Mantras and Night Flowers Reviewed by Mandy Stefanakis, February 1st, 2016
Music by Ross Edwards and Carl Vine
Bernadette Harvey - piano
Classical, New Music
Tall Poppies TP220
It’s strange then that what differentiates these two composers the most is that Edwards is almost always inspired by imagery – a person, a place, an aspect of nature. Even when he starts out writing from a sonic stance, his descriptions become metaphoric. There are always reference points. Conversely, Vine’s work, affecting me in that instance associatively, is most often purely concerned with sound. Any references tend towards the philosophical even when talking about spiders! He thinks in abstractions.
Renowned Australian pianist, Bernadette Harvey, brings both incredible virtuosity and sublime subtlety of articulation to her interpretations of the works on this album which are organised like bookends. It is such a generous CD of 72 minutes’ duration and there isn’t one second the listener would wish to be denied.
The contrasts between the pieces in Edwards’ Mantras and Night Flowers are stark. “Snails Bay Mantra” was written for Bruce Beresford. It is minimalistic and meditative in its use of cyclic motifs and repetition and Harvey deliberately keeps it in check throughout. We are then thrown headlong into a piece called “Frangipani” which started life as a set of variations to one of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies. Like me, Edwards found the Liszt a little, um, twee, and altered the theme by using a Japanese scale, diluting the strong sense of tonality and chromaticism – hence, Franz Japani. One of the delights throughout the album is the surfacing of both composers’ humour which is, on occasions, LOL. I’m a sucker for Japanese modes –well most aspects of the Japanese aesthetic are pretty irresistible. It works so well here because Edwards is able to use the romantic expressive devices including arpeggiated left-hand passages, rhythmic complexities between the hands, big chords and big dynamic changes whilst retaining (with respect to Mr. Liszt) artistic integrity! And Harvey is able to let go here, exploring the romanticism to her heart’s content.
“Pipyamyum Mantra”, originally written for singer and pianist Hartley Newnham, explores one of the major themes in Edwards’ Maninyas 1, most famously recorded by the SSO under the baton of the late and revered Stuart Challender. It was his last recorded work. I have never heard music sound so ‘Sydney’. It’s quite wondrous hearing this piece in an un-orchestrated context as the bounce of the piece and the lovely rhythmic structure are brought out so well by Harvey.
The rhythmic and harmonic exuberance of “Jubilation Mantra” is a fitting finale to the Mantras & Night Flowers. It is followed by Edwards’ Piano Sonata (2011) which follows a more conventional sonata form than Vine’s.
The varying modes and arrhythmia, features of Edwards’ works, which provide it with a uniquely Australian aura are features in his Sonata. The Allegro covers the length and breadth of the instrument and has a wonderful exuberance to it.
Cards are held much closer to the chest in the slow second movement with its contemplative opening and warmly melancholic block harmonies. There are also harmonic and melodic references to his Dawn Mantras –such a lovely place to revisit – before we return to the opening theme. Harvey’s timing is immaculate here. The third movement expands on a children’s piece by Edwards I have always loved. He combines elements of minimalism with references to more romantic and classical places. There is such vitality and joie de vivre in the cyclic nature of it.
Edwards’ music seems quintessentially Australian to me. It captures the clarity, the asymmetry, the vitality and the space. His music is full of openness and optimism.
Vine’s writing is quite different. In his Piano Sonata No. 1, he works his way into the main theme from different starting points. It is as though we travel with him as he sifts through sound fragments, gradually merging, discarding, re-shaping until we “arrive” at the musical destination. We luxuriate in this sonic place, this fully formed “being” before we are taken in another direction, then gradually returning to the main theme for another hit. It’s incredibly special because Vine’s music is full of trajectory, momentum, so the journey’s the thing. It is also very complex and it is so obvious that he just loves sound, the texture of it, the expressive potential and the opportunity for interplay that combining sounds in space and through time provides.
The Sonata was written for Michael Kieran-Harvey. Here Bernadette Harvey shows the wonderful technical prowess demanded by this piece and also captures the required expressive intent. Equally she articulates the sighs in the moments of stasis. Vine loves scalar passages leading to pivotal two or three note points of cadence. They are here in abundance in the first movement. Ravishing.
Although in two movements, the main theme from the first is explored again at the beginning of the second, which commences with a sense of addictive menace (knowing the rabbit hole can only lead to mischief, but having to go there anyway). It becomes jazzy and voraciously romantic as it attempts to lead us back to that luscious theme, but we are allowed only a distant taste of it and instead are left with a slightly forlorn, but nonetheless beautiful, impressionistic resting place.
