Quentin Grant and Raymond Chapman Smith

The Firm Concert Archive: Reviews 2011 - 2014

Concert 1: July 21st 2014

Pianist Leigh Harrold shines in simple recital for The Firm

PIANO recitals are commonly considered to be occasions for pianists to flaunt their virtuosic credentials.

This recital was the opposite of the usual circus event; if anything, it was an exercise in anti-virtuosity.

Following The Firm’s theme for this year – the waltz – pianist Leigh Harrold started with the Blue Danube, not in an ornate version full of pianistic fripperies but in a simple version of the kind that would have been played by an amateur in a Viennese drawing room.

That set the tone for the evening, which ideally would have taken place in a drawing room or similar intimate space rather than the cavernous Elder Hall. Two sparkling little twelve-tone gems from Schoenberg and Webern followed, then Wolfgang Rihm’s imposing but restrained Landler, an austere and engrossing work.

The major new work was Winterklavier by Raymond Chapman Smith. Again the tone was intimate, reflective, nostalgic. These nine pieces inhabit a world of shadows and half-tones far removed from the harsh light of an Australian day, even a midwinter day.

Chapman Smith’s deep immersion in Viennese culture of centuries past has made it possible for him to evoke this long-distant world with utter conviction and naturalness. His lovingly crafted miniatures were played with great empathy and subtlety by Leigh Harrold.

After interval came Schubert’s lovely Valses Sentimentales, perfect companions Ravel’s Valse Nobles et Sentimentales.

The latter were the most demanding pieces on the program, but still avoid any gratuitous displays of technical prowess.

Leigh Harrold, being a consummate musician, revealed the luminous beauty of these unassuming works.

- Stephen Whittington, The Advertiser

Leigh Harrold has had a big week. First he goes and wins the Hugh D. T. Williamson Prize (first prize pianist) in the 2014 Mietta Song Competition, and then he stars in the first concert of the year for The Firm; the 102nd since inception.

Continuing to be the best value concert in town, The Firm’s stellar 2014 program unfolds over five concerts on the Elder Hall stage, sharing the common theme of “The Waltz”. As The Firm explores the dance most feared by wedding couples, the program of the season entrée had me and my two left feet fascinated.

Harrold opened with arguably the most famous waltz ever composed; Johann Strauss II’s, The Blue Danube, Op. 314. The piece André Rieu claims made him the man he is today, started almost in a whisper, and as Harrold started to whirl us around the room, he delighted by extracting beautiful anticipation from the spaces between the notes, and delivered subtleties that could be easily be missed with larger orchestration.

Harrold employed precision engineering to Arnold Schoenberg’s Walzer Op.23, No.5, and challenger in the battle-of-the-twelve-tone-row-pieces, Anton Webern’s Minuet, with the only clear winner being the audience.

From the “living composers” files, Wolfgang Rihm’s exquisite Ländler was performed with excellent clarity and contrast, and Raymond Chapman Smith, creator of the charming Winterklavier, was in attendance as Harrold beautifully delivered the show highlight of nine movements; from the hopeful Larghetto to the grand Andante molto e sostenuto.

Following interval, and with help of Franz Schubert’s Valses Sentimentales D.779, Harrold conjured visions of Austrian princes gliding about a ballroom clutching appropriately frilly-frocked prospects with plunging necklines. Ending big with Maurice Ravel’s fabulous Valses Noble et Sentimentales, the second movement, Assez lent – avec une expression intense stood out for Harrold’s interpretation delivering passion and power.

Watch Leigh Harrold’s star continue to rise; he has progressed to round two of the ANAM Concerto Competition and will perform Bartók Piano concerto no. 3 in Melbourne on 30 July. Chookas!

The Firm’s next waltz tutorial features The Robert Walser Ensemble; 18 August.

Get your dance card filled by The Firm at one or all of their remaining four shows in this series; and because you don’t need the moves like Jagger to attend, it’s as easy as one-two-three, one-two-three…

- Gordon Forester, Glam Adelaide

Concert 3: Sep 22nd 2014

Altogether now. ‘Away, away, away with me’ –in three-quarter time, of course.

