Musical Kin (Newcastle Music Festival, Twilight Musical Dialogues)
A sublime concert featuring soprano Miriam Allan and her pianist father Christopher, with flautist Sally Walker.
Adamstown Uniting Church, Newcastle
Reviewed on August 9, 2019
by Charissa Ferguson on August 10, 2019
Extraordinary things happen when families make music together. That common heart beat established in a musical flow state is amplified by shared traits, genetic tendencies and common histories. Musical families can anticipate the next melodic gesture, echo an unspoken nuance and radiate the shared joy of harmony.
Such was the magic of watching acclaimed soprano Miriam Allan join with her father Christopher on piano on Friday night, delighting in each other’s musical space. Separated for years as Miriam has established her family and career in England, the duo was reunited for a sublime performance in the Twilight Musical Dialogues series, joined by series curator and flautist Sally Walker.
Sally Walker. Photo by Keith Saunders
For three years this artfully-prepared concert series has shared exceptional chamber music with regional audiences, presenting internationally-renowned musicians such as Tamara-Anna Cislowska, Elena Kats-Chernin, Sally Whitwell, Aiko Goto, Simon Tedeschi and Clemens Leske. Joined in each concert by local young musicians, these artists share their craft as well as their histories and observations in delightful interviews interspersed throughout the performances. This extraordinary performance series has come to a close with Friday’s concert, as Sally Walker migrates her talent and art to Canberra, for her position at the ANU School of Music.
Musical Kin paired works written by musical families, the Mozarts, Mendelssohns, Schumanns and Bachs, so neatly curated it was a delight to experience. The program began with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s aria L’Amero saro costante from Il re pastore K.208. Miriam Allan’s magnificent soprano lines danced with Walker’s flute obligato, her joyous crescendos opening up like sunrise to sing of unwavering and precious love. Supported by a deft touch from Christopher on piano, the work ended with a masterful cadential duet between flute and soprano, each exchanging pedal points for soaring melodic lines, displaying artistry of the highest order.
Following a welcoming narrative from Walker, underscored by Christopher Allan’s gentle piano offerings from Nannerl’s Notebook, father and daughter joined to present three lieder by Fanny Hensel (nee Mendelssohn), Nach Süden, Vorwurf and Bergeslust (Op.10). Miriam delighted in performing these works, and was spellbinding in her narrative even with a German text. Beginning with jaunty innocence, the work took a dramatic turn in the second piece, where her melancholy cries rang out like a candle in the darkness. Miriam’s crystal timbre took on a pious poignancy, supporting stunning suspensions and incredibly-controlled pianissimo phrases. Christopher shared a sensitive piano complement to these elegant works, beautifully shaped with rubato and dynamic tensions.
Christopher then presented Felix Mendelssohn’s piano work Song without Words (Op.53) No. 19 in A-flat major with the perceptive touch of a highly-accomplished baritone soloist, as he is also known. Here he allowed the melodic songs to rise and glow through well-controlled inner voices and delicate bass lines.
Eighteen-year-old pianist Elliot Kozary joined the ranks of the fortunate group of talented musicians who have been invited to share the stage with a wealth of international artists over the years. Kozary presented Clara Schumann’s Nocturne in F major (Op.6 No.2), an evocative delivery beginning with a subtle crescendo rising like a dark moon under a reflective melody. His elegantly-shaped phrases full of subtle tension and release revealed many different scenes – midnight dances, conflicts, resolutions – both effortless and masterful.
Rounding out the Schumann pairing was Robert Schumann’s Romanze (Op. 94 No. 2) from Walker and Christopher Allan; a heartfelt duet between flute and piano. Walker’ dark, well-supported tone was a suitable choice for this study in harmonic colour, folding fluently through Allan’s shadowy rolling piano lines. The performers led a journey through light and shade, presenting tense angular melodies before turning corners into superb elongated phrases, held up by Walker’s exceptional breath support and controlled legato like a sustain pedal.
A concert of musical kin would not be complete without an offering from the Bachs, with Miriam returning to perform the aria Ich habe genug from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata (BWV82). Translated as “I have enough” or “I am content”, this piece was a fitting choice to celebrate the final concert of an era. In this arrangement, Walker’s dark flute tone developed a cello-like quality, working as accompanist with the piano, creating a beautiful foil for Allan’s bell-like tones. Other times roles were reversed, with Walker taking solo lines against Allan’s pedal notes and stunning suspensions. With Christopher’s gentle timekeeping, their phrases were ribbons, rising and falling in graceful curls, then stopping to pause. A sense of musical contentment carried their sentiment: this is enough.
Johann Christoph Bach’s Sonata No. 1 for Flute and Obligato Continuo in D minor provided the opportunity for Allan to dazzle on piano, in this unique piece featuring instrumental recitative. Calling again on his implied vocal talents to deliver speech-like piano melodies, he deftly delivered, then passed the melody to Walker who flitted with a glittering brightness.
The final piece on the program was a witty and joyous celebration, Sir Henry Rowley Bishop’s Lo! Here the gentle Lark. Beginning with Walker’s polished virtuosic flute solo, met by Allan’s gorgeous coloratura style, their delicious ornamented notes evoked the namesake Lark, flashing about the space. The absolutely sublime performance climaxed with a breathtaking cadenza in duet from Allan and Walker, bringing the audience to their feet in celebration.
A surprise encore saw the stage filled with many of the past Featured Young Artists, including Zachary Yoshinaga Donoghoe (clarinet), Christopher Pantelidis (oboe), Tobias Reimann (cello), Benjamin Crosby (cello) and special guest Dr Kim Cunio (percussion), drawn back together by Walker as a veritable Pied Piper. They each featured in a role in Arcangelo Corelli’s La Folia variations, full of spirit and promise.
By the audience response, Newcastle is indeed sad to farewell Sally Walker: flautist, teacher, lecturer and concert visionary.