Camerata and Brendan Joyce are familiar faces to Brisbane concert-goers, but this concert was essentially a celebration of violinists Monica and Sarah Curro, both of whom play with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra these days. Their father John Curro is an absolute legend of the Queensland music scene, having founded the Queensland Youth Orchestras in their various forms back in the day and having worked with hundreds (thousands?) of young musicians. It’s no stretch to say that the classical music community in Brisbane would be completely different without his passion, drive, and enthusiasm. So, a warm welcome back to Queensland (even if only for one concert) to both Monica and Sarah.

Monica and Sarah CurroMonica and Sarah Curro. Photo supplied

The concert began with JS Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043. This is a bit of a classic of the two-violin repertoire (although I have to admit one of my favourite performances will always be Stéphane Grappelli and Eddie South’s swing version of the first movement with Django Reinhardt). The Curros played this fabulously, with a strong emphasis on the interlocking counterpoint of the solo parts.

The second piece was advertised as a “wild card mystery guest segment”. It turns out that the mystery guest was in fact the entire Australian Voices, who apparently rehearse in QPAC on the same evening that Camerata gives performances. The choice of repertoire here was very odd – Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and his vocal Agnus Dei, performed simultaneously. It technically works since the two pieces are in fact the same thing, but this combination didn’t do the work(s) any favours since it rather felt like over-egging the pudding.

The concert continued with Richard Mills’ Double Concerto for two violins. This one is fresh off the presses, having only been premiered in Melbourne in 2018. Harmonies are spiky and tonalities variable, and there’s some fascinating writing for the soloists and orchestra that shifts between violin virtuosity and orchestral soundscape in the blink of an eye. The slow second movement Canzona is particularly successful, although the closing Dithyramb seemed to conclude before it had begun.

The “big piece” for the evening was Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night). This is early Schoenberg, before he progressed to the less audience-friendly 12-tone system; it’s essentially Mahler and Richard Strauss, but even more so. Harmonies here are complex and highly chromatic, but the world is still tonal. It’s based on a late-19th century German poem by Richard Dehmel, which was read out in English translation. I’m not sure this quite worked, since the surreal nature of the original German poem gets diluted a bit once you hear it in (a) English and (b) an Australian accent.

Although this early work shows up fairly regularly in concert, it’s surprisingly tricky to get right – there are such extremes of tension throughout, and players have to maintain the intensity for long periods of time. This was very well-performed, although personally I’ve always thought that performances of the string orchestra version of this (as opposed to the original string sextet version) require a conductor. There were several points where I wanted to hear more freedom than was afforded by having several players to a part, a problem which is solved by having a conductor shepherd the piece.

Performed without an interval, I’m not totally sure that this concert came to more than the sum of its parts. Each piece was certainly played well, but I couldn’t tell you what the relationship between the Bach and Mills duos and the Schoenberg is other than “these are good pieces”. The inclusion of the Barber also mystified me.

Finally, at today’s classical music concert prices, this was a surprisingly short concert. Having an hour and a half concert without interval rather than two hours with interval is fine, but then it’s probably sensible to make sure that the time is actually filled up. With bonus choir filing on and off, and poem readings, the whole shebang came to an hour and 20 minutes – quite short for a concert that’s the best part of 90 dollars.

A good evening, but one that didn’t quite hang together.

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