From the lilting late nineteenth century oom-pah-pah of Johann Strauss and his dalliances in the Vienna woods, leaping forward to here-and-now local angles on Europe’s first full frontal social dance, back-tracking to hear why Chopin is known as the poet of the piano ¬– the versatility of The Waltz inspired admiration and some wonderment in The Firm’s third chapter in its readings about the form.

Moods. So many of them. In his twelve –part Marienbadklavier (2014) – yes, shades of the movie about last year there – Raymond Chapman Smith evoked intimacy (single lonely notes against gentle chords) , majestic grace, tenderness, alone and with vivacity and sang a gentle song. All were imbued with the solid grounding in classical traditions he is able to draw from without ever copying.

And scenes. Quentin Grant’s set of six matched sound pictures, Winter Star Waltzes (2014) went skating, sometimes on melting ice, under the infinite shining heavens. Fast, slow, secure, wobbly, dramatic, dreamy. One with lots of rubato, marked scorrevole ( it means sliding, rolling – I had to look it up). One open ended –what happened? A confident vivacious finale. No one fell over. Part seven, perhaps?

Young pianist Marianne Grynchuk is to be commended on her grit. Tackling a full program of all the above plus four mazurkas and five waltzes ¬– her Grande Valse Brilliante in E flat major op.18 dazzling, the Minute Waltz flashing by in the blinking of an eye – would be a tall order for one twice her age, and she scaled it with style and considerable force.

Not surprisingly, the Steinway got a bit twangy towards the end, having taken a walloping via Bartok on Saturday.

- Elizabeth Silsbury, The Advertiser

Concert 4: Oct 13th 2014

Emma Horwood and Alexandra Bollard a Firm favourite with their duets

DUETS these days tend to be reserved to opera stars dumbing down (and, it must be admitted, cashing up) in vast arenas, so it was a delight to hear selections from this important, but neglected, repertoire in The Firm’s latest concert.

Sopranos Emma Horwood and Alexandra Bollard, with Jamie Cock on the Steinway, presented a really attractive program, book-ended by superb examples of the duet form from that most masterly of lieder composers, Johannes Brahms. The Four Duets Op 61 (1874) and Five Duets Op. 66, published a year later, are wonderful pieces. They show the way in which Brahms lets the lyricism of the text shape the music, from the gentle wind in Die Boten der Liebe to the rolling waves of Am Strande. Both Horwood and Bollard gave heartfelt and intelligent performances.

Fauré’s Two Duets Op. 10 are heartfelt songs: the risqué Tarentelle must have raised an eyebrow or two in 1875. Satie’s Je te veux, a sentimental piece, was much enlivened by a welcome appearance of vibrato.

By way of local content, Quentin Grant’s new Two Sisters songs are very attractive, beautifully positioned for the voice. Raymond Chapman Smith’s Abendröse were a little more angular. Luke Altmann arranged two of two of his effective 2012 Echoes Prayers songs for voice and piano.

- Peter Burdon, The Advertiser

Schubertiade, Julius Schmid

Concert 1: A Schubertiade - May 27th 2013

Choral group The Firm delights with Schubert tribute

FOUR of Adelaide's most respected choristers and pianist Jamie Cock, together as 'The Firm', honoured Franz Schubert with 'Schubertiade', modeled on the informal musical get-togethers popular with the composer and his friends.

Soprano Emma Horwood (pictured), tenor Martin Penhale, Matthew Rutty and Timothy Marks gave well-prepared accounts of vocal solos, duets and quartets ranging from solemn affirmations of devout faith in Des Tages Weihe (Daily Blessing) and Gebet (Prayer) to longing love songs and a lively dance.

Jamie Cock has the true Schubert touch. In his accompaniments, he was at one with the singers' dynamics, ebbing and flowing naturally with the music.

His solos, two brackets of the six Moments Musicaux, were thoughtful, almost introspective. Each repeat brought new insights, as if a light was shining at a different angle.

