Wood Llama Bar, Subiaco



Llama Bar, Subiaco

reviewed by Neville Cohn 

Musica Viva’s Menage concert series, designed to tempt young adults to taste the delights of chamber music, is an experiment that has begun to work. At earlier events, this did not seem to be the case with audiences consisting almost exclusively of regular concertgoers. But at a jam-packed Llama Bar in Subiaco’s Rokeby Road ­ it would have been difficult to swing a canary there, let alone the proverbial cat – most of the faces of those gathered were new to me. More significantly, they were prepared to stand, without complaint, throughout the performance and did the musicians the courtesy of listening to them in engrossed silence. And if the cheers that broke out after each item are any guide, there’s little doubt that, insofar as the audience was concerned, wood was pressing all the right buttons.

Wood is a recently formed ensemble made up of four cellists and a percussionist.

Seated on a dais set up against a corner of the venue, amid a little forest of microphones recording the performance for later broadcast by ABC-FM, wood offered an eclectic selection that ranged from the works of Bartok, Estonian composer Arvo Part and minimalism master Steve Reich to arrangements of pieces by Sting, Nitin Sawnhey and members of wood, such as Melanie Robinson’s Sink.

Here, she contributed vocals that irresistibly called to mind the idiosyncratic articulation of Edith Sitwell in William Walton’s Façade. Iain Grandage’s Asp included an engaging tango episode a la Piazzolla ­ and later in the evening we heard what sounded a tongue-in-cheek send-up of an Hungarian czardas.

The meatiest fare was offered in the first half which included a bracket of arrangements of Bartok, notably two of his dances in Bulgarian rhythm with gutsy, emphatic rhythmic underpinning and a grainy, at times raspy, tone quality that suited these earthy, folksy items very well.

Buciumeana, that gentle, minuet-like dance from Rumania, made its point despite the maddeningly intrusive humming of air conditioners. As well, the performance suffered from uncertain intonation, a problem that reared its head on and off through the evening due, I dare say, if only in part, to the combined effect on cello strings of body heat in an enclosed space and shafts of cold air when the bar doors were opened. Pitch was insecure, too, in a movement from Reich’s Electric Counterpoint.

Throughout, one was given the impression that wood has something worthwhile to say in musical terms, not least in Part’s Fratres which seems set to become the Estonian equivalent of Barber’s Adagio so far as popularity with audiences is concerned, an eerie-sounding, slowly unfolding processional that, once heard, haunts the mind. Like the best of Bach, Fratres works its magic even in the most unlikely transcriptions and this version by wood certainly gripped the attention with its rich, dark sonorities although, again, there were waverings of pitch. Sting’s A Thousand Years was given memorable treatment, ushered in by Genevieve Wilkins’ silken touch on wind chimes and pianissimo mallet-tappings on a cymbal.

There was a pleasant informality about the proceedings, with an anticipatory buzz of conversation before the concert got under way. As well, there were Musica Viva tickets and fine wine as raffle prizes and musicians taking turns to say a few words about the works on offer. And the Llama Bar’s pleasant ambience was enhanced by a good deal of mirror space and many lit candles in little glasses.

This was far and away the most successful of Musica Viva’s Menage concert series, purpose-presented to tempt young adults to sample the delights of chamber music. It’s an experiment that’s working well.

Neville Cohn Copyright 2004

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