Arts Review

The Southern Cross Soloists’ 20th Bangalow Festival

The Southern Cross Soloists’ 20th Bangalow Festival

CONCERT 3: Konstantin Shamray

17th-20th August, 2023

A&I Hall, Bangalow, NSW


Rameau Four Pièces de clavecin
Rachmaninov Three preludes from Op. 23 Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Quasi una fantasia, “Moonlight” 

Ross Edwards Emerald Crossing 

Schumann Piano Quartet Op. 47 


Konstantin Shamray Piano 

Courtenay Cleary Violin 

James Wannan Viola 

Rachel Siu Cello 

Hyung Suk Bae Cello 


The Bangalow Festival is the jewel in the crown for the Southern Cross Soloists’s, polished and shone by the spectacular Shamray’s mastery of the piano.


Dr Gemma Regan


Bangalow was buzzing on Saturday with an epic musical triptych of three concerts in one day as part of the 20th Bangalow Chamber Music Festival. There was a Farmers Market with shoppers filling the tiny town of picturesque Bangalow in northern NSW, but no sign of a single poster advertising the weekend of chamber music behind the main street at the refurbished Bangalow A and I Hall. 


However, my concerns were unnecessary as by 10.30 the foyer was packed to capacity with excited local patrons of the Southern Cross Soloists. Most have probably been attending the festival, a major event in the Australian arts calendar for the last two decades!


Since its inception in 2002 by the SXS Artistic Director Tania Frazer’s husband David Schneideman and the former SXS Artistic Director Paul Dean, the Bangalow Chamber Music Festival has presented over 800 artists performing in more than 260 concerts with an audience of over 78,000 locals!


The weekend was packed with concerts for the diligent chamber music aficionados who can get their annual fix without travelling for hours to the QPAC in Brisbane, QLD. With seven concerts and five extra concerts including two bite-size ones, a School's concert, a Local’s concert and a Coffee concert at Zentveld’s Coffee Plantation in Newrybar, there was something to suit every age and desire!


The renovated A and I hall was a fitting venue, having hosted picture shows, weddings, balls and even served as an emergency hospital during the 1919 flu epidemic. The tin embossed walls and vaulted ceilings enhanced the fabulous acoustics, creating a cathedral-like chamber focussing the music back into the audience after a dalliance around the hall.


International Piano Competition winner and SXS Artist in Residence Konstantin Shamray gave an astounding performance, which had the audience launching themselves from their seats with cheers and foot stamping! 


Shamray introduced each piece with a familiar flirtatious style, describing why he had chosen each movement and giving a fascinating insight into his own rather naughty personality! His first choice was Rameau’s Four Pièces de Clavecin, which are usually played on the harpsichord or clavichord. Le Rappel des Oiseaux (The Echoing of the Birds) was a delightful Bach-influenced mimicry of tweeting birds. 


The fourth movement Les Niais de Sologne (The Simpleton’s of Sologne), had been described by Shamray as “simple at the beginning, to mimic the simplicity of the rural French folk but gradually getting harder and ending up being impossible to play!” 


It was an astounding performance of virtuosity, skill and control, full of fussy ornate trills gradually becoming faster and more elaborate until it became a blur of sound and movement, seeming like he was playing with four hands at once! Each of the four movements echoed Rameau’s harmonic interplay of notes in French Baroque style, creating an emotive soundscape of rural 18th century France.


The applause and shouts from the audience were deafening as Shamray motioned to the audience to return to their seats for the next musical adventure with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Although the sonata is beautiful, it seemed an unusual choice of Shamray’s, as it is technically so simple even I can play it! 


The technical virtuosity returned with Three Preludes from Op.23 by Rachmaninov in celebration of 150 years since his birth. Shamray revealed that the first movement Rachmaninov had written in Cminor had come to him in a dream, a place he had wished he had left it as he had disliked it so much, with the other 23 movements in each of the keys following on in a better style. 


No. 8 in AMajor was like a tumbling waterfall cascading over the rocks below, whilst No.10 in G Major was brooding and contemplative. Shamray finished the half with a tempestuous No.2 in B Major with rolling crescendoes and a flurry of notes crashing on a bobbing sea. 


Shamray was spectacular! His emotive execution was exhilarating to watch and hear and the audience was uncontrollable giving him a raucous standing ovation for such astounding virtuosity, rarely seen in a small country town in New South Wales and more suited to the Royal Albert Hall in London at the Last Night of the Proms!


Such was the frenetic playing of Shamray that a piano tuner had to re-tune the whole piano at half-time which was fascinating to watch during the interval.


The Southern Cross Soloists Courtenay Cleary, James Wannan, and Rachel Siu joined Shamray for Ross Edward’s haunting piano quartet, Emerald Crossing. All but Wannan had adorned their heads with palm leaves, giving the second half a more tropical feel! Shamray joshed Wannan for not joining in with the frivolities, but he would not be swayed! Instead he retorted that it was a quartet rather than the more common quintet as the extra violin was superfluous to the important viola and the piano was just an unnecessary addition!


Edwards had written Emerald Crossing during a waking dream as a passacaglia, composing the first part in 2000 and not completing the rest until 2017, which had cheeky Shamray laughing and questioning what Edwards had been doing in between! The music glided like a boat ride with Edwards describing it as a ceremonial initiation ritual. Rachel Siu’s cello was deep and oaky with a terrific timbre.


Siu was replaced by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra's Hyung Suk Bae for Schumann’s Piano Quartet Op. 47. His cello did not have the delicate deep tone of Siu's. The quartet was synergistic during the four emotional movements and rewarded with more fervent applause, cheering and foot stamping to close an exhilarating and emotive Concert in the heart of Bangalow.


I only attended one of the multiple concerts during the Bangalow Festival, but it was truly the jewel in the crown of the Southern Cross Soloists’s performances, polished and shone by the spectacular Shamray’s mastery of the piano.

Don’t miss the SXS’s final concert for 2023, The New World on Sunday, 22 October 2023, with Konstantin Shamray showcasing Gershwin’s timeless Rhapsody in Blue and also featuring Elton John's guitarist, John Jorgenson, known for his zippy guitar and mandolin licks.


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