Flashes of fire in the middle of the second, cheeky prancing for the third, a world of meaning in the open octaves that bring closure to the last of the set - not mere moments, these much loved pieces, but many minutes of substantial invention, intelligently and respectfully realised.

- Elizabeth Silsbury, The Advertiser

In 1996, four Adelaide composers joined forces to present concerts contemporary music, focussing on their own work. Initially their group was known by their four surnames but, as Chapman Smith, Kotlowy, Polglase and Grant sounded like a corporate body, they were soon nicknamed The Firm, and the name stuck. John Polglase and David Kotlowy eventually left the group and now composers and co-directors Raymond Chapman Smith and Quincy Grant continue to stage several chamber music concerts each year.

They no longer focus entirely on contemporary music and each year features a particular composer. For 2013 it is the Austrian composer, Franz Peter Schubert (31 January 1797 - 19 November 1828), one of the early composers of the Romantic period. In his short 32 years Schubert composed an enormous amount of music, including over 600 lieder (songs), nine symphonies, including his famous Symphony No. 8 in B minor, the Unfinished Symphony. He also wrote many chamber works, operas, pieces for piano, and much more.

This concert was performed by soprano Emma Horwood, male alto Matthew Rutty, tenor Martin Penhale, and bass Timothy Marks, accompanied by Jamie Cock on piano, who also played two solo works during the evening.

This superb concert opened with two vocal quartets Des Tages Weihe (Daily Blessing) D.763 from 1822 and Der Tanz (The Dance) D.826 from 1825. It was immediately apparent that the different timbre of a male alto gave the works a new perspective, a more homogenous sound when heard with the tenor and bass that seems to support the soprano voice, allowing it more freedom. Emma Horwood is one on Adelaide's most respected and popular sopranos and, with her supremely pure, resonant tone, she seemed to float and soar above that support in a way that I have not heard her before, when singing with the usual female alto voice included in a vocal group. The quartet paid great attention to the balance between the four voices and brought out the marvellous harmonies with clarity and precision.

Jamie Cock has established himself not only as a soloist, but as a most valuable accompanist, and his skills in observation and attention to the singers were very evident in this performance as he blended so beautifully with the singers, his approach to the songs perfectly matching theirs in style and intent.

This brought us to the first of the two solo piano performances, Moments Musicaux Op. 94 D.780 heft I, from 1826. This is the first in a set of six, and he played the second a little later in the concert. He managed to get right inside these short, but very imaginative and expressive three-movement pieces. His interpretations were richly rewarding for the audience, filled with emotion and capturing all of the Romanticism that one would hope for. Cock clearly understands Schubert's music and invested himself in it wholeheartedly.

Between the two piano pieces came a duet, Licht und Lieber (Nachtgesang) (Light and Love (Nocturne)) D.352, and a lieder, Gesänge aus "Wilhelm Meister" Op. 62 D.877, with text by the great German writer, Goethe. Schubert only wrote two duets and this one has tenor Martin Penhale singing the first verse, soprano Emma Horwood the second verse, and they share the third verse and coda. The lieder is based on Goethe's poem, Mignon and the Harper, and the first section is a duet between the two characters, with the remaining three sections given over to Emma Horwood, and what a marvellous rendition of these pieces she gave.

The concert closed with two more contrasting quartets, Gebet (Prayer) D.815, and Die Geselligkeit (Lebenslust) (Society (Pleasure in Life)) D.609, the first a liturgical piece, the second filled with fun and gaiety. Once again the balance within the quartet and with the piano was exemplary and the two very different moods, from the reverential to the joyous gave a fine ending to an excellent concert.

- Barry Lenny, Broadway World

Concert 2: Aug 5th 2013

Pianist Marianna Grynchuk celebrates Schubert with Adelaide chamber group The Firm

Composer Franz Schubert is a Firm favourite; his benign presence was strongly felt in this second of The Firm's five concerts this season.

No fewer than three of the five are devoted to solo piano repertoire and Marianna Grynchuk took charge of the first, with a sweeping program of Firm composers, book-ended of course by Schubert's music.

