Goldner String QuartetLeft - Australian Goldner String Quartet. Cover - Piers Lane

The chamber music city in Australia finally has its temple. The long awaited Melbourne Recital Centre opened its doors on February 8. Celebrations are continuing with a non-stop fortnight of festival events, showcasing the most diverse and best chamber music Australian musicians and visiting stars can offer.

Focus on Schubert was performed amidst the fire smoke, which kept reminding the artists and viewers of the dreadful disaster and ensuing loss. Yet, this evening of scrumptious early nineteenth-century musical thought was a reflection upon the fullness of life - love and sorrow, youth and wisdom, longing for peace, uplifting beauty and harmony, hope and strength. In the context of the fire disasters in Australia and the aftermath of the world financial crisis, the value and purpose of this new venue for music making is even more pronounced. 

The programme was varied, beginning with Lieder (German art song) and ending with the String Quintet in C major D956. The Lieder component focused on romantic love songs, including seven songs from the cycle Die schöne Müllerin – so very fitting to the fuss and buzz of the imminent St Valentine’s Day. The poetry of Shakespeare, Schlegel, Rückert  and W. Müller combined with the genius of Franz Schubert brought to light the entire palette of emotive states which Cupid can inflict upon a human mind: awe, fascination, yearning, hope, sorrow, despair, desolation and the fleeting  moments of union which make the heart explode.

This bouquet of songs was delivered by two outstanding musicians: Markus Schäfer, tenor and Piers Lane, piano. They captured the spirit of Schubert’s music in a poetic flight adorned with exquisite detail. Tenor Markus Schäfer has the most pleasing instrument with warm high notes and a resonant low register - a true art song tenor voice which is rarely heard in Australia. Markus Schäfer is a vocal artist in charge of a whole palette of expressive colours, declamation modes and dynamics necessary for this art form. Besides his full tone, the tenor used masterfully breath to add warmth to phrases in his middle register and pharyngeal tone to achieve the softest pianissimo on a high note. His interpretations were sincere and charmingly beautiful.

Australian Piers Lane, armed with golden locks and bright stripe socks, played the difficult accompaniments with aplomb and sensitivity, breathing with the singer, executing sensual arpeggios and always finding the perfect timing of key changes or commenting contrasting chords. In their expressive impulse both artists enjoyed creating the softest of delicate sounds which were enhanced by the beautiful acoustics - the climax on the word “sie” (she) in Trockne Blumen, the last song, was to die for. The refined restraint of German art song is not lost after all, although the ones who seem to appreciate it nowadays are not the young - the average age of the audience was about 50.

The String Quintet in C major for two violins, viola and two cellos offers an array of emotive motion, commencing and finishing with an optimistic spring of sound. The Australian Goldner String Quartet in collaboration with Korean cellist Young-Chang Cho delivered solid ensemble work and an engaging reading of the musical narrative. It was electrifying to hear the contrasts in articulation and dynamics in these acoustics: no pizzicato was lost, while the soft build up prior to the final statement of the initial theme in the third movement augmented the exhilarating ringing of the quintet’s rich sonorities.  For the audience, subjected daily to harsh noise, MP3 quality music and loud stereos, this was an oasis in the ocean of sound.
The Elizabeth Murdoch Hall is an intimate space which boasts of the finest acoustics. The innovative interior design makes this hall the Sistine Chapel of music halls. Wood carved lines on the walls and ceiling allude to the infinite flow of sound waves. Prominent wave peaks - metaphors for the apex of the tone, phrase climaxes and volume extremes – provide focal points both on the front wall and in the middle of the ceiling. They point towards heaven and affirm the capacity of music to uplift the soul.

Melbourne Recital Centre presents
Focus on Schubert

Venue: Elisabeth Murdoch Hall | Melbourne Recital Centre
Date/Time: Friday, February 13, 2009 at 7:30 pm

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