For this concert, the Southern Cross Soloists were joined by guest New Zealand violinist Amalia Hall. She’s played with the ensemble before, but only at the Bangalow Music Festival, and not at QPAC. Rather enjoyably, this concert was presented in the QPAC Concert Hall in “reverse mode”, with the audience in the seating behind the stage, and the performers facing away from the main auditorium. It’s quite a different feeling looking down at the performers, rather than seeing them off on a distant stage, and generates an intimate vibe from the get-go.
Amalia Hall and Tania Frazer with the Southern Cross Soloists. Photo © Darren Thomas
The “Lyrical Reflections” of the title draw together pieces which are intended to offer listeners “a pastoral and reflective escape to memories of wandering alone through nature”. As they say, “visions of the beautiful and gently tranquil countryside have long inspired composers to recreate images of rural idylls through their music”. As a program, it’s a bit vague, but it’s a decent enough excuse to play these pieces.
The concert began with Bach’s Concerto for violin and oboe, BWV 1060. Hall’s violin and Tania Frazer’s oboe melded beautifully, although I wish I’d heard more of Frazer – it felt at times like a violin concerto with obbligato oboe.
After the Bach, the harpsichord was removed and the musicians shifted into an altogether different style. Gerard Brophy’s new work …between two silences… was inspired by the Persian city of Isfahan at dusk, and, as Brophy said in his introduction, the “deafening silence” of the deserts of Central Asia. This was a contemplative work, though with outbursts echoing through the auditorium. Andrew Fong replaced Ashley Smith for this, as well as the remainder of the performance, owing to a death in the family, but it certainly didn’t seem like Fong was fazed by having to jump in at short notice.
The concert continued with Max Richter’s November, which originally appeared on his 2002 debut album. To my ear, his style has developed in much more interesting ways past this early stage; this sounds incredibly indebted to Philip Glass, to the point where it almost becomes a pastiche. It’s even got the Glass-ian arpeggio sequences throughout. Still, Hall’s violin playing here was lovely, with a motoric drive to the arpeggios that powered the whole piece. Richter’s got a gift for a good hook, too – although this certainly isn’t Richter at his best, it’s refreshing to see something different in the concert hall.
A highlight of the concert was Amalia Hall’s performance of the Vaughan Williams favourite The Lark Ascending. This was an unusually decisive reading of the work, but one that didn’t lose any of the magic inherent in the piece.
For Ross Edwards’ 2004 work Nura, the ensemble reduced to just flautist Jonathan Henderson and pianist Alex Raineri. This is a good work, although I’d argue that it’s not Edwards’ strongest work either; the crashing cluster chords of the first movement peter out after a minute and the more potent Ocean Idyll second movement kicks in. Amusingly, the third movement begins with the pianist clapping, but the audience took this as a cue that the piece had finished and enthusiastically joined in. Order was restored soon after.
Finally, the concert concluded with Elgar’s Enigma Variations, in an arrangement by the Southern Cross Soloists’ composer-in-residence John Rotar. I thoroughly enjoyed this version of the piece; it’s fabulous to hear some of the lines with crystal clarity, instead of the heft of the orchestral version.
These were some lovely performances, there’s no doubt about that. But, the programming was rather odd – the Brophy and Richter, while both good pieces, didn’t really sit neatly within the program’s overarching design – and the whole thing ran 20 minutes overtime, despite starting on the dot. Losing one or two of the shorter pieces would have tightened up the program’s theme and kept things on schedule. Nonetheless, it was a pleasure to see Hall perform with the ensemble, and a pleasure to see the ensemble in such close quarters.