Schubert's charming little Ungarische Melodie set the program's tone with its gentle lilt and slight form.

These attributes, although recognisable, were greatly extended in Philip Glass's Metamorphosis 2, Raymond Chapman Smith's Untitled: Ultramarine and Quentin Grant's Cold Variations.

None of these works is recent - indeed Glass's Metamorphosis 2 is one of a group that has by now achieved popularity in the world of pianism, with others to feature in later Firm concerts this year.

Its translucent textures and amiable if somewhat plangent moodiness were given full rein in Grynchuk's interpretation, her small-scale elusive sonorities becoming something of a trademark throughout the evening.

Chapman-Smith's Untitled: Ultramarine dates from 1992 and comprises three steadily rising soundscapes, the first exploiting the piano's lowest registers in a visceral exploration of sonic depths. This mostly pianissimo work has undoubted latent power.

Complimentary but contrasting, Quentin Grant's Cold Variations (1988) offered a quite chillingly crystalline musical view of Samuel Beckett's Rockababy, the sotto voce minimalism providing listeners with an almost hypnotic sleepwalk through the poem.

Here was power of a very different sort.

- Rodney Smith, The Advertiser

Concert 3: Sep 2nd 2013

The Firm presents bumper program of Schubert at Elder Hall

The Firm (aka Quentin Grant and Raymond Chapman Smith) has long had a fascination with Viennese music, so the choice of Schubert as its posthumous composer-in-residence comes as no surprise.

And there is no one better qualified locally than Robert Macfarlane and Leigh Harrold to present Schubert as the greatest of all Lieder composers. On this occasion we got more Schubert than expected as the indisposition of soprano Kate Macfarlane led to a last-minute change, with selections from Schwanengesang replacing some of the scheduled program, including the premiere of Morgenstern Lieder by Grahame Dudley.

While one might regret the loss of some new works, it would be churlish to complain about having too much Schubert.

Harrold and Macfarlane have been performing Schubert together for years, and one can detect over that time an evolution in their approach to the music, towards a more vivid and at times almost melodramatic delivery. They certainly injected vitality, urgency and drama into the music. But when it came to the utterly beguiling simplicity and distilled lyricism of Wanderer's Night Song or Cradle Song, they wisely held back, letting the music speak for itself - which is more difficult than it sounds.

Leigh Harrold played Raymond Chapman Smith's elegiac Herbstklavier (Autumn Piano), a series of nine short pieces notable for their austere beauty and utter disdain of conventional virtuosity. With so much superficial cleverness and mindless technical display committed in the name of new music, Chapman Smith's restraint and seriousness of purpose are refreshing.

Harrold and Macfarlane also premiered three quarters of Quentin Grant's Rilke Lieder, settings in English of the great German poet, the translations alas doing little to convey the magical quality of the verse.

The songs had a kind of nervous intensity bordering on hysteria at times, creating an eerie, vaguely unsettling atmosphere.

- Stephen Whittington, The Advertiser

Music Review: The Firm 2013 – Concert 3

Franz Schubert, the Austrian composer whom The Firm have been honouring in their 2013 concert season, died at the young age of thirty-one. Despite his short life he managed to produce 10 symphonies, around 600 lieder and many other pieces of music. Schubert’s music, written almost 200 years ago, still manages to stir images and feelings in many.

The 3rd concert in 2013, and 99th overall since The Firm was founded, featured the talented Robert MacFarlane (tenor) and the equally skilled Leigh Harrold on piano. The concert was also to feature Robert’s wife Kate MacFarlane but, due to illness, she was not able to perform. While it would have been great to hear Kate MacFarlane singing soprano alongside her husband, especially in the songs that thematically demanded two voices. Robert MacFarlane did a wonderful job however of performing both sides, ecstasy and agony, seamlessly swinging back and forth between serenity and passion.

