Reviews: Robert Schmidli

Canberra Critics Circle, Wednesday 15 March 2017
SOM Times, Saturday 31 July 2010
Canberra Times, Sunday 15 October 2006
Canberra Times, July 2004
Canberra Times, Friday 26 March 2004
Muse, June 2003
Southland Times, August 1983
Southland Times, Monday 14 September 1981
Christchurch Press, April 1977
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Canberra Critics Circle
Wednesday 15 March 2017

by Len Power
If the quality of performance is generally as high as that of Robert Schmidli playing two Beethoven sonatas, I really must go to lunchtime concerts more often.

Presented by the Wesley Music Foundation at the Wesley Music Centre in Forrest, Wednesday Lunchtime Live presents regular lunchtime concerts with excellent musicians who, surprisingly, perform for no fee. An army of volunteers keeps the concerts running smoothly and the concerts are very well attended. The minimal admission charge is also a good incentive to attend.

Robert Schmidli began piano studies in New Zealand and later continued in Melbourne. He has performed with a number of orchestras, worked with international artists and done solo recitals in New Zealand as well as Australia. According to the program, he also ‘moonlights as a medical specialist in endocrinology in Canberra and rural NSW’.

He performed two Beethoven piano sonatas. An engaging speaker as well as pianist, he introduced both items with interesting information about them.

The Piano Sonata No. 22 in F Major, a lesser known sonata compared to the ones that usually come to mind, has a deceptively quiet opening which becomes suddenly quite dramatic and then seems to fluctuate almost playfully in mood. The second movement requires good pace in the playing leading to a rousing finale. Robert Schmidli’s playing was clear and colourful throughout and very enjoyable.

The second work, the Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor (The ‘Appassionata’) is much more well-known. Robert Schmidli explained that there is constant debate about Beethoven’s motives in writing this and it was not Beethoven who called it ‘The Appassionata’. Listening to his expert performance of the work, it still felt highly emotive to this reviewer and it was a delight to hear it played so well in a live performance.
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SOM Times
Saturday 31 July 2010

by Julian Hunt
Doctor Robert proves old pops still strong

On Wednesday 28 July local pianist and endocrinologist Robert Schmidli gave a programme of Mozart and Beethoven as part of the Wesley Lunch time live series.

Robert Schmidli belongs to a select group of people today, often in the medical profession, who have realised the old ideal of the doctor; liberally educated, culturally refined, cosmopolitan, and indeed, somewhat eccentric. He has accumulated an impressive amount of musical experience, both in New Zealand and Australia and has been a Strong supporter of the Wesley Music Foundation, donating his concert proceeds to various causes. The Foundation recently made Robert a Fellow in recognition of his significant contributions. However, to say that this lunch time performance was good for someone who earns a living in another industry would serve a grave injustice. No, although it may not have been flawless, this was a fine performance without qualification.
Dr Schmidli knows his audience well - alas! I was the youngest by decades - performing Mozart's popular Sonata in A Major (KV 331) followed by the somewhat more unusual 'Les Adieux' sonata no, 26 (Op. 81a) by Beethoven. It's an effective way to programme: an old favourite followed by something more innovative (although of course, one usually has in mind the latest Sitsky or Carl Vine rather than Beethoven. It was nonetheless a similar underlying concept).

'Popular music' is all the more apt a term, particularly for the Mozart, considering Robert's familiarity with what most Australians know as popular music ceases With the Beatles, Happily, where he is oblivious to the music played on most hit radio stations, Robert possesses a solid knowledge of and active engagement in art music, particularly of the Classical and Romantic periods.

The first thing I noticed as Robert embarked on the Mozart was the clarity and precision of his playing. His experience was attested to by his expertly restrained use of the pedal, so often overused to produce a muddy and frankly nauseating wash of sound by lesser players. The result was a pleasing crispness which left both the performer's technical proficiency and the composition's intricacies exposed; in this case to the merit of both. Although I must admit my appreciation of the rondo alla Turca has taken a significant beating over the years of over-performance in underprepared recitals, the rest of the audience was visibly excited to hear the third movement begin, and clearly thoroughly enjoyed it.

Next, after some introductory words from the performer, was the Beethoven, This, for me at least, was the highlight of the day, particularly the first movement which created an immediate intensity and was delicately executed. The power of the initial shallow chord progressions suggested the piece contained romanticism deeper than Robert gave it credit for in his introductory statements. Still, it was no great surprise to learn after the concert that the good doctor himself favoured the first movement. Yet it appeared a lonely opinion as we discussed the Beethoven in the foyer afterwards; the majority of the passing compliments were for the old favourite, the rondo alla Turca.

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Canberra Times
Sunday 15 October 2006

by WL Hoffman
Triple Treat Performance
French Horn, Violin and Piano in Concert.
Wesley Music Centre, October 15.

The French horn has been an integral part of the symphony orchestra for more than two centuries, but it is seldom heard as a solo instrument or in chamber music performance -- thus this Sunday afternoon concert was a rare opportunity to hear it in both these areas.

