After missing a year in 2015, the Coriole Music Festival is back again, this time under the guiding hand of veteran festival director Anthony Steel.
Mozart might have died penniless and forgotten, but it is impossible to imagine how his music could be overlooked today. Only last January he was named the most performed concert composer by UK website Bachtrack, which monitors concerts worldwide – Beethoven came in at number two. Yet strangely, Wolfgang’s music has rarely been heard at one of Australia’s most renowned and longest running chamber music festivals. It’s a point Anthony Steel makes when he talks about the Coriole Music Festival, which he was invited to step in and run after its usual director, Chris Burrell, turned out to be unavailable again this year. He says he leapt at the opportunity. “I was absolutely delighted,” he says and he points to a box behind him in his bookshelf that contains all of Coriole’s concert programs going back to 1999. “I went through and listed every one by composer and came across this curious fact, that there was not enough Mozart over the years, which is quite by chance I’m sure. So it made sense to base this year’s program around him.” A glance through Coriole’s history indeed bears out his observation. The last time Mozart appeared was eight years ago, with his C major String Quintet. But now the Austrian master takes pride of place in the weekend’s three concerts. There will be songs, his dark-tinged G minor String Quintet, the incomparably wonderful Oboe Quintet, and his intriguing F major piano sonata – which is actually two compositions that Mozart joined together at the request of his publisher. Sure to woo everyone’s hearts will be the opera aria, ‘Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben’ from Mozart’s un finished opera, Zaide. Says Steel: “Every soprano has recorded this aria because it is so beautiful.” This will actually be Steel’s second stint at directing Coriole. He was invited to direct the music, food and wine event in 2006, although on that occasion he deliberately avoided duplicating Burrell’s programming approach of exploring different national traditions through history. Instead he came up with “an eclectic collection of works – some familiar, some less so – which I believe deserve a place at Coriole,” he wrote at the time. Expect some differences this time. The erstwhile director of no less than five Adelaide Festivals – 1974, 76, 78, 84 and 86 – is coming in with a heavier bat this time. Another theme running through the festival’s two days is the triumvirate of 20th century greats: composers Britten, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Steel has a particular fondness for Britten’s music, and recently reacquainted himself with one of the composer’s finest song cycles. This came about last year at the time he was relocating to the city, from his former house in the Aldinga Eco Village. “I was still unpacking,” Steel explains. “We hadn’t been here for more than a couple of months, and I came across the score of The Poet’s Echo. Years ago I must have enjoyed it and bought it.” Steel knew its dedicatees well, Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya and her husband, the cellist and pianist Mstislav Rostropovich, because as a skilled Russian speaker himself, he had often interpreted for them when they toured Britain. The Poet’s Echo simultaneously holds memories of this friendship and rekindles his love of Russian literature. “The point being, that the words of the six songs in this cycle are by Pushkin and are therefore to be taken rather seriously,” Steel says. “I did all the Russian transliterations, which was a hideous job. However, the audience will have all the words, and I hope they will follow them in the performance.” Singing The Poet’s Echo at Coriole, plus a set of Rachmaninov songs, will be acclaimed Australian tenor Andrew Goodwin, who returns from Europe. He speaks fluent Russian, as also does his piano accompanist, Daniel de Borah – they were fellow students at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. “Not only that, they form an absolutely wonderful partnership,” says Steel. “Last time they performed at Coriole, they brought the audience to their knees.” That was in 2011 in a collection of Russian and Soviet wartime songs. The Russian connection runs deep this year. Young Brisbane soprano Morgan Balfour sings Proko fiev’s The Ugly Duckling. This charming song cycle is based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale. “Please follow the text for this as well,” Steel advises. Accompanying in this will be Konstantin Shamray, the winner of the 2008 Sydney International Piano Competition. He also plays Proko fiev’s Sarcasms for solo piano, Op. 17 – described by Robert Cummings as “a collection of sonic shocks and musical pranks strung together”. Coriole is known for bringing in some of Australia’s finest chamber musicians. Performing this year is Melbourne’s Tinalley String Quartet, who appeared at Coriole three years ago. They will play Shostakovich’s String Quartet No 12 – one of the composer’s most progressive quartets in its use of the twelvetone method. And again there will be leading local musicians, including oboist Celia Craig and violist Imants Larsens. In keeping with tradition, there will be lavish lunches, supper and wine, plus a pre-concert talk that Steel will give before the opening concert on Saturday morning. He has one extra surprise up his sleeve, however. In the final concert on Sunday, there will be a tribute to the late passing of two international musical figures, both of whom visited Adelaide during their careers. It will all be announced at the time, and Steel doesn’t want to give out any further clues just yet. “People will have to wait to find out more,” he says, grinning. Coriole Music Festival Saturday, May 7 and Sunday, May 8 Coriole Vineyards, McLaren Vale coriolemusicfestival.com