Tim Winton has spoken about being dogged by the voice of an unlovely character while writing his recent book The Shepherd’s Hut. Carl Vine described a similar experience of being assailed by unwelcome musical ideas while writing his newest work. He explained the experience from the stage on Friday night while introducing Implacable Gifts, a concerto for two pianos and orchestra commissioned by the West Australian and Tasmanian symphony orchestras and premiered on the weekend by WASO with pianists Piers Lane and Kathryn Stott.
Vine, currently composer in residence with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, took his cues from surreal art and structured the ideas as musical chunks thrown up against one another. But don’t be fooled, the final product is carefully refined and immaculately crafted – Vine is after all a pianist and a composer with seven symphonies and thirteen concertos under his belt.
The double concerto opened with the two pianos at war, hurling chords at each other half a beat apart. However for most of the work the soloists were in conversation, echoing and dovetailing each other and enmeshed in the orchestral texture. The work was scored for a large orchestra and there were moments of swamping overtones from the combination of two pianos, harp, keyboard percussion and full orchestra. Generally though Vine opted for light string textures and transparent scoring, allowing for moments of emotional intimacy and clarity.
The sweetness of glockenspiel and bird-like woodwind calls was one such moment in the first movement contrasted with noisy rhythmic passages. A meandering cadenza shared by the two pianos led into a pastoral second movement with a modal folk melody on flute and cascading piano arpeggios passed between Stott and Lane with immaculate delicacy.
The third movement opened with rhapsodic piano runs reminiscent of the second movement of Vine’s Piano Concerto No 1. Germs of ideas coalesced to create chugging momentum but were immediately replaced by new content. The streams of consciousness approach began to feel piecemeal and ran the risk of content overload. The final movement was a rhythmically driven rollercoaster ride to a triumphant brassy finale.
This is a work chocked full of colour and climax and confirms (despite the assault of implacable musical ideas) Vine’s unerring ear for beauty. The concerto sat comfortably on the program alongside the similarly rich sound worlds of Ravel’s Bolero with its Spanish exoticism and Prokofiev’s cinematic Lieutenant Kije Suite.
The surprising gem on the program was Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks a rare chance to hear the orchestra reduced to a fifteen piece chamber group. The section leaders and principals were in fine form and gave a fresh, snappy performance under Macdonald who seemed to relish Stravinsky’s juxtaposition of angular folk rhythms and Baroque cadences. The delicate transparency of the second movement was particularly beautiful with its golden-hued wind solos.
Bolero can be a tedious slow burn with its twenty minutes of melodic repetition, but conductor Rory Macdonald took a brisk tempo and – helped by idiosyncratic woodwind solos and a flamboyant brass section – delivered a concert finale so exultant that snare drummer Brian Maloney’s intense focus broke into an irrepressible smile.
This review was first published in Limelight Magazine, May 2018