Schubert’s work is described well by Austrian pianist Alfred Brendel, through comparisons to one of Schubert’s near contemporaries. ‘Beethoven composes like an architect, Schubert like a sleepwalker.’ Listening to MacFarlane and Harrold’s performance of The Wanderer Cycle I found it quite easy to agree. As the wanderer travels by the moon’s light, through forests and over mountains, you can’t help but feeling you’re in a quite lovely dream. Harrold’s agile yet delicate piano playing and MacFarlane’s expressive tenor only add to the feeling that you are being drawn into a beautiful, twilit world. It hardly mattered that the verses were sung in German, the language barrier was overcome through the emotion and intensity of the performance.

Harrold’s solo performance of Herbstklavier by The Firm founder Raymond Chapman Smith was particularly absorbing. The pianist created a solemn atmosphere that hushed the audience and reminded us of the classical talent still with us.

Elder Hall was a perfect venue for such a performance. The fine hall has seen countless musicians before, from amateur students to the professionals seen tonight. As a show that was advertised as free for music students of the university, I was surprised to see so few attend. Perhaps this indicates modern attitudes to classical music. The meditative, romantic styles of the past may dissuade a fair few from attending such events, but it is important to give it a chance. In all honesty I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy such a performance but, by the end of the performance, I was rapt.

Although it suffered from the loss of Kate MacFarlane’s voice, The Firm’s 3rd concert of 2013 was a wonderful event that transported you from your seat to a beautiful world of music.

- James Rudd, Glam Adelaide

Two Men Contemplating the Moon, Caspar Friedrich

Concert 4: Oct 7th 2013

The Firm celebrates Schubert in 100th concert with pianist Clemens Leske

The Firm's practice of selecting one composer to honour in each of its 13 (and counting) annual series never paid off as well as in their 100th outing.

For a new music organisation to survive that long is in itself exceptional. To present a concert that lifts its already high standards to a new level is phenomenal.

This year's choice was Schubert, with pianist Clemens Leske. A perfect match.

Leske has it all - the true Schubert touch from brittle, even brutal, to caressing, and everything along the way.

Even more impressive is his sense of balance - between active and passive, developing and reflecting, tranquil and tumultuous, serious and playful - and that is just in the first movement of the Sonata in A major D 959.

For the second, Andantino, his Steinway sang the sweet little song that got bigger, shoved it aside for a wild middle section and brought it back to smooth things over. Under Leske's whiplash wrists the jokey staccato chords of the Scherzo were as crisp as popping corn; the echt Schubertian theme of the final Rondo was given its due, wherever it lay in the texture; the pauses and rests spoke their own language.

Curtain raisers by local composers paid their tributes, and their dues, to Schubert.

Quentin Grant's source for Schubert Variations was two of the composer's own waltzes, Anne Cawrse and Raymond Chapman Smith took their leads from poems, the former Time's Long Ruin by Edwin Muir, the latter W.G. Sebald's Nach der Natur (After Nature).

Metamorphosis Nos 1 and 3 by ring-in Philip Glass opened the door to The Firm's next concert on November 4 when Leigh Harrold will follow on with the fourth and fifth in Glass's cycle and reveal more Schubert marvels in the Sonata in B flat D 960.

- Elizabeth Silsbury, The Advertiser

Concert 5: Nov 4th 2013

Pianist Leigh Harrold solos for The Firm at Elder Hall

The Firm's final concert for this season featured pianist Leigh Harrold as soloist in his own right rather than in his customary role as associate artist.

And he certainly demonstrated that he has decidedly original views when he has the stage to himself.

Schubert's mighty final Sonata in B-flat D. 960 is a firm favourite the world over but is too often bathed in romantic hues with pedal to match, and a structure that hardly holds together. Harrold's view was more sternly classical with emphasis on the work's many composed silences and was crisply articulated, lithe and athletic.

Its many dance-like qualities shone through, the drama owed more to Beethoven than Chopin and we could hear every detail of its magnificently capacious design.

Phillip Glass's Metamorphosis 4 and 5 possess Schubert's crystalline piano qualities in minimalist form and Harrold's splendidly vital, energised view of No 4 with its unwavering pulsating left hand ostinato complemented its successor No 5 which incorporates more spaciously architectural material.

