Wizardry & Mastery on the Vibraphone


Nick Parnell on the vibraphone, Julie Sargeant on piano

Nick Parnell on the vibraphone, Julie Sargeant on piano

SCMS President, Julie Stuart, welcomes the audience

SCMS President, Julie Stuart, welcomes the audience

A concert featuring the little-known vibraphone would not be considered a ‘crowd-puller’ by any stretch of the imagination, yet the music-lovers and the curious who attended the concert of the South Coast Music Society on Sunday 1st March were more than rewarded with a spectacular experience of wizardry and musical artistry from vibraphonist Nick Parnell and his highly accomplished piano associate Julie Sargeant.

In this concert the soloist revealed an amazing range of colours and effects which would have surprised many.

The concert opened with the first movement of a concerto for vibraphone and orchestra by French percussionist and composer Emmanuel Sejourne in an arrangement for vibes and piano. A sublime and peaceful mood was set with sonorous and lyrical melodic lines, including special atmospheric effects from the use of double-bass bows. The movement gradually built up to a strong climax with impressive virtuosity involving the use of four padded hammers, two per hand, before settling back to the calm and beautiful mood of the opening.

Due to the lack of a substantial body of original works for vibraphone, and none pre-20th century, Nick has had to make arrangements for much of his programming and has made sound decisions as to which works would best suit his instrument. Baroque music usually transcribes well for most instruments and Nick’s offerings of Bach and Handel came across as tailor-made for vibraphone. In an age when ensembles world-wide tend in this writer’s opinion to play Baroque quick movements the speed of light for brilliance at the expense of style, it was refreshing to hear virtuosity and style well balanced in music of this period. Handel’s The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba was delivered with clarity and toe-tapping buoyancy, followed by a spirited performance of Bach’s Allegro from the Sonata in G minor (originally for violin or flute and harpsichord). Pianist Julie Sargeant matched Nick with perfect balance and admirable precision as she did throughout the whole performance. In each item she matched Nick at every turn and was very much the ideal co-artist in musical sensitivity and technical prowess.

Debussy’s Reverie captured the impressionist’s idiom to perfection, as did the following Burleska by Josef Suk with its Czech folk dance middle section, sandwiched between the dazzling flurry of the demi-semi-quavers of the outer movements. Works by Gershwin changed the mood to a lighter and at times jazzier style, while Spanish composers Albeniz and Tarrega beguiled the audience with their late 19th century sensual tangos.

The concert closed with a colourful contemporary work, Carousel, a joint project of two American composers, Dave Samuels and David Friedman, which left the audience with elevated spirits and delight from the afternoon’s unforgettable experience given by two excellent professional artists.

The South Coast Music Society expresses gratitude to Musica Viva Australia for subsidising the performers and to Pam Larkin SCMS Life Member for generously sponsoring the programs for the concert.

David ShephardMarch 2015

REVIEW: Kristian Chong – A Well Deserved Standing Ovation

A Standing Ovation

Kristian Chong is enthusiastically applauded

There was a well deserved standing ovation for Kristian Chong at Sunday’s South Coast Music Society concert at St Bernard’s Church Batehaven. It was such a thrill to be able to hear this internationally renowned Melbourne pianist. We are blessed to have an artist and teacher of this calibre come here to play for us.

On the program were works by J S Bach and extremely demanding arrangements of Bach’s organ and violin music overwritten onto Bach’s scores by romantic composer/pianists Liszt, Busoni and Rachmaninoff.( Liszt prided himself on writing music which was too difficult for other pianists to play.)

Beginning with Bach’s most popular work for harpsichord, Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue BWV903, Mr Chong gave us a lush romantic interpretation of Bach in contrast to the drier historically accurate sound that is sometimes advocated. He made full use of the range of dynamics and sustain on the modern piano unlike that of Bach’s harpsichord. The church organ, however, did have deep pipes that produce a sensation of great space and depth and higher registers that seem to cascade and float. This effect was breathtakingly emulated on the piano in the second item, Liszt’s arrangement of Bach’s Organ Prelude and Fugue in A Minor. Next came a reworking by Busoni of Bach’s Chaconne for violin, full of mood changes and sublime feelings.

Kristian Plays

Kristian Chong at St Bernard’s

The second half began with Preludes Opus 32 numbers 10, 5 and 12 by Rachmaninoff. Mr Chong introduced the works and spoke about the influence of the dissonant intervals in jazz harmonies on Romantic composers. This was Rachmaninoff’s personal favourite and we heard the more complex harmonies that give Romantic music its mystery, subtle shades and power to evoke imagination and strong emotion.

Next came Rachmaninoff’s overwritten arrangement of Bach’s Violin Partita No 3, Prelude, Gavotta and Gigue and Busoni’s piano arrangement of Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue for Organ. In this heightened emotional interpretation of Bach we are given a sense of steadfast spiritual joy; a precious quantity not usually found in our dysfunctional contemporary world but still accessible to us in this music.

Piano student, Molly Burrows, with Kristian

Piano student, Molly Burrows, with Kristian

As an encore Mr Chong played a mellow piece composed for him by Miriam Hyde when he broke his right arm in 1983.

 Sue Wray
23 June 2014