★★★½☆ Snapshots from Beethoven’s career, dispatched with refinement and sensitivity.
Turramurra Uniting Church
September 18, 2016
Pianist Kathryn Selby kicked off the fourth national tour of her chamber series Selby and Friends in the Turramurra Uniting Church with Basically Beethoven #3, an all-Beethoven concert in which she was joined by the male half of the Goldner String Quartet – violinist Dene Olding and cellist Julian Smiles.
Against the white-noise of rain on the roof, the trio spanned 25 years of Beethoven’s career, from his first opus to the C Major Cello Sonata of his Opus 102.
Pianist Kathryn Selby
Selby followed close on the heels of Smiles’ honey-toned cello entry, her tone bright (though the sound of the piano was muddied slightly in the church’s acoustic). As a duo, the two musicians dug into the vigorous entry of the first movement’s Allegro vivace, Smile’s attacks full of crisp clarity. In the second movement, Smiles’ low register was a wave of warm sound with Selby’s piano creeping over the top.
The pair was joined on stage by Olding for the Piano Trio in G Major Op. 1 No 2, his sound cutting through the acoustic like a razor blade. Beethoven’s first opus was intended to be an event, launched at a time in his career when he was achieving success as a virtuoso pianist. This is certainly evident in his piano writing in the G Major Trio, Selby delivering sparkling runs and turns, duetting alternately with Smiles and Olding. Olding’s melodic lines sung in the second movement, the Trio of the third bubbled cheekily and the finale buzzed with energy, the threesome leaning into its quirky turns.
Olding introduced the Violin Sonata No 8 by quipping that pianists insist on the title “Sonata for Piano and Violin” and the work is certainly more duet than melody and accompaniment. Composed mostly in Heiligenstadt – where Beethoven wrote his famous unsent letter admitting to his deafness, the Heiligenstadt Testament – the work is bright and charming compared to the composer’s mammoth Ninth Violin Sonata, the Kreuzer. Selby and Olding revelled in the humour and grace of this work, the violinist dancing along with refined virtuosity, a smile on his lips, in the final movement.
Selby and friends finished the programme with a work from 1808, the Ghost Trio in D Major, Op. 70 No 1. The ensemble drew pleasant lyricism from the first movement following the explosive opening, and the Largo assai ed espressivo – from which the trio gets its ‘Ghost’ title – was beautifully haunting, Smiles’ cello particularly soulful and Selby’s piano lines falling magically and rumbling in the depths of the low register. The finale blazed brightly as if to dispel the phantom of the previous movement.
A programme of all-Beethoven strings-and-piano chamber works makes for something of a homogenous palette – you get what it says on the packet in terms of Basically Beethoven. But cherry-picking works from across the composer’s lifetime provided a series of snapshots of his development, from the optimistic showiness of his first opus, to the more mature Cello Sonata and Ghost Trio, Selby, Olding and Smiles dispatching the works with refinement and sensitivity.
Selby & Friends tours Basically Beethoven #3 until September 25