Varied Virtues. Selby & Friends. James Fairfax Theatre, National Gallery of Australia, Tuesday, February 23, 2016, 7.30pm.
Andrew Haveron, Timo Veikko-Valve and Kathryn Selby performed brilliantly in Canberra on day three of their tour opening a year of celebration for the 10th anniversary of Selby & Friends.
Beethoven's Piano Trio No.10 in E flat major, Op.44 led the audience on an excursion into the musical life of the 22-year-old composer, recreating the freshness of the young man's exceptional talent through the musicians' enthusiasm and sparse beauty of the arrangement. Affectionate reverence underpinned the statement of each musical idea, Selby's restrained pedaling allowing the piano line to make its own statements and support the violin and cello with unfailing clarity. While Veikko-Valve's cello is distinctively rich, the ability to dance lightly was never compromised as the variations unfolded. Haveron contrasted disciplined formality with exploratory interpretation of his violin solos, breathing freedom into this 324-year-old work.
Veikko-Valve's interpretation of Busoni's Kultaselle, Ten Variations of a Finnish Folksong met my expectations. Throughout the performance, both cello and cellist seemed to become possessed – each by the other – until it was hard to distinguish who was playing whom – ragged breathing and wild bowing subsiding into tranquil reflection and escalating to a turbulent conclusion. Veikko-Valve is surely one of the boldest and bravest cellists of his generation. Selby's piano was also bewitched, at one moment providing a soft and spooky chattering conversation beneath long cello phrases which leapt into a reckless dance.
Haveron's dazzling technique had ample scope for display in the party piece, Fantasy for Violin and Piano in C major, Op. 159 by Franz Schubert. Described by Alfred Brendel as a work that has "too many notes and not enough music", the Fantasy offers a series of variations that builds dramatic tension through cleverly contrasting piano and violin interactions. Never have duelling cello and violin scales been executed with greater finesse than in this version and surely no other violinist has superior rapid articulation of the prestissimo runs leading up to the shiveringly fast tremolo passages in the finale.
At the heart of the Piano Trio in D minor by Anton Arensky is the Elegy movement which is voiced predominantly by the lyrical, melancholy melody played by the cello and underpinned by a stylised, jagged funeral march. This juxtaposition is representative of the different philosophical movements such as Impressionism and Expressionism that were beginning to influence composers in the late 19th century. The Trio offers a extraordinary array of stylistic effects. One minute there is assertive, clear classicism, the next, almost baroque twisted ornamentation in the piano line, then prestissimo ascending scales, then contrapuntal patterning shared between cello and violin voices; a movement foreshadowing 1950s film music and then a sudden transformation of the piano voice into ethereal chimes beneath rippling string parts; all culminating in a fast, and joyous finale. Arensky's Trio is an exhilarating acoustic trip back and forth in a musical time machine.
Varied Virtues provided a taste of exquisite musical delights to follow all this anniversary year for Selby & Friends.