Concert Review: Konstantin Shamray & ANAM Orchestra

Konstantin Shamray & ANAM Orchestra

Sophie Rowell, director and violin

Harry Ward, violin

City Recital Hall

May 10, 2021


The Australian National Academy of Music despatched its 19 strong ANAM (string) orchestra led by Head of Chamber Music- Strings, Sophie Rowell, directing from the violin and joined by alumnus violinist Harry Ward in the current national tour for Musica Viva. This innovative and attractive programme was bookended by two late 19th century pieces with two contemporary works in between. Joining them was solo pianist Konstantin Shamray in his first national tour for the organisation.   

Transcriptions of pieces for small ensembles into pieces for larger forces is always an interesting exercise as it enriches and intensifies some textures while perhaps concealing others. These transcriptions pose the question as to whether they should be true to the original or use the new configuration to reveal ideas hitherto unrealised?

Harry Ward’s sensitive arrangement of Mahler’s dreamy Piano Quartet in A minor (1876), Nicht zu schnell (Not too fast), is Mahler’s earliest surviving composition and a harbinger of his genius to come. Hearing this one-movement example of German Romanticism played by these young musicians was a hypnotising experience. The orchestra created a luscious sound around a vibrant palette of tone and dynamics, well suited to Mahlers’s rich tapestry.

Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto for Piano and Strings (1979) is also in one movement and like the arrangement of Mahler, is introduced by the piano. More angst- ridden than introspective, the players created and maintained a  fine tension with dissonant syncopated cluster chords, jazzy rhythms and a macabre waltz. The Russian aesthetic is evident and whereas the piece by Mahler evoked the sounds of Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann, Schnittke’s piece disrupted the sounds of Mussorgsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Special mention must go to double bassist Hamish Gullick for his excellent work.

Konstantin Shamray’s brilliance was not lost on the Musica Viva afficionados. His role in the concert was over by interval, but the audiences demanded and received an encore, in the form of the completely contrasting and tenderly played April (Snowdrop) from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons Opus 37a.

Mihkel Kerem (b 1981), is an Estonian born violinist and composer, now resident in the UK. His  Lamento for Solo Violin and String Orchestra (2008/20) is an exquisite piece, which nonetheless allowed no easing of tension. Harry Ward taking centre stage introduced the haunting leading motif which is then repeated by the violin and other instruments over varying harmonies and pedal points.

Finally, the demons were dispelled with Tchaikovsky’s sunny Serenade For Strings in C major, op 48. Broad brushstrokes, feather light pizzicato, style and grace brought the smiles to our faces albeit behind masks!

The young musicians of the Australian National Academy of Music are extraordinarily gifted and have developed well-honed skills. Their performance is mature beyond their years and demonstrates exceptional ensemble techniques as they breathe together, articulate and phrase in sympathy. Sophie Rowell’s leadership is meticulous and a superb study in leadership.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

This concert will be livestreamed from the Melbourne Recital Centre on 15 May at 7 pm.



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