Now in its 17th year, the Peninsula Summer Music Festival has impressed audiences again with a first class and diverse selection of outstanding musical performances.
Violinist Brigid Coleridge and pianist Kristian Chong have notable international careers and are held in high esteem for their presentation of the best repertoire from both well-loved and lesser-known composers. Coleridge warmly introduced their program as a “celebration of conversation and sustained friendship”. She encouraged us to hear, feel and imagine conversations and musical connections that might have been; first, music by Alma Mahler, arranged for violin and piano, gave this duo a curious and expressive place to begin. Known for her many loves, passionate and artistic relationships, “Laue Sommernacht” (Mild Summer’s Night) connects the development and search for meaning in relationships on a summer night. Coleridge’s description of Bach’s witty piece requiring the duo “to joke and chase one another’s tails around” was an intriguing thought! Such was the range of colour, emotion and artistry in this performance.
Coleridge is a passionate violinist with a richly timbred and dynamic physical style. Both romantic melodies and classical harmony fused in Mahler’s light and balanced conversations, and with Chong’s admirably felicitous and sympathetic accompaniment, the complete and elegant marriage of old treasures and contemporary designs in the fine Moorooduc House also supported this very beautiful and engaging program. A segue into the opening Andante of J.S. Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Cembalo, BWV 1015 continued the special beauty of these quality works. Allegro and Presto movements particularly highlighted an admirable variety of dynamics, technical virtuosity and high spirits in swiftly flowing confident exchanges, shared melodies and imitative patterns.
Chong introduced Beethoven’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, No. 10 Op. 96 in G major, as a late work by a composer suffering increasingly from deafness, suggesting we would hear things we don’t expect to occur. There was much equality of dialogue between the two instruments, so evident with an early phrase of four simple notes with a characteristic trill passed between the two instruments. High-spirited passages dissolved unexpectedly, tender moments of joy heralded Schubertian lyricism and unexpected key changes, and sudden fiery interjections added to the emotive tension for the listener. This wonderful program gave us memorable conversation and connection, and was scheduled twice at this venue, a sign of the respect and demand for festival events like these.
Also extraordinary were Sydney guests soprano Anna Fraser and Neal Peres da Costa accompanying her on a remarkable reproduction of a Viennese grand fortepiano (c.1805) in a truly unique “Re-Imagining Schubert” recital. This was pure magic. This was extraordinary. Following research into early recordings and written information from Schubert’s time, we were taken back in time with an “authentic” experience of Lieder (many from the beautiful and poetic Schwanengesang (Swan Song), enhanced by Fraser’s re-imagining of bel canto. No fewer than 17 songs were presented in the clearest German with texts all provided in additional notes with translations, and our breath was taken away as we were submerged in true Romanticism. Fraser’s glorious tone, wide vocal range, her use of sprechstimme and her subtle theatrical presentation to convey or enhance the emotion of the sentimentality of the poetry, evoked strong imagination. Both musicians were locked together in the gentle “stretching of time” through sorrowful, darker lines – “My heart is full of leaden dread” and united in very poignant ad lib tempos – “Here the heart feels quite alone and melancholy tears are shed”. “Whispering breezes” brought more active delicate arpeggios on the lighter, transparent and often veiled tone of the fortepiano, and continual word painting with sighs and falling tears in Fraser’s descending expressions softened the hardest of hearts. Many people remained, quietly bringing their hearts back to the present day, to examine and celebrate the rare fortepiano. Hosted by the Port Phillip Estate winery, this event was priced to accommodate a three-course gourmet meal with pre-dinner music by Festival Artist Emily Granger on harp where patrons relished a spectacular view.
St John’s Anglican Church played host to small Festival ensembles, but a marquee for stage, lighting and microphones was well-positioned under the trees to allow the large crowd and 14 orchestral members to present the well-loved Opera Gala in a beautiful garden setting. With an audience spreading out into the grounds and varied strings, woodwind, harp and keyboard, a large technical crew were kept busy. We did love the strong voices and theatre provided by experienced opera legends soprano Lee Abrahmsen and bass-baritone Adrian Tamburini, whose duets and solos from classic operas by Donizetti, Handel and Mozart delighted and charmed us all. A classy partnership here, and Tamburini certainly enjoyed describing a Don Pasquale duet as “his most funnest” duet and he revelled in “acting up” for his roles from Don Giovanni. Following Interval, came a heart-warming duet Massenet’s Thais, and Abrahmsen’s passionate and colourful art songs by Bizet and Wagner. The final duet from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana was felt to be the icing on the cake, with enhanced stage lighting as the sun set. With a program of 13 operatic works and an instrumental arrangement of William Tell Overture, loud bird varieties adding their lines, it took a while to confirm the stage mic settings with a small instrumental ensemble for powerful voices and big operatic works. Matthew Hassell was a hard-working concertmaster and violinist with the unenviable role of conducting as well. As the program flowed with accelerating confidence and security from all performers and technical crew, this was a true Festival event, and given the presence of so many participating cockatoos in the trees, quite an unusual Opera Gala concert!
Bravo, Peninsula Summer Music Festival 2024!
Julie McErlain reviewed the following concerts presented by the Peninsula Summer Music Festival 2024: Brigid Coleridge & Kristian Chong at the Moorooduc Estate on January 2; Neal Peres da Costa & Anna Fraser – Re-Imagining Schubert – at the Port Phillip Estate on January 4; and the Opera Gala featuring Lee Abrahmsen and Adrian Tamburini at St John’s Anglican Church Flinders on January 6.