Left – Ilya Konovalov
The Southern Cross Soloists have to be from Queensland. Their playing is full of Queensland sunshine. One might, paraphrasing the old slogan about Queensland, say of their playing: Beautiful one minute, perfect the next.
This concert was named for the presence in it of the concertmaster of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Ilya Konovalov. He played two of the most frighteningly difficult pieces in the repertoire, operatic fantasies on Gounod’s Faust and Bizet’s Carmen. It was spell-binding. I felt the ghost of Paganini hovering behind him, like Mephistopheles hovers behind Faust. Konovalov’s playing was mesmerising, like an acrobat on a rope between skyscrapers. And in between the rapid double-stopping, the harmonics that went higher than the top note of a piano, and the cascades of semiquavers, were simple tunes played with the soft intensity of an irresistible seducer.
The other soloist in the concert was the soprano Margaret Schindler, who is a core member of Southern Cross Soloists. Her contribution to the afternoon was a rare display of versatility. First, she sang an aria Handel’s first cantata, Il deliro amoroso , which does indeed mean the delirious lover, which is also a remarkable show-piece. Her coloratura singing in very fast thirds with violinist Alan Smith was breath-takingly accurate. The aria also contains one of the longest notes I’ve ever heard a singer sing – it must last for 20 bars. Her next piece was two songs from Shostakovich’s Seven Romances on poems by Alexander Blok, in which she penetrated the lower depths of the vast melancholy in the Russian soul. Her voice sounded like dark chocolate. Finally she sang a vocalise, commissioned for this concert, by Mark Isaacs, in which Schindler, a singer whose words are always clear, demonstrated than she doesn’t need them to move an audience.
This vocalise is a sumptuous piece. Fitting comfortable into a genre populated by Fauré, Rachmaninov, and Previn amongst others, Isaacs treats the voice both as the principal in an ensemble, and also at times as just another voice in the web of exquisitely scored gorgeous sounds. My favourite moment in this piece was towards the end of the middle section, when three beautiful phrases, from Tania Frazer (cor anglais), Paul Dean (clarinet) and Emma Scholl (flute), momentarily put even Schindler’s captivatingly alluring voice into the shade. Afterwards there was a murmur of appreciation from the audience, as of diners after a surprisingly good meal, before the enthusiastic applause.
The other item in the concert was an arrangement by Kevin Power, the pianist with the ensemble, of four movements of the suite which Prokoviev extracted from his comic opera The Love of three Oranges. The arrangement was witty, and the performance sunny and exuberant.
The items were introduced by members of the ensemble (almost all of them had a go), and these introductions, breezy, urbane, and witty, drew the audience into this music, much of it unfamiliar, making everyone feel a part of this really special afternoon of music.
Southern Cross Soloists Concert Program
With special guest Ilya Konovalov
Venue: Concert Hall, QPAC, Cultural Precinct, South Bank, Brisbane
Date: Sunday 15 June, 3pm
Bookings: qpac.com.au | 136 246