Konstantin Shamray, ANAM Orchestra, Sophie Rowell and Harry Ward (Musica Viva)
Alfred Schnittke’s polystylist music strikes a chord with Australian pianist Konstantin Shamray. Although he was barely a teenager from Siberia when the German-Soviet composer died in 1998, music had a huge and lasting impact on him.
Harry Ward and the ANAM Orchestra. Photograph © James Grant
“I feel like his music reflects some of my formative experiences,” Shamray says. So when Musica Viva’s artistic director Paul Kildea suggested he give the second Australian performance of Schnittke’s Piano and Strings Concerto. [In One Movement] for a collaborative project with the ANAM Orchestra and Sophie Rowell, the virtuoso plunged back into the composer’s sometimes harrowing sound universe.
“This particular concerto was written in the late 1970s, shortly before I was born, when it became clear that something had to change in the Soviet Union, and it raises many emotional questions and concerns of the time,” Shamray said.
Listening to Schnittke is a bit like tapping the dial on your FM radio – you’ll take a line from Tchaikovsky, maybe a pinch of Shostakovich, maybe a jazz string, then a bit of Stockhausen and an Orthodox choir. Russian. All of these were present in this 29 minute piece which was excitingly performed by Shamray and the top 20 and brightest string players from the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) Melbourne conducted by the solo violin of the ‘Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Rowell.
Beginning serenely with simple unaccompanied piano chords, the work combines a beautiful and hopeful Old Russian Church chant in the right hand with increasingly disturbing dissonances in the left, culminating in a receding cacophony. of some nightmarish sliding ropes – think of Dali and his melting clocks – through a Hitchcockian episode featuring stabbing bows at the Psycho and a jazzy interlude with the piano accompanied by a walking bass. Hope, luckily, triumphs at the end with a whispered fade in notes at the top of the keyboard.
Such a heavy piece needed a lighter counterweight and Shamray provided it with a luminous and poetic interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G minor Op.32 No 5.
Schnittke studied in Vienna and it was here that the concert began with a student work by Gustav Mahler, the Abandoned Piano Quartet in A minor, here arranged for string orchestra by one of the FutureMakers of Musica Viva, violinist Harry Ward, making his first tour. before leaving to take his place at the select Karajan Academy in Berlin.
Ward rose through the musical ranks here as a member of the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s nursery group ACO2, mentored by Helena Rathbone, and took part in one of Kathryn Selby’s Selby and Friends virtual concerts during the lockdown of the ‘last year.
His arrangement of Mahler’s unique movement – he completed 24 bars of a second movement before dropping out of the project – brought out Brahms and Dvorak’s early influence on the teenage composer, although there is some hint of bigger things to come.
The concert was a farewell to Ward and the second half opened with a charming Lamento for solo violin and string orchestra by Estonian composer Mihkel Kerem, currently on lockdown in the UK where he is principal associate violinist of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. The work was originally written for cello and strings in 2008 and Kerem was commissioned to revise it as a farewell gift from Musica Viva to Ward.
Ward’s violin overhanging the tip of the ensemble’s pedal, sometimes merging wonderfully with the solo viola, reminded this listener of some of the music of Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks.
Rowell showed us that the future of Australian classical music is in good hands by leading the group ANAM in a finely judged and memorable performance of Serenade for Strings in C major, which will please Tchaikovsky audiences, to seal a concert of the top of the line. .
Konstantin Shamray, the ANAM Orchestra, Sophie Rowell and Harry Ward perform at the Perth Concert Hall on May 3; City Recital Hall, Sydney on May 10; Conservatorium Theater, Griffith University, Brisbane, May 11; Adelaide Town Hall on May 13; and Melbourne Recital Center on May 15. The concert will also be televised live on May 15.