Quentin Grant and Raymond Chapman Smith

The Firm Concert Archive: Reviews 2015 - 2017

Concert 1: Jun 26th, 2017

'Pianist Michael Ierace displays Firm grasp on the familiar and the fresh'

The Advertiser, June 29, 2017

Pianist Michael Ierace THE Firm’s first concert for 2017 once again presented the old alongside the new.

The program was bookended by works of J.S. Bach, opening with one of his keyboard partitas, followed by the second cello suite, and closing with an arrangement of the chorale Vor deinen Thron tret’ ich.

Pianist Michael Ierace showed much sensitivity and control in the slower movements of the partita, but the two menuets were a little overpedalled for the taste of this reviewer.

It was refreshing to hear cellist Simon Cobcroft perform the suite with very little vibrato, and this highlighted his impeccable intonation and tonal control.

Although Vor deinen Thron tret’ ich is a beautiful piece of music, it was an odd choice for the final work of the concert, and its inclusion in the program didn’t seem necessary

At the centre of the program were works by three local composers: Anne Cawrse, Quentin Grant, and Raymond Chapman Smith.

Cawrse’s Fragmentation for Piano was based on a poem by Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. This work comprised three movements: the first, Before, featured dance-like, syncopated rhythms, while the second, During, was incredibly atmospheric, with delicate gestures in the opening, and intricate, treble textures as the movement progressed.

The final movement, After, included many poignant dissonances, evoking a sense of reverie.

Chapman Smith’s Glasperlenklavier was a set of 13 miniatures for piano. This was heavily romantic in style, with rich textures throughout.

Grant’s Knock on the Door for cello and piano referred to an excerpt from a letter of Virginia Woolf. The composer interpreted the concept of knocking quite literally, with both performers playing percussive rhythms on their instruments throughout the work.

- Melanie Walters

Concert 3: Oct 31st, 2016

'Mekhla Kumar plays works for solo piano for The Firm at Elder Hall'

The Advertiser, Nov 1, 2016

Pianist Mekhlar Kumar ADELAIDE’S own Mekhla Kumar once again delighted The Firm’s audience with a program of new and old works for solo piano.

This concert was part of The Firm’s Posthumous Composer in Residence series, which draws connections between music of earlier periods and contemporary classical music. This year’s featured posthumous composers are 20th Century Russian Alfred Schnittke and Italian baroque musician Domenico Scarlatti.

While the stylistic link between Schnittke’s Three Preludes and the contemporary works in the recital was obvious, the four Scarlatti sonatas seemed somewhat out of place in this program. Kumar’s performance of these works, however, was quite charming. Her rendition of the Sonata in C Major K. 159 was particularly delightful in its exuberance.

One might be forgiven for mistaking Raymond Chapman Smith’s Sternenfall of 2016 for one of the older works on the program. This work was heavily romantic in style, with lyrical melody lines and rich harmonies.

The influence of romanticism was also clear in Quentin Grant’s Zirkusvolk, a set of miniatures depicting various fictional and factual stories of circus life.

Adelaide composer Jakub Jankowski’s Les Commandements du Catéchisme du Conservatoire added an element of humour to the concert. This engaging work for speaking pianist was based on the nine commandments to music students attributed to Eric Satie, which the pianist spoke, shouted, and whispered while playing. Despite some balance problems between the voice and the piano, Kumar’s interpretation of this work was quite effective.

The final work on the program, Alexander Scriabin’s Sonata No. 9, allowed Kumar to demonstrate both her impressive technique and her musical sensitivity.

- Melanie Walters

'Expertise and eclecticism on Firm foundations'

The Australian, Nov 2nd, 2016

Pianist Mekhlar Kumar It might just be coincidence, but Adelaide has a handful of fabulous young pianists at present. One thinks of Konstantin Shamray, Ashley Hribar and Marianna Grynchuk to name but three.

The newest one to watch, and in many ways the most dynamic of all, is Mekhla Kumar. Her on-stage presence is unassuming, but with Liszt, Rachmaninov and Scriabin she is a force to be reckoned with: in big piano literature she plays with abundant, forward-moving energy and an uncanny absence of strain.

She was tested more than ever before in a highly eclectic concert curated by two Adelaide composers, Quentin Grant and Raymond Chapman Smith who together make up the Firm, a new music outfit that makes a point in its programming of juxtaposing music of the present with music of centuries ago – with illuminating if sometimes bizarrely interesting results.

Kumar’s first assignment was a clutch of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, amusingly named as one of the Firm’s “Posthumous Composers in Residence” for 2016. These were unremarkable except for the opening “recently discovered”, very slow-moving Sonata in G minor.

One wished for more details about this piece’s provenance in the program notes, since claims of newly found Scarlatti sonatas have frequently been met with scepticism by scholars.

