, was an absolute cracker.

Yura Lee in Baroque Around the Clock at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music. Photo © Andrew Rankin

Klezmer Connections opened with Shostakovich’s Second Piano Trio, written in memory of his friend Ivan Sollertinsky who died suddenly in 1944, in a shattering performance by Elizabeth Layton on violin, Svetlana Bogosavljevic on cello and Aura Go on piano. From the icy harmonics of Bogosavljevic’s opening, to the crystalline piano of Go, the trio masterfully handled Shostakovich’s emotional extremes from the aggression that coloured the folk music in the first movement to Layton’s biting violin in the second. Go gave the eight chords of the Passacaglia a monumental power, Layton’s violin sometimes keening, sometimes screaming in the third movement. The final Allegretto is where Jewish influences are most readily heard, in a movement whose bitterly ironic capricious moments are transformed into a howl of grief and rage, the sound of Bogosavljevic’s cello practically serrated before the return of the devastating passacaglia.

The emotional intensity only increased in a performance of Ernest Bloch’s Nigun by US violinist Yura Lee and AFCM’s pianist AD Kathryn Stott. The piece is named for a Hebrew word meaning ‘melody’, with connotations of both improvisation and prayer, and is the centre movement of Bloch’s 1923 Baal Shem suite. Lee brought white-hot fire to the violin lines, over Stott’s glittering piano, the music only relenting as the texture thinned in the final bars.

Nigun is also the title of the third movement of Paul Schoenfield’s virtuosic 1990 Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano, a wailing slide from David Griffiths’ clarinet launching the first dance movement, Freylakh, which saw sparks flying from Moldovian violinist Alexandra Conunova’s instrument and glissandi tearing down Timothy Young’s keyboard. All three musicians juggled fiery virtuosity and moments of slinky delicacy, Griffiths’ clarinet down to a whisper in the Shostakovichian sparseness of the Nigun before the frenzied dance and jagging syncopations of the Cossack dance finale brought this tightly packed concert to a thrilling conclusion.


The Australian Festival of Chamber Music runs in Townsville until August 4. Read Limelight‘s full coverage here.