Some of Vine’s favourite turns of phrase are explored in The Anne Landa Preludes and indicate the incredible range in his oeuvre. We have the fabulous feel of the tarantula on one’s skin that Harvey elicits in her interpretation of the Tarantella and the evocation of ‘lerve’ with a small dipping of the lid to Gershwin in its use of lush chords and varying favourite sonorities from Vine’s Piano Concerto No. 1. He messes with Bach in his Fughetta and with the listener in his Divertissement, a play on life if you will. How many emotions can we cover in two minutes? But Vine plays a straight bat with his closing Chorale, with a gorgeous modulation and total zen feel. Harvey milks this final piece with perfect expressive judgment.
How lucky are we to have the opportunity for this experience? How lucky are we to have these incredible musicians?
"Harvey’s piano talent undimmed" Reviewed by Neville Cohn, September 7, 2015
Keyed-Up: Bernadette Harvey (piano)
Review: Neville Cohn
Over the years, I have listened frequently to Bernadette Harvey in recital. Invariably, the experience has been positive. Her presentation at the weekend, though, warrants a category of its own.
For sheer physical wizardry at the keyboard, Harvey reigned supreme. Her fingers know few fears. And the quality of mind she brings to bear on some of the toughest music assignments imaginable, enables her to make even the most dauntingly complex material meaningful and accessible. This is a rare gift.
Intricate, adventurous and cruelly demanding upon both mind and heart, the fascinating sonic domain of American composer Lowell Liebermann’s Sonata requires an interpreter of exceptional merit. At every level, Harvey was in command as she took us into the sonata’s unique domain. Hurling massive blocks of stentorian sound into the auditorium and delighting the ear with rippling, high-speed arabesques - this was Harvey at her most persuasive.
In Debussy’s Estampes, I particularly savoured the opening Pagodes. As an evocation of an Asian moment, it could hardly have been bettered. Taking us into musical territory a world away in style and imagery from that of Liebermann, Harvey proved that she is as adept in conveying the subtleties of musical Impressionism as in giving point and meaning to contemporary cutting-edge music.Unsurprisingly, an account of Liszt’s Ballade No 2 brought the house down (mystifyingly, there were as many empty seats as were occupied in Callaway Auditorium). This was offered at a level of virtuosity that warrants the highest commendation with Harvey playing on a splendid Fazioli concert grand piano that responded magnificently to her ministrations.
The soloist was stylishly garbed in a sheer, elegant tunic with narrow, glittering collar and black leggings.
Brilliantly confident performance of Benjamin Britten's Piano Concerto No. 1" (Queensland Symphony Orchestra)
Kelly, P. COURIER-MAIL Brisbane
“Confident, dashing playing from start to end....playing at its brilliant best."
James Harper Courier Mail, Brisbane
"Extravagant praise....It would be superfluous to devote space to adding to the cascades of superlatives."
James Harper Courier Mail, Brisbane
"Ms. Harvey was acutely sensitive in the melding of her tone and phrase shaping"
Gillian Wills, Courier-Mail, Brisbane
"Scarily accurate technique....The ringing resonance and crystal clear sound she draws from the piano come from powerful finger work and the magnetic force she exerts.. it's quite a feat."
Patricia Kelly, Courier-Mail, Brisbane
"The audience was thrilled with her performance... her professional composure, stage presence and technical ability.”
(Rachmaninof 2nd Concerto - Tasmanian Symphony)
Mantras and Night Flowers CD Reviewed by Vincent Plush, March 29, 2016 for The Weekend Australian
MANTRAS AND NIGHT FLOWERS
Bernadette Harvey, piano
Tall Poppies TP 220
Drop the needle (a technologically outmoded term for ‘guess the composer’) on any of the 26 tracks of this important CD and you’re bound to guess the two Australian composers featured here: Ross Edwards and Carl Vine. Sculthorpe and Sitsky aside, each of these composers has given Australian piano music a contemporary persona and voice. There’s a neat symmetry here: each is represented by two works, separated by two or more decades. And yet the sound language of each composer is consistent and instantly recognizable.
The thirty minutes of Edwards which opens this CD, the titular Mantras and the Piano Sonata (2011) embody his ‘Maninyas’ dance-style, tripping off the keyboard with elan and elegance, as though Bach were playing gamelan. Vine’s Sonata (1911) and Anne Landa Preludes (2006) reveal that masterly understanding of the piano which characterized Vine’s exhilarating Flederman performances of Carter and others in the 1980s. Here there is nostalgia, a composer looking back at key moments of his pianistic life, but devoid of brooding sentimentality.
Bernadette Harvey captures the gamut of moods and ruminations of each short piece with authority and even fun. Her playing is pure and lean, even when Vine’s textures suggest otherwise, finely articulating his interlocking rhythms and inner and outer lines, ever wary of over-pedalling. In particular, her dynamic performance of Vine’s Sonata is just as exhilarating as that of her brother Michael performing it for the Sydney Dance Company in 1992. Similarly, the recorded sound is crystalline and gratifying to the instrument, often claimed to be the hardest to record! The liner notes, by the composers themselves, are cautiously informative but an external commentary would have been valuable too.
Copyright © Bernadette Harvey 2016. All Rights Reserved.