Quentin Grant and Raymond Chapman Smith

The Firm Concert Archive: Reviews 2015 - 2023

Concert 1: July 24th, 2023

Marianna GrynchukMusic review: The Firm presents Marianna Grynchuk

Broadway World, July 25th 2023

The Firm's mission to turn the course of contemporary art music found intriguing success in the hands of Adelaide's returning pianist Marianna Grynchuk with a performance in the remarkable setting of the North Adelaide Baroque Hall.

Pianist Marianna Grynchuk had the audience in thrall at the North Adelaide Baroque Hall.

It once used to be that "new music" concerts were boldly experimental affairs, with composers on a mission to challenge (and taunt) audiences with anything beyond the familiar or remotely connected with tradition. What invigorating experiences they were – though the music itself often made you want to duck for cover.

My goodness how times have changed. Out of the nebulous, directionless post-avant-garde scene of the 1990s emerged The Firm, a distinctive Adelaide composer outfit that have made it their business to chart a 180-degree in contemporary art music. Led by Quentin (Quincy) Grant and Raymond Chapman Smith, they characteristically embrace the mellow, reassuring hues of 19th-century romantic piano music, chamber music and Lied in a hope that this will be composition's future.

After quietly plying their craft for years, The Firm have declared their colours even more openly by relocating to the North Adelaide Baroque Hall (having mainly used Pilgrim Church and Elder Hall in the past). In this "new" venue, their transformation is complete: inside this remarkable replica of an ornate European rococo chamber they presented a salon concert such as Robert Schumann or Johannes Brahms would have recognised it.

One really needs to set foot inside to appreciate what this Baroque Hall is all about, but suffice to say it is just as perfect a home for gut strings and harpsichords as it is for the kind of music The Firm produces.

Marianna Grynchuk was their first performer for 2023 in a concert entitled The Fantasie. A marvellous Adelaide pianist making her return after many years in Switzerland, she is in truth more accustomed to playing standard repertoire than new music. But so much the better, considering what she was asked to play: recent pieces by Grant and Chapman Smith, along with others by Ukrainian composer Valentyn Silvestrov and Baroque Hall's designer and owner, Julian Cochran.

In their subtly different ways, all these pieces were echoes of a distant past, eerily so given that they come from the 21st century.

Every sunrise by Grant was unique among them in suggesting visual imagery and states of moods as Romantic poetry might. Its six "scenes" each generated a different imaginative picture through their closely formed repeating rhythms. It sounded like a freed-up reinterpretation of minimalism (think: Glass, Reich) but enriched by warm harmonies and finishing affirmatively with a simple old-fashioned major chord.

Grynchuk played this lovely work with unaffected grace; and the piano itself sounded well: pearly and even in tone but for a somewhat recessed bass register.

Chapman Smith travels on a different but parallel path, whereby he invokes the great Romantic and pre-modern masters by incorporating signposts in their music inside his own epigrammatic designs. It is as if Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms magically reappear, but in a ghostly, spectral way.

Bergseeklavier Teil I is a case in point. This 14-movement album piece sounds Brahmsian in its resonant chordal sonorities and roaming melodic phraseology; and its harmonic progression is sometimes reminiscent of Schubert. At times you hear also Chopin, and even a theme from Richard Strauss's Eine Alpensinfonie materialises – the lush string melody "On Flowering Meadows". These references are all there to admire but are frozen in time and tinged with nostalgia, particularly with the sensitivity and understanding that Grynchuk was able to bring.

With Cochran's Fantasia No. 7 – Sul Settimo it was as if all three composers had converged on the same ground. He, too, shares in a back-to-the-future vision, the difference being that this ex-Adelaide composer takes on more of the overtly emotional directness of Romantics such as Chopin. A concert pianist himself, he knows all about their grand rhetorical style and is able to recreate it in his own compositions. At the same time, this proved an alluringly lavish but mysterious piece of its own. Grynchuk, clearly an exponent of big pianism, seized on it commandingly.

What a glorious confection this concert was turning out to be. A real surprise came, though, with Silvestrov's Zwei Dialoge mit Nachwort. Here again allusions to Chopin but accompanied by experimental effects as well. Later in this piece, the pianist is required to reach inside the piano to pluck low notes: this came as a bizarre, incongruous shock, but a reminder that modernism has not yet been completely outlawed.

For much of this concert, one felt caught in a timewarp – intriguing but disturbing. It all came to a head in the last item, Liszt's Après une lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata ("Dante Sonata"), one of the piano repertoire's most thunderous and titanic creations. The piece itself has one utterly in its thrall if played well, and Grynchuk delivered all its glories with sensational technique and fully magnified expression. She is a true Lisztian, and a pianist Adelaide must hear again on future occasions.

One might have imagined the Baroque Hall would be barely big enough to cope with Liszt's extremes of dynamics, but it did. But it also made you question which century we are living in. Such, perhaps, is the novelty of new music concerts these days.

