Echoes of the Picture Palace

Nick Russoniello and The Golden Age Quartet. The Independent Theatre, North Sydney. September 29, 2019

Reviewed : September 28, 2019

Photo : supplied

Back in the early 1900s, the Independent Theatre at North Sydney was the Coliseum Picture Hall, screening the black and white silent movies of the era. What better setting to present Nick Russoniello’s tribute to the creative musicians who provided the atmosphere for the action on the silent screen? And who better to present it than Russoniello himself?

Accomplished composer and performer – and gifted raconteur – Russoniello begins the program playing Rudy Wiedoeft’s Sax-o-fun on a 1920s saxophone that beautifully conjures the smoky, flickering atmosphere of the early days of cinema. Joined by violinist Julia Russoniello, pianist Daniel Rojas, and cellist Paul Slender, he presents a potted history of early ‘movie music’, including L’assassinat du duc de Guiseby Camille Saint-Saëns, excerpts from Motion Picture Moods, a collection of pieces scored especially to ‘enhance’ specific scenes – the sinister, the grotesque, western, love and, strangely, firefighting – and an example of Charles Chaplin’s own compositions, Falling Star.

Photo : supplied

A special treat is the screening of the very first piece of movie footage shot in Australia – a skilled comedic roller skater filmed in Sydney by the famed Lumièrebrothers at the end of the nineteenth century. Russoniello returns to his 100 year-old saxophone to complete the first part of the program with Stephen Cronin’s foot-tapping Perihelion Rag.

Daniel Rojas preludes the ‘main event’ of the program with a virtuoso performance that invokes a myriad of emotions. His energy and faithfulness to the mood and timbre of the music is spellbinding – and a fitting preamble to the screening of Charles Chaplin in The Immigrant with music specifically composed by Russoniello himself. Every hilarious and superbly timed scene is skilfully accompanied by deftly devised phrases that followed the zany pratfalls – and the gentle pathos that Chaplin used to compliment his comedy.

This is a concert with a wealth of appeal, compiled and presented by talented performers who know how to amuse, inform and entertain. What a lovely way to end the first month of spring!

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine