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Michael Shmith

Schubert Piano Sonatas 

Melbourne Recital Centre
by
07 February 2024

Given the unalloyed delight of hearing the English pianist Paul Lewis’s magnificent traversal of the late sonatas of Schubert, it is hard to believe that these pieces, now so central to the piano repertoire, were once so peripheral, so neglected, as to be considered at worst non-existent or, at best, gemütlich items of curiosity. The latter view was neatly encapsulated by the great Schubert virtuoso, Alfred Brendel. In the early 1960s, he was on a recital tour of South America when Pope John XXIII died. In Buenos Aires, Brendel was politely asked if he could change his program to rid it of the Schubert Sonata in A. The reason: ‘It could arouse frivolous associations because of Lilac Time.’ Brendel explained that the sonata was ‘a profoundly tragic piece’, and played it as planned.

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To celebrate the year’s memorable plays, films, television, music, operas, dance, and exhibitions, we invited a number of arts professionals and critics to nominate their favourites.  

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Melvyn Bragg has been a British cultural polymath since he more or less drifted into arts broadcasting after coming down from Oxford more than six decades ago. His own longevity (he is now eighty-three) is reflected in his two most enduring series. The first is In Our Time, a BBC Radio 4 discussion series and podcast that has been running for a quarter of a century. The second was The South Bank Show, whose more than 700 episodes were screened on the ITV television network from 1978 to 2010; from 2012 it has been running on Sky Arts. Bragg, as its editor and presenter, profiled many cultural giants: from Paul McCartney and Laurence Olivier to Marlene Dietrich and Dusty Springfield.

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To celebrate the year’s memorable plays, films, television, music, operas, dance, and exhibitions, we invited a number of arts professionals and critics to nominate their favourites.  

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Was he John or was he David? That’s the trouble with being a literary double agent: there’s always the significant other to consider. David Cornwell, alias John le Carré, devised his pseudonym in 1958, on the same day he also created his most famous character, George Smiley, on the opening page of his first novel, Call for the Dead. This was when le Carré – a fresh recruit to MI5 and on his daily two-hour train commute into central London – ‘just began writing in a little notebook’.

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Siegfried 

Melbourne Opera
by
26 September 2022

The past few weeks in Melbourne have seen a series of extraordinary musical events that collectively represent the ultimate triumph of the creative spirit over the forces of pestilence – something that applies equally to audiences as well as performers. There is certainly, hanging in the air, a palpable spirit of communion and fulfilled expectations from our re-emergence from the stygian isolation of Covid lockdown into the iridescent aura that only live performances can achieve. In Wagnerian terms, we are all Brünnhildes, reawakening from lengthy slumber to joyfully hail the sunlight. As it was – in life and in art – at Sunday’s magnificent performance of Siegfried.

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Elektra 

Victorian Opera
by
19 September 2022

There are not too many parallels to be drawn between the House of Atreus and the House of Windsor, especially in these mournful times. But I could not help noticing one (admittedly tenuous) connection of memory and circumstance triggered by Victorian Opera’s powerful, almost magisterial one-off performance of Elektra and, later on at home, watching the procession of the Queen’s coffin down the Mall, from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall.

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'I knew I was bright, but not special’, writes Zoë Caldwell early on in her pithy, telling memoir. Still earlier (indeed, in the first paragraph), she says that she knew, even from an early age, she was destined to perform: ‘ … to stand in front of people, keeping them awake and in their seats, by telling other people’s stories and using other people’s words. I knew this because it was the only thing I could do.’ There is a bit of self-deprecation in these words that is at loggerheads with what we have come to expect from actors’ memoirs, which are, more often than not, scribbled sentences rather than thoughtful paragraphs, and which tell us more about vanity, greed, self-indulgence, and the patience of the haunted ghost-writer than they do about the actor as a professional or a person. Actually, such books are like sets on some early television shows: bricks-and-mortar, but really canvas and plaster with wooden backing, which wobble every time somebody walks past. What they are not is true autobiography.

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Australian World Orchestra 

Australian World Orchestra
by
05 September 2022

To place the Australian World Orchestra (AWO) in a truly global context, and before I deal with Wednesday night’s triumphant concert in Hamer Hall, I must briefly expand my terms of reference.

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A Winter’s Journey 

by
18 July 2022

Forty-four years ago, Andrew Porter, that peerless and prolific music reviewer of The New Yorker magazine, cast a prophecy:

I trust I am wrong, but sometimes it seems to me that when Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth Söderström, Peter Pears and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau retire, lieder singing will become a lost art. There is no one in the younger generation who commands as they do the understanding and the technique that bring German songs to life.

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