Top of the Pops?

November 15, 2012 by Lloyd Bradford Syke
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Top Of The Pops is the kind of name someone with no marketing nouse apparently thought was a nifty one…writes Lloyd Bradford Syke.

David, Simon and Rowena

It was, in fact, utterly out of sync with the event on offer: the prodigious and indefatigable Simon Tedschi, with Sydney Omega Ensemble; not to mention (Cantor) Zvi Techtahl, accompanied by John Martin. A programme of Beethoven, Bruch, Schubert, & Gershwin, whatever else it is, can hardly be described as ‘Top Of The Pops’. Having said that, the North Shore Synagogue (which affords a very favourable acoustic) was pretty well packed, on a pleasant, lazy, spring-in-Sydney Sunday afternoon. Of course, this wasn’t just any Sunday afternoon. It was Remembrance Day. In honour of which the programme commenced with Kamen’s Requiem For A Soldier, recently brought to renewed prominence by way of Steven Spielberg’s Band Of Brothers.

Zvi Teichtahl, it must be said, has a very agreeable timbre, but the accuracy of his pitch is variable, as is his vocal control generally. Nonetheless, it’s hard to fault his sincerity or reverence for the music he sings. Michael Kamen’s requiem, composed in 2001, made for a sobering melody for the dawn of this century, given the belligerent follies of the last which, tragically, have shown too little sign of abatement. Frank Musker’s opening lyrics are almost all that’s needed to give tribute to those multitudes who’ve paid the heaviest possible price for our freedom: you never lived to see , what you gave to me.

From Kamen to Andersson, Ulvaeus (albeit from their post-Abba period) & Rice, with Anthem, from Chess. Again featuring Teichtahl, accompanied supportively by Martin, the song is , perhaps, imbued with still greater poignancy when sung in a synagogue: ‘no man, no madness, though their sad power may prevail, can possess, conquer, my country’s heart’. If only it held true more often.

Tedeschi stepped on stage with cellist Rowena Macneish for Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei (Opus 47). From Hebrew, the title translates to All Vows and, melodically, almost defines the feeling of aching sadness. An adagio based on Jewish themes, its sublime piano intro spells peace, in keeping with the Kol Nidre prayer (recited in the evening, on Yom Kippur) that formed such a significant part of Bruch’s inspiration. Indeed, that a Protestant composer could so comprehensively intuit, inhabit and communicate the sentiments of the liturgy, here voiced by cello, is a feat of veritably diving inspiration; even if there’ve been dowsers who’ve argued otherwise. Certainly, Tedeschi and Macneish derive every nuance of feeling from the work: in their skilled hands, piano and cello couple with the intimacy of a man and woman sharing the most tender love.

ST, of course, is the kind of savant one tends to imagine only existed in bygone days. Just as Wolfy showed an extraordinary gift from the earliest age, Tedeschi was at the Sydney Opera House, performing a concerto by Amadeus, aged nine. So it’s no surprise that, as 31, he executes Beethoven’s Clarinet Trio (Number 4, in B Flat Major, Opus 11) with such aplomb. Of course, he could hardly have better sidekicks than members of the SOE; namely, David Rowden on clarinet and, again, Macneish, on cello.

Tedeschi’s quick and nimble fingers dance on the keyboard, to provide a lightness and brightness, especially to the opening movement, with a delicacy and sprightliness that is rare and, for mine, what distinguishes a memorable performance from an also-ran. Of course, his success relied substantially on the complicity of Rowden and Macneish, who complemented Simon’s finesse with clarity, precision, warmth and an empathic momentum. Together, the sound was nothing short of exquisite and rapturously enjoyable. Having said that, where the work introduces more dramatic counterpoints, the three could be robust. Their honed sensitivity to the dynamics of the score only enhanced the listening experience. I’ve no doubt even Ludwig would’ve sprung to his feet.

After interval, Tedeschi was back with still more musicians, for Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet (For Piano & Strings, in A Major; D 667 / Opus 114), one of the most popular of all chamber music pieces and one Tedeschi reckons is a work of unbridled genius. Schubert composed this marvel at twenty-two, so I suppose he qualifies. All the moreso when one considers he was dead at Tedeschi’s age, having composed a thousand pieces or more. And yes, I know. If you don’t already, you’re probably dying to know. It’s called Trout in reference to another of Schubert’s works, Die Forelle, on which the fourth movement of this work is based.

Emily Long featured, on violin; Jacqui Cronin, viola; Ben Ward, double bass. And Macneish was back, on cello. Notice anything unusual about the instrumental lineup? Well, if you’re observant and something of a student of classical music, you might. Schubert replaced the second violin usually incumbent upon a quintet with bass, lending very colours to the sound which is, of course, warmer and richer as a result. A unifying device that characterises and ‘trademarks’ the work is the appearance and reappearance of an ascending figure, typically insinuated by the piano. Aside from this, the piece is revered for its harmonic distinction: the piano parts tend to focus on the upper end of the keyboard, with both hands playing the same melodic line. One of the beauties of Schubert’s reconfiguration of the quintet is the presence of bass frees the piano to concentrate on the higher register, making for a resplendently brilliant sound, which Tedeschi and colleagues exemplified sublimely.

But the piece de resistance was inarguably Tedeschi’s solo performance, which ended the programme. His arrangement of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue in itself proves him no less a genius than Schubert. Then again, one might argue he has a profound genetic leg-up. Not just two distinguished and accomplished parents in Mark and Vivienne, but the fact his maternal grandmother is named Lucy Gershwin, believed to be a relative of George. Perhaps this blood brotherhood explains why Tedeschi is prepared to be so bold with the work, changing emphases, delivering it with a kind of urgency and fervour that is both unusual and arresting. It just so happens Gershwin brought a similar attitude to it, if a precious piano roll is anything to go by. Between the two of them (and it almost seems like both are present), ‘wonderful. A piece with which I’m always thrilled to be reacquainted, it’s held a fascination with me since early childhood and it’s still really got a hold on me. So has Simon Tedeschi. And the SOE.


One Response to “Top of the Pops?”
  1. Cathy says:

    It’s crazy to think how much is on OUR heads as the parents to teach our chledrin about our heritage and faith. Even when they are getting it at church or school, so much of the training needs to happen at home. I applaud you for taking steps to make it a bigger part of your family’s life. 🙂

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