reviewed by Neville Cohn
It would be unreasonable and manifestly unfair to expect an absolutely unwavering standard of excellence from any musician, even the most experienced and committed. In the nature of things, any performer can have an off-day. And this an overriding impression of Stephanie McCallum’s recital in UWA’s Keyed-Up recital series at the weekend.
Let it be said at once that Ms McCallum is one of the brightest and most enduring stars on the Australia’s fine music scene. She has numbers of well-received compact discs and a formidable list of live concert successes to her credit.
McCallum’s program for the Keyed-Up series incorporated the complete set of Beethoven’s Bagatelles opus 33 which she recently committed to compact disc – and it was one of the most positive highlights of the evening, with care lavished on minute detail. These seven miniatures, lovingly fashioned, came across like a chaplet of finely facetted gemstones.
I particularly liked Roger Smalley’s Morceau de concours. In McCallum’s hands, it came across as one of the composer’s more approachable offerings, a study in tonal levels, with an abundance of subtle sonic shifts and much trilling – a technically formidable piece which was commissioned as a compulsory item for those taking part in a recent Sydney International Piano Competition.
Schumann’s Fantasie in C, one of the composer’s most passionate utterances, was given a frankly disappointing, very uneven, performance with scatterings of inaccuracies and moments when momentum faltered as the soloist, playing from the score, seemed to be searching for notes.
In Liszt’s Ballade No 2, too, McCallum’s performance was marred at times by a less-than-total engagement with the music, with error-strewn moments that lay cheek by jowl with episodes in which there was a thrillingly virtuosic identification with the score. Yet more Liszt was no less uneven. Wilde Jagd is not for timid pianists and, on past form, one would have expected McCallum to take its hurdles in her stride but, as in the Ballade, the playing was uneven.