Bell & Tedeschi ‘Bright Star’ Concert Review

Bright Star

Concert in Armidale Town Hall Saturday August 31st, presented by Musica Viva Armidale and the New England Conservatorium of Music in association with Musica Viva Australia.

Reviewed by Inge Southcott

What a treat it was to have the creative genius of Schubert and Keats revealed so cleverly in the short space of 75 minutes by two of Australia’s leading performers: the actor/director John Bell AO, OBE, (one of our Living National Treasures), and the internationally- acclaimed pianist, Simon Tedeschi, at the recent Musica Viva concert on Saturday August 31st!

The performance, entitled ‘Bright Star’, drew parallels between the lives of Schubert and Keats, regarded nowadays as amongst the greatest exponents of music and poetry of the Romantic period. They were contemporaneous, both from humble backgrounds, both astonishingly prolific, and both unable to marry the woman they loved due to their poverty. Their art was largely unappreciated during their short lifetimes. Schubert died from syphilis aged 31 in 1828, and Keats from tuberculosis, aged 26, in 1821.

The show was beautifully conceived with short introductions explaining the historical context of each work, relevant information about the lives of Schubert and Keats and what the works meant to Bell and Tedeschi.  Bell summarised the meaning of each poem, while Tedeschi indicated elements typical of Schubert’s compositional style to listen for in each piano piece. Six piano pieces alternated with nine poems.  Poetry lies dead on the page until it is brought to life by being read aloud (as Andrew O’Connell said in his interesting pre-concert talk), and Bell’s masterly readings of I Stood tiptoe, Ode to Autumn, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Ode on a Grecian Urn, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, When I Have Fears, This Living Hand, Ode to a Nightingale and Bright Star were stunning, delivered in a clear understated natural style without artifice. One felt he was Keats himself speaking at times. In the week prior to the concert, I had read many of them but their meaning often eluded me. Now in Bell’s recitations, Keats’ gift to us was made so evident, I couldn’t wait to get home to savour them all again. Indeed “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” (last lines of Ode on a Grecian Urn).

Tedeschi’s playing (Movements from Impromptu Op. 90, the virtuosic Adagio from the Wanderer Fantasie D.760, the Andante of Sonata no.18, and excerpts from the first movement from Sonata no.21, and Klavierstucke no.3 in C major ) was absolutely superb. The audience was entranced- that hush in the auditorium when everyone is transported, developed each time he played. He used limited pedalling in general which gave great clarity to his playing, and he sits quietly at the piano and just lets the music speak for itself through his fingers. I found the two times when Bell recited whilst Tedeschi played in the background disconcerting – I would have preferred to hear one or the other separately.

These two artists are giving another of their collaborative performances- called Echoes of the Jazz Age – evoking the Roaring Twenties, on Sept 21st in Penrith. One can only hope they will bring it to Armidale in the future so we can enjoy another memorable evening!