BWW Reviews: NICHOLAS PARNELL VIBES VIRTUOSO Is a Wide Ranging Collection of Fine Music

BWW Reviews: NICHOLAS PARNELL VIBES VIRTUOSO Is a Wide Ranging Collection of Fine Music

Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Friday 2nd May 2014

Nicholas Parnell has taken the vibraphone as his own, developing an impressive technique and a significant following as a soloist on an instrument that for many years was associated with wind bands or jazz ensembles.

He chose to launch his new CD, Vibes Virtuoso, with a series of concerts in the Space Theatre, showing off the skill that has won him acclaim around the world, and, trust me, he's not metaphorically blowing his own trumpet by claiming the virtuoso title for himself. Plenty of others have praised his two handed mastery of the instrument.

He's a slim and athletic performer darting from one end of the instrument to the other, deploying four mallets, two in each hand, with accuracy and a sureness of attack. He has a great command of tone and volume. Amir Farid, his associate artist, is particularly versatile as a pianist, performing the classical concerto and sonata repertoire as well as being the pianist for Ruth Roshan's Melbourne based band Tango Noir.

The piano and the vibraphone are both percussion instruments. The piano conceals the fact, inside a polished wooden case, and compensates for its innate percussive nature with careful pedalling. The vibraphone is entirely upfront about its sound production. That brightly coloured sound is mallet driven though, at one point in this concert, Nick Parnell added two violin bows to his toolkit.

Most of Parnell's music for this concert and the CD is, by necessity, in arrangement, with many decisions to be made about each piece. Baroque music is particularly successful in Parnell's hands. The Handel Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from the oratorio Solomon is teamed with two allegro movements by Bach, despatched with vitality.

Elsewhere the challenge is different and accomplished with different degrees of success. The inner complexities of Ravel's Alborada del Gracioso, a challenge for the solo pianist, disappear when the work is shared between the two instruments. The sheer sensuality of tango pieces by Albeniz and Tarrega lose in translation, but Parnell and Farid followed them with a dreamlike interpretation of Reverie by Debussy, the pianist underscoring with great delicacy the slow and resonant solo line taken by Parnell with immense grace. A work for violin and piano by Josef Suk, his Burleska, was greatly successful. Its rapid running piano part and the moto perpetuo violin part giving both performers the change to show rhythmic certainty and pace. Parnell has a particular affinity for the music of George Gershwin, pairing the jaunty dog walking promenade from the 1937 movie, Shall We Dance, with an appealing adaptation of Summertime, from Porgy and Bess.

Works composed for the vibraphone are eminently successful, the first movement of the vibraphone concerto of contemporary French composer Emmanuel Sejourne, for example, and the exhilarating Carousel by Dave Samuels and Dave Friedman, which rounded off the evening.

For some people two hours, even with interval, of music for vibraphone and piano would be less than aural heaven, but Parnell's commitment to the instrument and his unmistakeable command of its potential is totally engaging. His second album, Classical Vibes, with South Australian pianist Leigh Harrold, is already on my radio station 5EBI playlist, and this one will join it.

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Barry Lenny Born in London, Barry was introduced to theatre as a small boy, through being taken to see traditional Christmas pantomimes, as well as discovering jazz and fine music at a very young age. High school found him loving the works of Shakespeare, as well as many other great playwrights, poets and novelists. Moving to Australia, he became a jazz musician, playing with big bands and his own small groups, then attended the Elder Conservatorium of Music at the University of Adelaide, playing with several orchestras. This led to playing in theatre pits, joining the chorus, playing character roles, playing lead roles (after moving into drama), then directing, set and lighting design, administrative roles on theatre boards and, finally, becoming a critic. After twenty years of writing he has now joined the Broadway World team to represent Adelaide, in South Australia. Barry is also a long time member of the prestigious Adelaide Critics Circle.