Over the past seven years, the UKARIA-based Chamber Landscapes series has grown to become an integral musical part of the Adelaide Festival.
This year’s series, titled Poème, is under the artistic directorship of the fine Finnish pianist Paavali Jumppanen, who brings together a superb group of musicians ranging including local hero pianist Konstantin Shamray, the Australian String Quartet, some of Australia’s finest orchestral and chamber musicians and a few international names of note.
This first recital is divided into halves, with each introduced by important works for flute featuring the excellent Alison Mitchell.
Following on from Debussy’s groundbreaking L’Apres midi d’un faun (1892), we return to the perfumed, intoxicating ancient imaginings of Syrinx (1912), a work for solo flute which seemingly steps out from time as we know it. Originally written as incidental music for a play, Syrinx has become associated with flautists such as Marcel Moyse, Jean-Pierre Rampal and, more recently, Emmanuel Pahud. Here, and in the similarly inspired Cantos de Linos, by the later French impressionist Andre Jolivet, Mitchell (accompanied by Jumppanen) proves herself a master of her instrument.
From impressionism we move on to contemporary composition through the work of the rising Finnish composer Outi Tarkiainen and her song cycle, The Lustful Mother, a setting of translated Sami poetry on birth and motherhood.
In its original orchestral setting, the work is scored for baritone and orchestra, but here, in chamber arrangement, it is placed in the capable hands of Australian mezzo Judith Dodsworth, a specialist in contemporary and one who seemingly has no problems in conveying the Finnish texts.
Tarkiainen is new to me, but I’m curious to hear more from this composer who has also based an opera and a song cycle on the work of Virginia Woolf. There is a coolness of tone and purpose here which associates her with the geographically close Baltic states and Scandinavian composers. No doubt given guidance by fellow Finn Jumppanen, who will also visit this composer’s work for solo piano in a later recital, the work is turned over to eminent local musicians with excellent results. Shamray and the Australian String Quartet shine in support of this passionate and involved singer.
Although the majority of the works presented may be well known to music listeners, it is a rare pleasure to experience them live.
The truly excellent acoustics afforded by Ukaria’s unique concert hall and its environment enhance an excellent performance of Tchaikovsky’s sextet, Souvenir de Florence. Influences on the writing of this masterpiece are conflicting, suggesting that either the work was composed in Florence, while the composer was writing the opera, The Queen of Spades, or that its appellation lies closer in meaning to the French use of the word souvenir, as a memory or something influenced by its environs.
Either way, here is a work which must rank among the finest of all Romantic sextets, including those by Brahms and Schoenberg. This large scale, four-movement work is predominantly cast in minor keys and its second movement certainly brings forth memories of the same movement in the much more popular fifth symphony. Here we can see that the composer has absorbed the colour and evocations of nature associated with both Schubert and Schumann before giving way to the giddy and joyful Russian folk images of its final movement. In the finest of performances, as here, the piece takes on an almost orchestral richness and passion.
This passionate performance combines the best of Australia’s chamber musicians (Christopher Moore, Stephen King, Sharon Grigoryan and Timo-Veikko Valve) with two exceptional European violinists (Elina Vahala and Jakub Jakowicz. In terms of musicianship and programme planning, this is the finest recital of chamber music I’ve heard in some time.
Adelaide Festival runs until 19 March. More about its 2023 program can be found here.