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Schubertiade at Elder Hall


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There are worse ways to spend a night. You’re met at Elder Hall by mulled wine, out of place in a paper cup. But one sip, one sniff of that heady elixir, and you’re immediately thrown back to the ’70s.

Inside it’s warm. Shrug off that winter coat and take in the setting. It’s a mixture, too – trappings of old Vienna, the Salon, flanked by two incongruities: a cello case resembling Hart’s Ned Kelly on one side, a modern lectern on the other.

It’s a salon and a saloon both – the latter represented by a white piano accordion which takes you even further back in time. It looks like a prop – the first of many – but you wonder if it is to sub for the arpeggione, now extinct, for which Schubert wrote the Sonata in A Minor. In a perverse way, you hope it is.

It’s all about Schubert, a man who wrote so much material in his 31 years that we could sit through a Schubertiade-athon for 48 hours solid without exhausting it. Pianist David Barnard and cellist Rachel Johnston emerge, the latter toting a carbon-fibre cello to further unglue the era. It looks extraordinary and it sounds divine, handing the arpeggione part of the Sonata beautifully. I was unaware of this piece – lovely.

The wine is starting to have its effect – it’s all good. Words by various incurable romantics are realised as sweet notes and recitations, the latter voiced with the right mix of levity and gravitas by young actor Craig McArdle. At one stage he produces a pigeon. The sound mix is just right, with the original Elder Hall design given intelligent audio reinforcement to keep us entranced and undistracted. Ave Maria was a treat, although I think Johnston needed a break by then – she seemed to push it along a wee bit for mine.

After interval (a scramble for Sachertorte and coffee on the lawns – please eat before going out, ladies!), we enter to find the State Opera of South Australia, abridged, languishing all over the set. When united in lieder they become a powerhouse. The theme of the night – of Schubert, it seems – was longing. It’s unsure what he died of (what a loss!), and Wikipedia drips with unsavoury suggestions, but I’ll prefer to think that it was longing, pure and simple.

Back with the simplicity of (a now-real) cello and piano, we discover the Serenade again. Stripped down this way, it’s divine – beautifully paced, and placed just so in the varied program. Barnard, recently newly appointed head of music at the State Opera of South Australia, has the lightest touch on the Steinway – the music just dances off his fingers, dances off the stage.

It has been a night of actual dancing as well, with a talented Daniela Taddeo taunting the younger Schubert with her own, lithe choreography. He offers her his pigeon, to no avail. No matter – it’s been an evening of voices and lost instruments, modern and timeless, of dancing and food and wine, and longing. More of it, but next time, please, lose the paper cups – Franz deserves better.

Schubertiade was presented on Saturday as part of the Evenings at Elder Hall program.

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