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Syzygy Ensemble Syzygy Ensemble
photo Matt Rynn
Syzygy are up from Melbourne and playing at the largish Blue Sky Coffee cafe courtesy of DeClassifiedMusic, a fairly new organisation promoting concerts into Brisbane’s Newstead (place of bars/restaurants/things to do and buy). Music as one part of the flow of the day’s events rather than as the full stop at the end of the day. That’s a great addition to the Brisbane scene.

By far my favourite piece of the concert is Charles Ives’ Sonata No.4 for violin and piano. In the neat preparatory talk, Harrald and Khafagi play us the original tunes Ives used for each of the three movements—“Tell me the old, old story,” “Yes, Jesus loves me” and “Shall we gather at the river?” Performers often introduce pieces with a short description of the composer’s intent or perhaps a formal aspect of the music, but this is perhaps the first time I’ve seen performers actually play examples in their discussion. Works well.

Ives wrote Sonata no 4 as a fond tribute to the religious summer camps of his town and Harrald beautifully channels an amateur tent performer for the rambling goofy religiosity of the first movement. It’s a slightly hysterical, almost out of control performance that surges with confidence then shudders and slows to make a tricky chord change only to suddenly ramp up the gusto for a favourite bit that isn’t so hard to play. The second movment couldn’t be more different—slow and gentle, an impressionistic pastorale that lets Khafagi’s violin shine through. There’s a sentimental edge here and there that at times reminds me of Gershwin whereas the final movement ragtimes away like Cole Porter: wild jumps, skipping melody and an abrupt mid-melody end, as though the bell has rung, the hymn books dropped, the kids run out to play.

Of the other pieces, Fausto Romitelli’s Domeniche alla periferia dell'impero is nicely atmospheric with lots of descending glides and squeeky door sounds—tiny motifs that get traded around, repeated and elaborated. Very much an ambient piece and probably the only time I have heard a kazoo used for subtle timbral layering rather than for comic effect.

To finish is David Dzubay’s Kukulkan—six short movements programmed around the structure and use of a Mayan temple. Program music can sometimes get a bit stolid and prog rock or sentimental and twee, symbols grinding away as surrogates for far too fraught emotions. I don’t get that with Kukulkan. Instead, there is more of a cinematic wash to each movement. Forbidding piano and spooky clarinet sound like a 30s mystery, dimly lit passageways, a man with a hat, a door opens and the glimpse of a gun. Or next movement and switch to light, joyful 60s and the end of austerity Britain—young love at Oxford, the student and the shopgirl, ride through the square and scatter the pigeons, punt along the river, plop down on the grassy bank for that very first kiss. Except it’s Mayan, human sacrifice, hearts held aloft.


DeClassified Music, TRIVIUM: The Art of Logic, Rhetoric & Grammar: Syzygy Ensemble, piano Leigh Harrold, cello Blair Harris, clarinet Robin Henry, flute Laila Engle, violin Jenny Khafagi, Blue Sky Coffee, Brisbane, 7 June

RealTime issue #122 Aug-Sept 2014 pg. web

© Greg Hooper; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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