Now in its third year, the Festival is a celebration of all things Tasmanian – as well as the music there is outstanding food and wine, beautiful spring gardens and a great variety of heritage venues, including churches, barns, and the Georgian magnificence of Clarendon House. Although the festival only runs from Friday evening through to lunch on Sunday, I came home exhausted from the sheer intensity of listening to such a rich and diverse selection of musical offerings.

The Orava Quartet: Daniel Kowalik, David Dalseno, Karol Kowalik and Thomas Chawner. Photo © Dylan Evans Photography

The festival opened and closed with the Orava Quartet. On opening night they had to do battle with the cold and a challenging acoustic to perform two of the great masterworks of the quartet repertoire: Beethoven’s Serioso Quartet, and Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. Despite an intermittent lack of cohesion – which I put down to the acoustic – both performances were enjoyable. The passage in the first movement of the Beethoven, where the viola plays a towering C-string freakout, is amongst the finest I have heard: there seems to be no limit to the amount of sound violist Thomas Chawner can produce without loss of quality. There were moments of outstanding beauty in Death and the Maiden, leaving me looking forward to hearing more from this young quartet. They were joined by renowned soprano Greta Bradman for the middle two works of the programme, Respighi’s Il tramonto and an arrangement by Richard Mills of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. Bradman brought an impressive tonal variety to the Respighi, with moments of drama that did real justice to the tragic nature of Shelley’s poem. Vocalise was less successful. The trouble with arrangements is that they really need to add something to the original, and I didn’t feel the Mills arrangement did justice to Rachmaninov’s much-loved work. I love Vocalise, but sadly I felt this concert would have been better without it.

Umberto ClericiUmberto Clerici. Photo © Laura Stanca

Once again, the highlight of the weekend for me was Umberto Clerici’s recital. An innovative and intelligent musician, he created Suite Cubed, a combination of Bach and more contemporary works from the solo cello repertoire. It was a brave compilation that invited listeners to listen to the unfamiliar with new ears – much as the Bach suites would have challenged listeners when they were first written. Listening, I had a real sense of music as both a historical and a living art. In a further innovation, Clerici invited questions and comments at the end, rather than introducing the music at the start, thus drawing the audience into the performance almost as collaborators.

Who knew that three basset horns would make such an incredible sound? A selection of Kegelduette and a Divertimento for three basset horns comprised a programme that both delighted and astonished. Trio Di Bassetto’s contribution to the Mozart merry-go-round was polished and elegant. Greta Bradman and pianist Daniel de Borah offered a selection of songs together with an incredible work for solo piano – Fantasie in C Minor, K475 – in the Ballroom at Mountford. De Borah’s sensitive accompanying was perfect for the gentle nature of the songs, and he shone in the Fantasie. We were treated to the Queen of the Night aria as an encore, and here Bradman truly showed what she was capable of, with dramatic virtuosity aplenty. The final part of the merry-go-round was the Orava quartet playing Mozart’s The Hunt. When not hampered by the cold, and in the intimate acoustic of St. Mary’s Church, Hagley, the quartet really came into their own. Impeccable ensemble, exuberant spirit and great beauty of tone and phrasing in the slow movement combined for a meaningful and at times profound performance.

Greta Bradman. Photo © Pia Johnson

Bach by Candlelight was a magical evening. Christ Church, Longford, glowed with the warm light of the candles and the Van Diemen’s Band was at its finest. I was particularly enamoured of the truly outstanding harpsichord playing in the Brandenburg concerto, and of David Greco’s stunning baritone. After a full day of concert-going this event provided solace for the soul.

The festival concluded with a Gala Concert that included many of the artists heard over the weekend. Daniel de Borah played a wonderful Schubert Impromptu, Greta Bradman’s Ave Maria was beautifully devotional and Umberto Clerici’s Brahms had all the passion for which the sonata is known. The Orava Quartet with de Borah concluded the festival with a memorable performance of Brahms’s F Minor Piano Quintet. By turns intense, dramatic, gentle and filled with energy, this was a fitting end to a fabulous weekend of music.

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