More intriguing were Chapman Smith’s Sternenfall (Star fall) and Grant’s Zirkusvolk (Circus folk), both for the strange poly-stylistic beauty of these works and the way they seemed to inspire Kumar to give of her best. Steeped in sonorous Brahmsian textures and a cryptic but passionate underlying melancholia, Sternenfall seemed to obey 19th-century praxis and modern sensibility at the same time.

Zirkusvolk roamed further imaginatively, creating beautifully clownish figures of tumblers and jugglers and drawing on Kafka-esque imagery of the marginalised artist. Playfully mock serious at times, it portrayed a mouse scuttling over the piano’s highest keys.

Kumar can play with thunderous force when called to do so. Young Adelaide composer Jakub Jankowski has written an humorous showstopper called Les Commandements du Catechisme du Conservatoire, which has Satie poking fun at Debussy via a deliberate flouting of the latter’s supposed rules of composition. Reciting Satie’s ridiculing words into a microphone while she played, Kumar launched a blistering rampage at the piano, culminating in hand slaps up and down the keyboard.

Journeys into the netherworld in Schnittke’s piano preludes and Scriabin’s Sonata No. 9, Op 68 (The Black Mass) took this concert into yet further stylistic reaches. In total command throughout, Kumar made wonderful sense of a program that one feels would have floored most other pianists.

- Graham Strahle

Concert 2: Sept 12th, 2016

'Konstantin Shamray’s rare talent clearly evident for The Firm 2016 series'

The Advertiser, Sept 14, 2016

Pianist Konstantin Shamray IT’S a commonplace that pianist Konstantin Shamray is a rare talent and never has this been more clearly evident than in an extraordinary solo recital in The Firm’s 2016 concert series.

The Firm’s composers of the year Domenico Scarlatti and Alfred Schnittke, span three centuries. Shamray was at consummate ease in both, dashing off three of the former’s 555 (yes!) keyboard sonatas with baroque finesse then reducing the Steinway to harmonic destitution in the devastating Schnittke Sonata No. 3 from 1998.

The Schnittke was perhaps unkindly shorn of two of its four movements, but the half we had was in any case solidly representative of this challenging but persuasive work.

A happy pairing was to be had in Grahame Dudley’s 2006 Three Piano Pieces up against Peter Maxwell Davies’ moving Farewell to Stromness. Dudley, his student in the sixties, wrote movingly in a program note of their meeting last year, shortly before Max’s death, when after a characteristically fine meal, no doubt buoyed with South Australian red, he went to the piano to play this very piece.

Quentin Grant’s Winter Star Waltzes in six movements provided further contrast, while Raymond Chapman Smith’s substantial Akhmatova Park was second Viennese to the core.

Shamray was magisterial in the explosive, expansive Piano Sonata No. 3 by Nikolai Myaskovsky, full of emotion in the immediate aftermath of the 1917 Revolution, and arguably pessimistic about the future. But what a piece, and what a performance.

- Peter Burdon

Concert 1: July 6th 2015

Marianna Grynchuk keeps a firm hand with dexterous display on piano

Pianist Marianna GrynchukLocal pianist Marianna Grynchuk continues her rapid rise through the ranks with a solo recital to launch The Firm’s 2015 season.

Winner of the 2014 Emerging Artist Award from the Adelaide Critics Circle for a glistening Chopin recital, this time Brahms was the star of the show.

The 1872 Hungarian Dances is a wonderfully inventive set of 21 pieces based on lively folk tunes, from which Grynchuk selected three.

Originally conceived for four hands, and arranged by the composer for just two, the dexterity required of the solo performer can readily be imagined.

The very first number, in G minor, is a case in point, where a solid, moving foundation is decorated by cascading chords in the right hand, very difficult at speed.

In this and the others, including the famous No. 5 in F sharp minor, Grynchuk was right up to the challenge, technically if not yet temperamentally, but that will come.

The recital was bookended with the very fine Vier Clavierstücke Op. 119, Brahms’s last works for piano, and was equally impressive, from the almost impressionistic wash of the first Intermezzo to the heroic Rhapsodie.

In between, The Firm co-founders Raymond Chapman Smith and Quentin Grant contributed works of their own.

Chapman Smith’s new set of 14 miniatures under the title Ischlklavier are natty (if not a bit nutty) for omitting every cadence, while Grant’s 1992 Essays & Meditations is a fine piece, given a fine performance.

- Peter Burdon, The Advertiser

Concert 2: Sept 21st, 2015

'Interestingly written works insightfully interpreted'

Pianist Ashley Hribar The Firm’s concerts always challenge, but perhaps this program tested listeners’ limits too far with the entire first half occupied by works that demanded intense listening and often didn’t rise much above pianissimo.

