Day two is behind us and some patterns are emerging and not only amongst the competitors. One aspect of the competition organisation that is working particularly well this year is the post performance commentary. In the past this required patrons to crowd around a screened area and to strain to hear comments. This year the interviewees are in full view and sound is projected into the concert hall. This, combined with a changing panel of well respected local chamber musicians, has brought this popular aspect of the event to a high standard.
Today’s performances likewise continued at a high standard. In a day of big-sound Haydn performances, a couple stood out. Orava Quartet did not hold back in the first movement of their Haydn Op 20 No 3. Your correspondent’s first reaction was “oh, no, it’s far too big a sound for Haydn”. But in the event it wasn’t. The Op 20 No 3 quartet is a quirky beast, less often played than the No 4 which demands a lighter touch such as displayed by the Auric the day before. But the Orava played a bit the way the Jerusalem Quartet might have approached the work. And it worked well for them. This is not to suggest there was a lack of lightness and delicacy when required. But sometimes it is good to let Haydn rip. Let it rip they did, to great effect. At the other end of the scale was the Lyrebird Trio’s Hob. XV:27. This is one of the great gems amongst a series of wonderful works. It was played with a lightness and deftness that displayed all that the purist would wish to hear in a Haydn performance. Lyrebird’s performance also put to bed those who might complain the work to be a piano sonata with string accompaniment. Even a simple cello part played with deep musicianship can be a thing of beauty. It is so much more than just playing the notes. The Duomo Quartet’s Haydn Op 77 No 1 grew in stature as it progressed. It seemed that nerves were playing a role in a rather untidy first movement. By the final presto, however, the quartet was strutting its very competent stuff with fine articulation and balance. Although the Duomo, having settled down, showed a sound musical insight in their Beethoven Serioso, it was rather overshadowed by a remarkable Shostakovich 8 by the Orava. A young quartet takes on such a work in competition at their peril. The Orava had clearly spent the necessary hours in the woodshed and displayed not only the technical competence but more importantly, the musical understanding of this complex work. They stated a clear claim for a podium place today. The maturity displayed so far suggests they are likely to go through to the finals. If you correspondent could spell Waterhouse he might even place a wager on the outcome.
The Senso Trio’s performances, while technically competent, tended to over-loud and overspeed, without much real dynamic contrast. Qiyun Dai, the Senso pianist, is the clear leader for the yellow jersey for sprint performance after the cracking pace set in the final Mendelssohn D minor movement.
If there is a lesson for Chamber Music Australia in the nature of Asian performances so far in this competition it is that just as Australian ensembles are likely to struggle with interpreting complex Asian ideas and structures, so Asian ensembles need to work on their understanding of the radically different tonal structures and balances of western works. There is a raft of opportunity here for mutual developmental exchanges. Indeed perhaps to throw these groups into western competition is putting the cart before the horse. Of course this is precisely what Li Wei Qin is doing at Yong Siew Toh Conservatorium in Singapore. Witness the multicultural Auric Quartet.
The revelatory trio performance of the day was undoubtedly that of the Lyrebird Trio. While their Smetana was not, to this observer, perfect, violinist Glenn Christensen having a couple of errant moments, it was a musical and emotional tour de force. And that, after all, is what the audience wants. It may be inappropriate to single out one in a trio, but the Smetana gives some great music to the cello and Simon Cobcroft’s playing was nothing short of superb.
So, your correspondent still loves Kae Ozawa best on piano, Simon Cobcroft is ahead in a tight points competition with Karol Kowalik and Paul Ghica. Standout violist is Thomas Chawner (he may have the best viola in the competition), while vacillation is in order as far as top gun, meaning violin, is concerned.
It, of course, ain’t over till the [two words redacted] sings. Who knows what wonders tomorrow might bring.