A rare chamber treat



Yong Siew Toh Conservatory

Concert Hall

Margaret Schindler (soprano)/ Paul Dean (clarinet)/Meta Weiss (cello)/Stephen Emmerson (piano)


From the early 19th century and the German Louis Spohr to the early 21st and the Australian Andrew Schultz, this was a programme which travelled as far in time as it did in distance.

Four faculty members of Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane ended a week of intense musical activity at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory with a concert which was as intriguing in its programming as it was joyous in its delivery.

Spohr was represented by six songs for soprano, clarinet and piano.

The musicians immersed the audience in a world where none of the performers grabbed the limelight and all seemed so comfortable in one another's presence that you just knew this was going to be a wonderful chamber evening.

And so it was. The easy conversational rapport between Margaret Schindler and Paul Dean was enthralling, with Stephen Emmerson adding the gentlest of commentaries on the piano.

Dean is an astonishing player. Mobile and animated, he has the ability to make the clarinet murmur so that its sound is more of a subtle sensation and he so thoroughly integrates himself into the music that, were it not for his physical antics, you could almost forget he was there.

This was particularly true in Alban Berg's Pieces for clarinet and piano, where there seemed almost a contest between Dean and Emmerson to see who could play softer. (It was a dead heat.) Musically challenging maybe, but this was a performance which did not so much shed light on the music as illuminate it warmly from within.

That is certainly what Emmerson did with the haunting set of variations written for him by Andrew Schultz. With its echoes of Peter Sculthorpe, this captivating piece added to the growing sense that a distinct musical language is coming out of Australia which is as unique and starkly beautiful as the land itself.

Cellist Meta Weiss blended seamlessly into the ensemble, first with a magical performance of Ravel's weird - there is no other word for it - Madagascan Songs.

Schindler delivered the dated and awkward 18th-century texts with remarkable grace and conviction, beautifully tracing Ravel's distinctly 20th-century vocal lines above an intricate accompaniment in which guest musician Rachel Ho effortlessly switched between flute and piccolo.

In a programme of marvels, the final work was certainly no anti- climax.

All that can be said of this performance of the Brahms Trio For Piano, Clarinet and Cello was that this was not just supremely intelligent music-making but, imbued with a wonderful sense of comfortable comradeship, was chamber playing of rare delicacy - something you do not get to hear very often in any age or on any continent.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2016, with the headline 'A rare chamber treat'. Print Edition | Subscribe