There has to be something very special and significant about a chamber music group that has been wowing audiences for seventeen years and continues to have many more ongoing seasons planned. Ensemble Liaison presented their first concert series at The Edge, Federation Square in 2007, making an impact with their imaginative and innovative musical programmes. From 2010 the wonderful space of Elisabeth Murdoch Hall became their home from where they have continued to present brilliant and outstanding world-class collaborations with guest musicians and “new” composers sharing their accolades and exciting and enriching the audience experience of chamber music.
“Creation” signifies the creation of new worlds and the celebration of works by Rabl, Navarro and Dohnanyi. In his welcoming words of introduction to Walter Rabl’s Quartet for Piano, Violin, Clarinet and Cello Op 1 in E-flat, David Griffiths spoke of the influence of Brahms on Rabl’s short composing career, and also welcomed violinist Sulki Yu as a guest artist. Clarinet and piano opened the Allegro Moderato with flowing and strongly romantic contours before Sulki Yu’s powerful and rich tone entered with cello to establish lyrical, dreamy and wondering short themes, growing against powerful piano chords into a passionate landscape. At times I felt the prominent leadership and intensity of the violin parts in the program allowed fewer cello solo lines to project. A second movement Adagio Molto (theme and variations) brought us a darker funeral march, followed by colourful sections of robust polonaise rhythms, and strong aria-like melodic heights on violin. Instruments with echoing patterns maintained strong contrasts in colour and timbre until they accelerated and blended into a final unified chorale theme. The movements Andantino and Allegro con brio furthered the sense of Rabl asking for a rich orchestral sound, reflective of the dense textures, lusciousness and themed sections and scenes of film scores.
Composer Oscar Navarro (b.1981), an extraordinary, highly awarded specialist in composition for film and television, fitted perfectly into Ensemble Liaison’s programming, and was described to us by Griffiths as “music with a lot of notes … cool and awesome”. He was excited that Ensemble Liaison were giving (possibly and probably) the premier Australian performance of CREATION, and shared Navarro’s detailed description of musical creating – “from feelings of emptiness when beginning with a blank score, then inspiration of the birth of rhythmic or melodic cells which spring and move forwards as improvisation or as a changing tour through the imagination”. The three movements that followed gave us a sensual blend of exotic colours, contrasting tones and timbres, and a wide palette of themes, moods and undulating tempos. Deep piano chords and eerie pulse beats introduced a slow, exotic solo clarinet, and always we admired the exceptional skill, mesmerising tone and breath control from Griffiths’ soulful poignancy and connection with the audience. The first movement ended in a frenzy with the violin upper notes being strident and almost piercing over abrupt clusters punched from the piano. Calm followed with the second movement’s glimpse of ancient times suggested by a Celtic floating air on violin accompanied by distant percussive tones on the piano’s highest keys. Short colourful ideas became a floating magical lullaby, with clarinet again featured on a long slow cadenza, before a sudden climax of trills took the music into a helter-skelter of activity to end. A liberated third movement took off with a flying start with scurrying cross-rhythms, syncopated Spanish rhythms, and extraordinary Stravinsky-like rhythmic sections. In the sectional structure we had a return of the Celtic illusion, nostalgic solo clarinet bridged the flow into pastorale pleasantry, but again brilliant piano trills, chromatic runs and multi-coloured chords gave us an exciting virtuosic orchestral finish.
Following interval, Griffiths introduced the third and final work, Sextet in C, Op. 37 by Erno Dohnanyi, and introduced more exceptional guest musicians – Christopher Moore (viola) and Clara Blackwood (horn). This quite fabulous and intoxicating four-movement work began with smouldering, Brahmsian chords, with dynamics increasing as each soloist grew and shone forth in changing spotlights through this Allegro appassionata. Liaison Ensemble showed terrific rapport and blend, with simply great horn playing from Carla Blackwood. Balanced strings and a coloured piano pulse led the second movement Intermezzo: Adagio in a threatening, foreboding march. Allegro con sentimento brought us inspiring teamwork from an opening clarinet pastorale-like romantic vision over accompanying strings.
A truly exhilarating finale movement Allegro vivace, giocoso absolutely took our breath away. With allusions to Mahler and Bartok, this music developed into extended dance sections with changing time sections, sweeping energy and fantastic varying cross-rhythms. Wonderful horn solos added to this invigorating performance of an unforgettable finale movement in a memorable and exciting concert.
Julie McErlain reviewed “Creation”, performed by Ensemble Liaison ( David Griffiths, clarinet, Svetlana Bogasavljevic, cello, and Timothy young, piano) and guests at the Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall on November 24, 2023.