Mirroring these works, Raymond Chapman Smith's Over Your Cities Grass will Grow includes some Glassian features but frequently featured repeated opaque harmonies using the bass of the piano in a sustained but skilful pummelling that almost lifted the Elder Hall roof.

Silencing this storm Quentin Grant's Every Sunrise restored order and more conventional beauty in a melange of tonal delicacies that lifted the spirits.

They weren't, but the two works could have been made for each other.

- Rodney Smith, The Advertiser

Music Review: The Firm, Concert 5: Leigh Harrold

The Firm’s fifth, and final concert of the year, and the 101st since foundation, showcased Leigh Harrold’s piano awesomeness, and some pretty amazing compositions to a small, pensive crowd of enthralled enthusiasts.

Headlining with the next instalment in Philips Glass’ Metamorphosis Cycle (1988), numbers 4 and 5, Harrold sincerely conveyed the poignant beauty of this Franz Kafka and Errol Morris/Randall Day Adams influenced work. I love Metamorphosis so much; I was left wanting only because I did not attend the previous concert.

Raymond Chapman Smith’s Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow followed. The first movement, Traumraum, exposed a type of beauty; not fake-pretty, but intriguingly handsome. The subtleties weren’t lost on Harrold who delivered delicacy, with a sinister undertone; a hint of things to come.

By the second, Night Wave, I was so convinced of Chapman Smith’s evocative structure and transient nuance, and Harrold’s skill at conveying these, I seriously wondered if the former had orchestrated an ambulance to siren past half way through.

The third movement, Invisible Green, began with defiance perhaps at odds with Harrold’s gentle stage persona, but reconfirming his versatility and depth. Ending at an abysmal and resounding darkness, I compliment that it is only the very best artists who can make us question the boundaries of our highs and lows. Thank you, sort of.

Quentin Grant’s Every Sunrise was a surprising display of insight into things known and unknown, and cleverly conveyed the beauty and foreboding of every sunrise, neatly captured inside a crystal clear box, through which we were welcome to peer.

Harrold masterfully made this piece of exquisite beauty seem simple when we know, even in its minimalist vein, it could not possibly be. The seven movements pressed directionally, but I never wanted to reach the destination, instead pausing amongst the changing times and tempos to reflect on every sunrise.

The last piano sonata, written by Franz Schubert, Sonata in B-flat major, D.960 (1828), was handled masterfully by Harrold. In four movements, he progressed colourful harmonic excursions and sombre and choral melodies over animated accompaniments, to a jovial Scherzo, and finally the Allegro ma non troppo – Presto; a standout, with clashing rhythms and the juxtaposed minor fortissimo and major pianissimo eventually leading us back to the rondo. This all went to prove the enduring allure of the best of Romanticism, and Harrold’s place in the driving seat.

Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, and images by Gerhard Richter were thoughtfully included in the program, and complimented the well-considered evening.

The concert’s poor attendance was the only unpleasant thing about the evening. To have one of Australia’s best pianists performing compositions of this standard, (plus an “old classic”), plus post-game analysis with the performer and the composers (2/4), whilst sipping a complimentary wine and munching on delicious tortes… for $12/$7(!!!!), is the best value ticket ever.

P.S. If you are a music student, you could have attended FOR FREE. (Sad face, until 2014…)

- Gordon Forester, Glam Adelaide

Concert 3: Jul 30th 2012

A big risk, moving from cosy Pilgrim Church to the grander Elder Hall for The Firm's third concert of music which survived World War II concentration camps though its creators did not.

It paid off.

A major factor has been the appetite shown by our Gen Y musicians for new - and often strange - ways of putting notes together, however difficult, however initially incomprehensible those black dots might appear.

Leigh Harrold's piano was the anchor, his apparently inexhaustible technique and unfailing empathy for his partners the vital ingredient in their collaboration.

Emma Horwood is blessed with a lovely voice that sits naturally high and stays sweet and true. Viktor Ullman's Drei Jiddische Lieder carried effortlessly over the complex accompaniment, the edge subdued for the dreamy lass and her tralala song, more cutting for one denied the wedding she longed for.

