What a delight it was to attend Festival concerts in this heritage-listed property, right in the heart of Albury, with its elegant historic ballroom, grand piano, harpsichord and pipe organ amid elegant gardens and furnishings. Festival Directors Sally-Anne Russell and Mario Dobernig aim to bring people together to celebrate not only the lifelong work of fine classical musicians, but also the specialists in rarer art forms, featured today in a Living Legend series. Kaleidoscopic art by a Melbourne painter who breathes rainbows – Claudia Rubinstein – was on display, and in the beautiful Adamshurst Ballroom, we listened to milliner Phillip Rhodes, a rare high achiever who has worked alongside the stars and directors of the stage, screen and in high society, admiring and learning about his fascinating works of art. We will never take a banana for granted again having seen his unique display and stories of favourite hats – yes, a banana hat.
More festive pleasantry came with the session “The Moon on their Wings”, with Jackpot, an a capella quartet from north of the border, singing their favourite things – innovative and tight arrangements of a selection of swing standards, Australian folk songs, and varied favourites from older times and places.
“Schnitzel with Noodles” was a showcase of Festival talent from near and far. Pianist Raymond Yong excelled in a pristine playing of popular Chopin, also accompanying Scott Marshall (oboe) with an impressive solo by Carl Nielson. Young violinist Jaso Sasaki introduced us to a fascinating unaccompanied work by Belgian composer Eugene-Auguste Ysaÿe. His Sonata No. 5 was a surprising exploration of varied string techniques, drones, plucked fingerwork and unpredictable elements tossed around in a frame of fragmented Eastern European folk song material. Simon Oswell proudly showed us his 1740 viola before playing a charming Andante from Schumann’s Fairy Tale Pictures, and Robert Schubert on clarinet gave us a delightful rarity for this morning soirée, some rarely heard music from Suite Colette by Australians Lawrence Whiffen and Julian Yu. Singers of renown were essential. Legendary baritone John Bolton Wood proved that he is still a strong performer of Verdi, and Sally-Anne Russell was proud to sing the premier performance of a new Australian work, Egrets. Composer Calvin Bowman came to the piano to accompany Russell for his highly magical and colourful work that touched our souls and captivated our imaginations. Set to words by poet Judith Wright, harmonically shifting within a light texture, this evocative piece engaged us with its calmness, rhythmic freedom and true essence of the natural environment. Very suited to Russell’s golden vocal tone, this song should become well established in the Australian Art Song repertoire.
The closing event in the Ballroom rounded off a well-balanced and beautiful festival, where Sara Macliver and Sally-Anne Russell re-created their Aria Award winning performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with harpsichord and chamber string ensemble. The event followed a delightful hour of tasting “crisp apple strudel”. The performance itself from this well-balanced team – two richly-toned soloists supported by a sympathetic and rhythmic accompaniment – was a rewarding experience for festival goers.
Albury Chamber Music Festival offered a high quality and varied artistic program, with few evening events unusually allowing plenty of relaxed time to absorb the program and enjoy the region. Included in the ticket price was a “Cream Coloured Ponies” Gala Dinner at the elegant Albury Club. One fame-seeking sociable cream alpaca was the pony substitute who enjoyed people and photographs, as varied entertainment from a “flexible” ensemble added live music on stage. Audience participation had encouraged would-be-composers to write a topical verse in Limerick style, with the best selected by a capella group Jackpot and performed to a highly spirited audience.
Sunday morning also offered a warm, friendly and gently flowing Festival Service in St Matthews led by the true shepherd of many things musical, theatrical and pastoral – Father Peter. The call to church went out with the traditional clamorous peeling of bells, Festival choristers added fine descants to hymns, and a world premier of Stephen Marino’s Ave Maria – a prayer for peace – began with sorrow and rose slowly towards hope. The rural representatives were experienced, real sheep, who added occasional but extraordinarily well-timed bleats into Sara Macliver’s nicely forward moving aria “Sheep may safely graze”. I kid you not!
Community heroine, retired opera singer Nance Grant, made an endearing presence as we listened to her recording of Strauss’ Nun’s Chorus, and the organ Postlude held the audience for Calvin Bowman’s Organ Postlude, his “Favourite Thing”, Bach’s splendid Toccata in F, BWV 540 – a fitting way to celebrate the 2023 Albury Chamber Music Festival.
Julie McErlain reviewed Concerts in Adamshurst Ballroom, presented as part of the Albury Chamber Music Festival November 17-19, 2023.