The year has flown by again and, there have been many musical highlights. These are my pick for the past year, in no particular order.
1. Stephen Hough, piano: Musica Viva, Llewellyn Hall, April 28, 2016.
Schubert's Sonata No. 14 opened what was a wonderfully rich program. I find the variety of Hough's pedal technique fascinating and his ability to use economy of "sustain" while perfectly punctuating the phrase was evident in the Andante. His fingers danced through the Allegro vivace, leaving an image of a speedily woven spider's web, lit brilliantly with raindrops.
Written in 1884, Cesar Franck's Prelude, Chorale and Fugue delighted and Hough's beautifully rhythmic crossing hands were mesmerising to watch throughout the performance – how can they possibly land with such precision and lift with such a delicate caress? Stephen Hough's own Piano Sonata III, "Trinitas", was a treat, and one could almost see the Steinway shiver with pleasure in anticipation of his performances of Liszt's Forgotten Waltzes and Transcendental Studies.
2. Australian Chamber Orchestra: Giovanni Sollima, Sequenza Italiana. Llewellyn Hall, June 25, 2016.
Sequenza Italiana was a night of extravagant music marked by dazzling technical showpieces, dramatic physical theatre from guest director and cellist Giovanni Sollima and sparkling intellectual engagement in the works by Berio, Scelsi and Sollima by the ensemble. It was an adrenalin-fuelled evening for leader Satu Vanska, as she piloted the ACO through an exacting program and gave one of her finest performances.
3. Edward and Stephanie Neeman: Friends meet the Instruments: Playing the Graf and Stein pianos from the ANU School of Music Historic Keyboard Museum, Llewellyn Hall. August 5.
Edward and Stephanie Neeman brought the very appealing pianos to life, performing 18th and early 19th-century piano music in an intimate concert. The final work was Mendelssohn's Fantasia in F Sharp minor, Op. 28 – piano solo by Edward Neeman. This was an exceptional performance, not least for the final Presto, which surely must have broken several records for speed and clarity of articulation. Neeman's pedalling created the clever illusions required to evoke Mendelssohn's imagined Scottish landscape.
4. Erin Helyard: Listening to the Past recital, Lanyon Homestead, November 29.
In this concert the remarkable Erin Helyard performed on the newly restored 1840s Broadwood piano, playing a repertoire characteristic of the domestic music heard at Lanyon in the 1860s. The small audience experienced the pleasure of hearing music from the heyday of Lanyon's pastoral settler occupation in the intimate 19th-century drawing room and on an authentic instrument from the period. Mendelssohn, Chopin and Clementi were the highlights with some lighter moments provided by a suite of Australian dances –among them the memorable La Bong Bong!
5.Forma Antiqua: Fandango, Canberra International Music Festival, Fitters' Workshop, April 29.
This concert by Forma Antiqua in the Fitters' Workshop was glorious. The three Zapico brothers perform as one. There is no evidence of excessive exertion or anxiety – simply uninhibited music. I was struck by the impeccable balance of the instrument voices, and the perfect tuning of the ensemble. Even under hot spotlights and in Canberra's dry and unusually warm autumn, the three delicate instruments – theorbo, harpsichord and baroque guitar – remained absolutely in tune with themselves and with each other. It was almost as if the pitch was held in perfection by the shared musicianship of the ensemble, resisting any interference from the elements.
The Song Company joined Forma Antiqua to perform Flecha's El Fuego from Ensaladas, immersing us in the fires of hell and the sweet pure waters of redemption.