- Graham Strahle

Concert 1: Aug 23rd, 2021

Arnold Schoenberg 'THE FIRM: 2021 NO. 1; STRING QUARTETS, NEW AND OLD'

Broadway World, August 28th 2021

Delayed, but worth waiting for.

The Firm, that enterprising bunch of local composers, have made a late start to their 2021 season of chamber music in the Elder Hall with String Quartets, New and Old. Of the 127 concerts that they have presented over the years, this is the first that has had be cancelled and rescheduled. It was well worth the wait.

The quartet was brought together especially for this event, and the rescheduling required the replacement of violinist, Belinda McFarlane, with Belinda Gehlert, who took her place alongside Helen Ayres, violin, Martin Alexander, viola, and Sharon Grigoryan, 'cello.

Haydn, they say, taught Mozart how to write a string quartet. Mozart, they add, taught Haydn how a string quartet should be written. From that day to this, the string quartet, of two violins, viola, and 'cello, has provided composers with the opportunity to create great music, and audiences to enjoy the form for its emotional depth and breadth of expression.

Indeed, Musica Viva, one of the world's most enterprising concert giving organizations, sprang from the desire of European migrants post-war to enjoy the musical lives that they had been forced to leave behind in Germany and Austria.

There were three works by local composers on the program, two of them from British women, and three more by masters of the form. Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Hannah Kendall are both black women and take very different approaches to what is, after all, quite an imperialist art form, even if that empire is the Austro-Hungarian.

Witter-Johnson blends the sounds of bento, a Jamaican folk style, with the instruments of the quartet, loosening the relationship between the instruments, and giving 'cellist, Sharon Grigoryan, the chance to show off her percussion skills, beating out the rhythms on her instrument.

Hannah Kendall is much more politically direct. Her work is entitled Glances/I Don't Belong Here. The seven miniatures are inspired by what she calls her "most cherished non-urban settings". They are also inspired by British-Guyanese artist Ingrid Pollard's series of photos of black British subjects in the Lake District. That sense that black people are not indigenous to the English countryside, not comfortable there, not welcome there, is one of the factors that has over the last few years made it the mission of the National Trust to encourage Britain's urban black population to travel to the countryside of the green and pleasant land.

The program then returned to the classic tradition of the quartet with Stelae for String Quartet, by Raymond Chapman-Smith, one of the founders of The Firm. It's a memorial piece for W. G. Sebald, a German born writer whose early death put paid to a career many believed would lead inevitably to the Nobel prize. Inspired by a poem by Paul Celan, it is rich in the sonorities of the Viennese tradition.

Then the recital moved up. The Langsamer Satz of Anton Webern from 1905 predates his influential exploration of tonality that made him one of the most influential composers of the early part of the twentieth century. It's essentially the slow movement of a quartet, the rest of which was not composed. It's sombre and full of longing, inspired in part by a hiking holiday with his fiancée in the mountains. It is so beautiful, and was played with such tenderness, that it rather outshone everything else on the program.

Two more pieces from established composers followed it. The intermezzo movement, from Arnold Schoenberg's third string quartet, is a skittish, rhythmically unsteady work, much more reminiscent of the developments in chamber music of the early twentieth century. Schoenberg claimed his string quartet writing was heavily influenced by Mozart. I'll take his word for it.

Two bars into the next work, and you know it's Philip Glass. His fingerprints are all over it, and the players maintained its impetus throughout with perfect balance. It is essentially an epitome of Glass's style and it will recall for you everything he's written. There's a bar or two that sound like Mendelssohn with the deep surge of the Hebrides Overture.

The concert began and ended with the lights lowered. Luke Altmann's Irenabyss is a Firm commission, infused with lyric inspiration, and the final piece, Penumbra, by Belinda Gehlert, was a joy to hear, and I'd love to hear both these pieces, indeed, the whole concert, again.

This quartet has come together especially to present this concert and it would be a really fine addition to the chamber music resources of Adelaide. Every string quartet needs a name and might I have the temerity to suggest the Hendrickson Quartet, a tribute to Lyndall Hendrickson. She was a South Australian violinist, a child prodigy, whose international career was terminated by polio. She became an acclaimed teacher, and researcher into neurodiversity. She was a dear friend, and she lived to be 100.

- Ewart Shaw

Concert 4: Dec 3rd, 2018

Michael Ierace'New life breathed into past masters'

The Australian, December 2018

Attending a concert by Adelaide's new music collective, the Firm, is rather like walking into a hall of mirrors. Beethoven, Brahms, Ravel and other figures from the past appear consciously and frequently in their works to open defiance of modernist styles, and the effect can be intriguing. At times one can feel one is losing track of what is new and what is old.