The suffering of Leos Janacek was trivial compared with that of Ullmann, initially transported to the artistically sympathetic concentration camp at Theresienstadt and eventually gassed in the chambers at Auschwitz.

Throughout the 22 songs of Janacek's song-cycle, Diary of One Who Disappeared, Robert Macfarlane and Harrold held the hall in thrall.

Also from Theresienstadt, Ullmann's one-act opera, written in 1943 with libretto by Peter Kien, Der Kaiser von Atlantis was banned from performance in the camp because of perceived references to Hitler. Sally-Anne Russell and Macfarlane, with Kate Macfarlane, Horwood and Ali Stubberfield and the unsinkable Harrold gave a respectful and colourful account of the music.

On the bare Elder stage, the full impact of the dramatic battle between the Emperor and Death was indicated, rather than realised.

- Elizabeth Silsbury, The Advertiser

Seashore in Moonlight, Caspar Friedrich

Concert 1: Jun 20th 2011

A darker tone

With storm and tempest bearing down upon the city, Pilgrim Church was a warm and welcome retreat, even if much of The Firm’s first concert for 2011 was on the dark side.

But spade-loads of Mahler will do that for you.

The Mahler in question was the collection of nine songs known as Die Knaben Wunderhorn.

It’s a big sing, placing substantial vocal and emotional demands on the performer.

Settings run the gamut, such as the beautiful Primeval Light with its echoes of the Fourth Symphony, the dramatic Where the Shining Trumpets Sound, or the darkness of Life on Earth. Normally sung by a male voice, Mahler himself allowed a certain amount of licence, with female voice and duet arrangements known.

For this, soprano Greta Bradman and tenor Robert Macfarlane shared the duties. Both have beautiful voices, and Bradman was in enviable form, especially in the lower register.

Firm founders Raymond Chapman Smith and Quentin Grant made contributions. The first performance of Grant’s set of five songs, The Lost Boy (and why the forest burned) was very successful.

Accompanying was the ever-impressive Leigh Harrold, who also contributed a diverting account of Wolfgang Rihm’s expressionist Ländler.

- Peter Burdon, The Advertiser

Concert 2: Aug 15th 2011

AMAZING how much music you can pack into one hour. Every song from tenor Robert Macfarlane and pianist Leigh Harrold conveyed such depth of meaning, such intensity of feeling, it seemed a series of little journeys had been taken.

The horizontal time factor was multiplied many times over by the vertical as they worked through the Firm's pattern of new and old music.

Macfarlane's ability to tell a good story continues to develop. Four Morike Songs by Hugo Wolf spoke of love for an earthly angel, for a harp (Harrold strumming), for a sad butterfly who will never live to wear her yellow dress, for sweet sleep.

Adelaide's Luke Altmann composed The Departure for Macfarlane and Harrold. Adapted from a short story by Kafka, it broods with undefined threats a man must go away, we know not why, but trumpets are calling through spine-chilling, Erl King-like accompaniment and fear-filled songlines between servant and master.

As Macfarlane's range extends downwards, and his quality darkens, the top notes become richer and more secure.

He was at his most expressive in the final bracket, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Gustav Mahler's sorrowful songs of a wanderer seeking solace. The agonies of this poor lost soul, beyond comfort from chirping birds and beautiful blue flowers, suffering pain as though from a red-hot knife in his breast, were conveyed with musical and intellectual maturity well beyond the singer's chronological years.

From Firm founders, Raymond Chapman-Smith's Nachtlandler, a set of 11 poetic miniatures for piano solo, mood-swinging between darkness and twilight, and Four Ruckert Songs by Quentin Grant - uncharacteristically bottom-heavy accompaniments all but obliterated the poetry's images.

- Elizabeth Silsbury, The Advertiser

Concert 3: Sep 5th 2011

TWO excellent young pianists, Coady Green and Leigh Harrold, combined forces for a program of music for the rather neglected medium of piano duo - two pianists at one piano.