Brahms is the flavour of the year for this series and unsurprisingly The Firm’s two composer hosts Raymond Chapman Smith and Quentin Grant each provided an item imbued with the great man’s musical outlook. Both Chapman Smith’s solo piano Vorgesänge and Grant’s Nocturne in C sharp minor for cello and piano bathed in the most delicate romantic colourations, Chapman Smith’s most directly Brahmsian and Grant’s exploring the piano’s bell-like upper registers set against broader cello tones. These interestingly written works found enthusiastic insightful interpreters in Rachel Johnston and Ashley Hribar whose sotto-voce performances induced a seance-like atmosphere.

But with Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel with its tiny sonic whispers and trademark tintinnabulation it all became too much of a good thing. Wonderful music though it is, when placed next to sonic sound-alikes the magic starts to pall.

After interval thankfully decibel levels increased with Brahms’ evergreen Sonata in E minor that moves from gentle dialogue through autumnal moodiness to big-scale counterpoint. Johnston and Hribar were wonderfully empathetic, providing ample depth and meaning that might have reached truly great heights with a little more spaciousness. But time is on the side of these youthful musical treasures.

- Rodney Smith, The Advertiser

Concert 3: Oct 5th 2015

'Langbein Quartet - Michael Milton Emily Perkins, Rosi McGowran, David Sharp with Mekhla Kumar - deliver another gem'

Pianist Mekhla Kumar The Langbein Quartet, Michel Milton and Emily Perkins (violins), Rosi McGowran (viola) and David Sharp (cello) named for Brenton, surely among the most distinguished and most memorable of Adelaide’s musical progeny, along with pianist Mekhla Kumar, were the current chain in the link between The Firm and Johannes Brahms, chosen for salutations in 2015.

In its nearly twenty years of promoting the cause of new compositions by local, often young, composers, the Firm has delivered some gems.

This time, Invocation by Jakob Jankowski shone with a warm inner glow and occasionally sparkled.

A blessedly brief quotation led to the ‘Unseen’ that comes with darkness. Just this one clue was plenty to keep us fully engaged from the opening ploy – strings inside the piano plucked and strummed by Mekhla Kumar, through her super resonant single notes and full bodied partnership with the Langbein String Quartet and on to patches of vocalise so subtle that it seemed our ears were playing tricks with us – were their vocal cords vibrating along with their strings, or was the weird sound clever instrumentation? Voices, it was, and mysteriously beautiful too. Kumar’s final internal strum was left to linger awhile before the spell evaporated.

Raymond Chapman Smith paid homage to one of his favourite composers with deft transcriptions for piano quintet of Brahms at his most introspective, Five Chorale Preludes, of twelve written for organ as his swansong. Wisely no attempt was made to simulate the organ, but Sharp’s cello often suggested pedal notes. A gentle echo shared the great Romantic’s sadness in O Welt, ich muss dich Lassen.

More homage from Chapman Smith to Brahms, Mozart, Schubert and anyone else who has written in this form. The Langbeins were at ease with his Divertimento no 6 (2015), scored so that the parts were closely related but gave off an air of independence. Their final curtsey was elegant and ever so slightly funny.

Quentin Grant’s Oceans for Piano Quintet left us wondering – and wandering in a sea of words by Andrei Tarkovksy philosophising about life, death and trees.

Finally, and very welcome, the real deal Brahms, the Rondo alla Zingarese for piano trio op 25. The violin, viola, cello and piano ripped into the zingy bouncing rhythms and yearning melodies of about six different dances as though let off a leash. Not echt Hungarian? Not even genuine gypsy? So what? Who cares? Listen to a composer who knows what it means to let the music speak for itself.

- Elizabeth Silsbury, The Advertiser

Concert 4: Nov 2nd 2015

'The Firm’s Emma Horwood, Alexandra Bollard and Marianna Grynchuk and composers’ works had everyone under their spell'

Emma Horwood, Alexandra Bollard and Marianna Grynchuk It was pretty unfair for The Firm composers Raymond Chapman Smith and Quentin Grant to assail us with so much musical sweetness and schmaltz from 19th-century middle Europe.

It was all ultra-persuasive and we had little choice but to succumb.

The musical and visual blandishments of sopranos Emma Horwood and Alexandra Bollard with pianist Marianna Grynchuk, a triple threat as it were, worked wonders when coupled with Brahms and Dvorak at their most enticing and resulted in something akin to The Firm’s answer to Swoon. And of course the concert finished with Brahms’ Lullaby.

But hidden amongst the lush harmonies of high romanticism lay two works from Chapman Smith and Grant themselves that merged absolutely seamlessly with their surroundings.

In fact Chapman Smith’s Little Book of Songs (2015) to words by Heine provided some of his best music of the 2015 series.

He has so completely absorbed the Brahms style that he was able to convey his own message even though idiomatic key shifts and figuration, sepia regret and reminiscence were all recognisable as trademark Brahms.

- Rodney Smith, The Advertiser

Schubertiade, Julius Schmid