That seems to be the intention. Each year the Firm curators and principal composers Raymond Chapman Smith and Quentin Grant, rather cheekily appoint a "posthumous composer in residence" as their guiding light.

This year it is Ravel, and let's just say it has been one of their trickier choices because this French composer's style is at once so personal and distinctively his own. Any attempt to re-imagine it in new contexts risks descending into mimicry or parody.

Grant's Zircusvolk succeeded most remarkably because it quite cleverly absorbed elements of Ravel's pungent harmonic language and simultaneously catapulted the listener into intensified states of imagination.

The subject matter is as horribly fixating as Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, which in the magical hands of pianist Michael Ierace served as this concert's centrepiece. Along with snippets from Kafka, there are accounts of how an elephant was hanged from an industrial crane in the US for attacking its handler and how zookeepers in Chile two years ago shot two lions after they mauled a man who entered their enclosure. A storm of textures daubed across the full length of the keyboard conjured a macabre picture.

Ierace has an exceptional gift for creating seamless, imaginatively vivid textures on the piano, and his gifts yielded similar results in Anne Cawrse's The Red Buoy, a gorgeous little character piece inspired by a painting of the same name by impressionist Paul Signac. It was like encountering a reincarnation of Miriam Hyde's Water Nymph.

Chapman Smith's La chute des etoiles (Falling Stars) was spectral, like summoning Beethoven from the dead. While not aping the style, he is able to recreate 19th-century pianistic language with uncanny realism, and here the picture of Ludwig at the piano felt immediate and real, glowing with a kindred, gracious warmth.

David John Lang's wedding pieces, Adventure and Romance, exuberantly elevated the spirit of this program.

The high point, though, was Ierace's shiverly beautiful playing in Gaspard. Steeped in mystery and hypnotically imaginative, it felt as dazzling and ecstatic as if it had been composed yesterday.

- Graham Strahle

'Total control, resolute rhythm and vivid imagination'

The Advertiser, December, 2018

Michael Ierace Hats off to The Firm for engaging pianist Michael Ierace for this concert.

Much admired as an accompanist and chamber musician, his talents as a soloist have been less in evidence.

He proved superbly equipped to undertake a solo program influenced by the sort of French impressionism and expressionism popular at the turn of the twentieth century with its mind games and darker depths.

The program’s inspiration, Maurice Ravel, was represented by his magnum opus for the piano, Gaspard de la Nuit, and Ierace projected all its frightening spiritualistic allusions and equally frightening technical challenges with real flair and finesse.

There was hardly a note put of place as incandescent colour poured from the Steinway, Ierace’s total control, resolute rhythm and vivid imagination allowing the shimmering water sprite Ondine, the sinister Gibet and the frightening Scarbo out of the bottle and into Elder Hall.

This was big scale pianism with exquisite detail.

Earlier Quentin Grant’s Zirkusvolk(2016) with its grotesque Kafka circus scenarios paved the way very aptly for the Ravel to come.

More gently, Anne Cawrse’s deliciously impressionist The Red Buoy and David John Lang’s lushly configured The Wedding Album benefited from Ierace’s generously broad tonal palette.

And Raymond Chapman Smith’s 17 reminiscently Brahmsian morsels Lachute des étoiles (2016) eloquently reminded us that German music ruled the roost at this time with much of it worth reflecting on as well.


Concert 2: Aug 13th, 2018

'Trio gives The Firm a delicate quality'

The Advertiser, August 17, 2018

The Benaud Trio The Benaud Trio gave a nuanced performance exploring a breathtaking array of timbres in their concert for The Firm.

The Firm’s concert series feature a “posthumous composer-in-residence” each year, which in 2018 is French composer Maurice Ravel.

On this program was Ma Mere L’Oye arranged by the Benaud Trio’s guest pianist Benjamin Martin.

This arrangement for gave the work an intimate, and often delicate quality, bringing out many gorgeous colours and textures.

Violinist Lachlan Bramble and cellist Ewen Bramble’s tone quality was beautifully controlled, particularly in the many softer moments of the work, and Martin’s neat, precise playing in the glissandi section in the fifth movement was impressive.

The other three works on the program were all by Adelaide-based composers.

Raymond Chapman Smith’s Serenata is a three-movement work in the composer’s signature neo-romantic style.

The work was tightly constructed, with repeated motifs woven throughout the first two movements.

Luke Altmann’s Holy Fools also used repetition to great effect, with a gently rocking ostinato figure continuing throughout the work underneath sustained melodic lines.

Jakub Jankowski’s Piano Trio No. 2 was quite a change of pace.

According to the composer, this work explores the Dionysian - the Nietzschean concept of an artistic energy encompassing spontaneity, chaos, and strong emotions.

This work featured some really striking use of heterophony, with the players phasing in and out of unison lines.

Jankowski’s background as a cellist was evident in the idiomatic string writing and extremely effective use of a range of string techniques.

- Melanie Walters

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