What a smart little idea for a concert. Back in the pre-recorded music days of the 19th century, a person’s only opportunity to get to know an orchestral work would be to catch a live concert, or more often, to get their hands on a version for more modest forces. There was thus a lucrative market for literal transcriptions, or better still for more imaginative arrangements. Kathryn Selby’s latest concert programme By Arrangement offers three of the latter, and not only did they prove intriguing as adaptations, they generated first league performances thanks to Selby and friends Andrew Haveron – the SSO’s regular Concertmaster – and Timo-Veiko (“Tipi”) Valve, Principal Cellist with the ACO.
In its Piano Trio version, Haydn’s Miracle Symphony, arranged by musician and impresario Johann Peter Salomon, proves an amiable work that scales down nicely for chamber forces. Although the piano takes the strain most of the time, it’s never straightforward who is playing what. As Haveron revealed, the piano’s right-hand might just as likely be playing the first violin line, while the violin player tackles woodwind or horn lines, even sometimes the second violin parts.
The two string players here adopted a modest vibrato approach, which kept the opening movement on its toes. The second movement had darker corners, but otherwise kept the elegance quotient high, leaving room for the third movement to raise the dramatic stakes with its swinging Menuet, scurrying up-surging runs and good-natured trio. This movement in particular captured that delicious flavour of the 18th-century Viennese salon. A brisk ramble through the finale offered a few fireworks among the musical daisies.
Charming though the Haydn was, Matt van Brink’s modern-day arrangement of four movements from Le Tombeau de Couperin was in another league – essentially the Second Piano Trio that Ravel never wrote. Selby and friends adopted a gossamer tone for the opening Prélude, especially light and airy on violin and piano. The witty and urbane Forlane found violin and cello duetting along like the French impressionist equivalent of the Odd Couple, only considerably lighter of foot! The third movement Rigaudon – a lyrical waltz with a splash of the buccolic – was gracefully rendered by all concerned, while the Toccata finale was full of impressively handled bravura moments. Haveron and Valve’s solos in the central section were particularly distinguished and the whole piece finished with such a flourish that an over-excited punter behind me in the audience fumbled their Maltesers, causing them to roll down the City Recital Hall aisle like so many marbles.
As if they aren’t enough notes already in the Beethoven Triple Concerto, Carl Reinecke’s arrangement from the 1860s soups matters up to present quite a challenge for just the three players. As Valve teased, this could have been how Australian audiences first heard this work, fresh off the boat in 1870. On the other hand, he quipped, that might be completely untrue, in which case this might just be its Aussie premiere.
The performance was finely dramatised by players who clearly know and care for this music. Haveron, Selby and Valve seemed to edge ever closer together in the music’s intensely collaborative sections, while going hell for leather in the opening movement’s military manoeuvres. There was a real sense of teamwork here and the rapt central Adagio saw Selby’s warm piano creating a comfortable bedrock for the long lyrical string lines. The high-spirited Finale was full of dash and daring. As music with nowhere to hide, this is tricky stuff indeed, but these three players delivered a blockbuster performance that had the audience literally cheering. Recommended.
By Arrangement is touring to Melbourne, Mittagong and Turramurra until May 28