Musica Viva International Concert: Altstaedt & Madzar

Reviewed by Georgia Cassimatis

Little would anyone know that in the retro looking exterior that is City Recital Hall in the corporate hub Angel Place, Sydney, two European chamber musical geniuses are touring Australia for Musica Viva, the largest presenter of chamber music worldwide.

Cellist Nicolas Altstaedt and Pianist Aleksandar Madzar joined forces to create Olympic style chamber music where they performed the romantic greats as a duo: from Debussy, Boulanger and Barber to a world premiere of a modern work by young Adelaide composer Jakub Jankowski.

Always in awe of Debussy’s pure musical expression of deep melancholy, sadness and darkness illustrating a time of great distress; that being his battle with cancer and Europe at war, the fluidity of Madzar’s piano captured it magnificently. Smooth as velvet his performance made one want to curl up in fetal position and fall asleep at his feet. At the same time Altstaedt’s frenetic, brilliant Cello playing described perfectly ‘as ‘almost hesitant’ and ‘made of up tiny sighing fragments that slip down like a tear on a cheek’ further encapsulated the disturbingly beautiful yet haunting poetry of Debussy’s life. 

But the real highlight was the fusing of these two European musical geniuses with Australia’s own young composer from Adelaide Jakub Jankowski, with his modern composition Aspects of Return for cello and piano (2017).

As Altstaedt says: “I think it’s a fantastic idea that if we do an Australian tour, there has to be an Australian piece in it. This is how a society is created and how a culture develops.”

Culture it does. Cast in three movements, I am captivated at each one defining a Psychological (Prologue), Philosophical (Nocturne) and Poetic (Capriccio) quote.

As Jankowski says of his work: “Our lives are full of attempts at returning to the past, or to previous states of being. This virtually always proves to be an impossibility, either because what we are returning to has changed, or we ourselves have changed along with our perceptions.”

The Prologue quoted by Carl Jung says: ‘…there is always the danger that the things we have neglected will return the added force’.

Illustrating this was the dramatic, exciting range of performance, descending into mania and back again, which left me not only mesmerized, but wanting more and excited to see what the future brings for this young Australian musical maestro.

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Photo by Keith Saunders