It was a pity the piano wasn't a better one, as the rather harsh tone of the instrument in question caused what should have been merely emphatic playing to descend into brutality at times.

Both pianists did display delicacy and refinement when the instrument allowed them.

It's strange that The Firm's dead composer in residence (the only safe kind probably) is Gustav Mahler - strange because this concert series depends heavily on the piano, where Mahler is at his weakest.

The piano duo version of Night Music from the Seventh Symphony cannot be considered a real concert piece.

It's a great piece to play for personal enjoyment, even for friends, but nearly everything that is great about Mahler disappears when his richly hued orchestration is removed.

What remains sounds trite and not even the skill of Green and Harrold could rescue it.

Schubert came off best on the evening with his symphonically scaled Allegro in A minor, full of melodic invention and harmonic detours, superbly played.

Moto Perpetuo by Anne Cawrse received its first performance, which revealed an exuberant and colourful work with plenty for the pianists to work on.

In contrast, Luke Altmann's new work, Sketch, was spare and enigmatic but developed its intriguing premise in an interesting way.

- Stephen Whittington, The Advertiser

Concert 5: Nov 7th 2011

Gustav Mahler, The Firm's subject of homage for this year, would not have been displeased with the tributes offered to him in the shape of brand new pieces from dedicated disciples.

Benjamin Betelli, a newcomer to the ranks of Firm composers, started the program with Scherzo (2011) for piano quintet, a frisky mix of jazz, Latin American and classical idioms, wrapped into a tidy package and played con brio by the Langbein String Quartet and Marianna Grynchuk.

Luke Altmann's enigmatic words about thin films and bubbles echoed through his well-structured Nocturne no 5 (2011) for string quartet.

A legato line passed from Rosie McGowran's throbbing viola around the two violins and cello, betimes caressed by drifting clouds and pizzicatos. Both wishful and wistful, and dreamy and lovely, as a nocturne should be.

Complaints about composers who make too much soup from too few bones cannot be levelled at Quentin Grant. Back to the world of rhythm and movement for his gypsy-flavoured Dances from Kalischt (2011) for piano quintet, celebrating peasant shenanigans in Mahler's birthplace.

Of the five succinct knees-ups, with especially smart writing and playing from the piano, three said their piece and stopped. Two suggested there was more to say, but stopped anyway.

The way back to the final work, Mahler's Piano Quartet in A minor (1876), was smoothed by the late romantic tinges of Raymond Chapman Smith's Divertimento no 4 (2011) for string quartet.

Although still a student, Mahler showed he already was a master in this always purposeful, always moving on, always insisting on attention single movement, adopting and adapting the best practices of Brahms in grand piano scoring and substantial strings.

Langbein revelled in its lush lines; Grynchuk was the very essence of a compleat chamber pianist, knowing instinctively when to front up, when to back off. Very rare, that.

- Elizabeth Silsbury, The Advertiser

Concert 6: Nov 28th 2011

Tenor Robert Macfarlane and pianist Leigh Harrold provided power, presence and passion aplenty in this lieder recital, The Firm's last concert of the present series. Both are intelligent musicians with more than their fair share of performing talent, yet are still youthful enough to be absorbing and developing new skills as they go.

The elevated emotions of Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte and Schubert's Schwanengesang held no terrors for them as their carefully crafted and strongly projected performances demonstrated.

The subtle, constant character changes throughout the Beethoven provide an Olympian challenge for younger artists and Macfarlane's admirable objectivity during its first numbers, changing to greater involvement towards its noble conclusion, was a joy.

Harrold's management of Schubert's accompaniment effects, colours and contrasts provided more than just the backdrop for Macfarlane's often passionate and always empathetic interpretations of the composer's mesmerising vocal lines.

Both artists not only immersed themselves in the lighter expressive romanticism of the seven Rellstab songs but also carved out the drama of the following Heine numbers with strength and conviction.

Their intense Der Atlas, static focused Ihr Bild and angst-ridden Die Stadt paved the way for the final bitter moments of Der Doppelganger, which will remain in many listeners' minds for some time.

- Rodney Smith, The Advertiser