Canberra-trained Brendon Jubb played with both the Canberra Youth Orchestra and the Canberra Symphony before undertaking advanced study in Germany where he gained further orchestral experience before returning to Canberra in 2004.

He opened the program with an impressively assured performance of the Sonata in F major for horn and piano, Op 17 by Beethoven, in which he was joined by pianist Robert Schmidli. The horn playing had a splendid tonal ring to it in the upper register, and was firmly controlled in the lower notes, with fine expressive playing throughout. He was strongly supported by Schmidli, with an excellent balance maintained between the two instruments.

The other major composition of the concert was the Horn Trio in E flat, Op 40, of Brahms, in which the hornist and pianist were joined by violinist Douglas Macnicol.
This is a marvellous work, music of romantic ardour, but unfortunately, although played with plenty of spirit in the outer movements and in the sparkling scherzo, the players never achieved a really satisfactory balance between the three instruments. This is so important in the trio where the violin has to match the potentially greater tonal projection of the other two instruments. Sadly, on this occasion the violinist was far too reticent in his tone production, even in the lovely slow movement, and, at most times, was swamped by the unsympathetically full-blooded piano and horn playing.

Between these two chamber works the pianist interposed a suitably sparkling performance of one of Haydn's fine "middle period" piano sonatas. The Sonata No 47 in B minor opened in a bright and arresting way and concluded with a lively and virtuosic presto. In a clean and crisp performance it was a welcome inclusion.
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Canberra Times
July 2004

by Richard Windeyer
As the evening progressed this concert got better and more engrossing. There were some very interesting items on the program, such as the Prokofiev Violing Sonata Op. 80 and some rarely played Scriabin piano works.

But the concert opened with a couple of what are really encore works. First there was an arrangement for violin and piano of the Nocturne from Borodin's String Quartet No. 2. This was followed by Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumble Bee. I found this an annoying way to begin a concert and it detracted from the enjoyment of the evening, particularly In the first half. The first substantial work on the program was Tchaikovsky's Serenade Melancolique which was played with a nice degree of sensitivity and understanding for the work. The rest of the first half was made up of works for piano solo by Mussorgsky Scriabin and Rachmaninov. For me the highlight of the concert was the three Scriabin piano works. Scriabin is a mercurial composer whose works should, in my view, be better known. The contrast between the early and later works of Scriabin is extraordinary and Schmidli's performance demonstrated this contrast brilliantly. His playing of the Etude was gorgeous. In the later works his performance was a compelling mix of strength, force and delicate mysticism. Douglas Macnicol gave spirited, energetic performances of Shostakovich's Three Fantastic Dances Op. 5. This was followed by the Prokofiev sonata. By far the most substantial violin work on the program, the Prokofiev was an excellent opportunity for Macnicol to display his talents and he did not disappoint.

I should finally mention the venue which is perfect for this kind of performance. The purpose built and acoustically designed hall in the Wesley Centre was excellent for this type of chamber music.
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Canberra Times
Friday 26 March 2004

by Peter Casey
CANADIAN bassoonist George Zukerman wears the unfashionable reputation of his instrument like a badge of honour, and dispenses with it by his playing.

The recital began with a transcription from a Corelli violin sonata, and five contrasting movements gave Zukerman plenty of opportunity to show the wide range of his instrument. For anyone expecting an afternoon of nothing but low notes, he produced a variety of sounds, from the rich lower register of his instrument to the unique sound of its rarely heard top notes. With closed eyes, you might have imagined a cor anglais, an oboe or oven cello on the stage.

Zukerman continued with romance by Elgar, and a transcription from a Rossini cello piece, every bit as allegro agitato as promised. He gave the audience precisely the kind of repertoire they wanted: for every demonstration of lyrical and soulful playing. There was some shamelessly virtuosic and theatrical fire. In the former category, the afternoon's highlight was the, andante from Mozart's oboe quartet (arranged for piano and bassoon), and in the latter, Piece de Concert, by Gabriel Pierne.

As Zukerman explained (and a relaxed speaker between pieces he is), Pierne worked on the faculty of the Paris Conservatory, and wrote Piece de concert as a challenging test for graduating students. The piece is, needless to say, no piece of cake, but Zukerman and his accompanist, Robert Schmidli proceeded to give the performance of the afternoon.

Special mention here to Schmidli, whose playing was attentive and nicely balanced throughout the concert, and nowhere more than here. Zukerman played solo in Thoughts of an ancient Japanese Melody, composed for him by his compatriot Elliot Weisgarber, and rounded off proceedings with a blazing Theme and Variations by Kalliwoda. He returned to play, as an encore, the slow movement of Carl Maria von Weber's Bassoon Concerto, and the response of one student to this piece, although unprintable, was highly complimentary.
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June 2003

by Helen Saunders
It is always a pleasure to hear chamber music in the purpose-built venue at Wesley. The acoustics, completely adjustable through the use of the wall panels, give life to the sound without becoming too dry. It was a very good choice of venue for Douglas McNicol and Robert Schmidli's foray through an interesting and challenging program.

Ernst Bloch, George Gershwin, Cesar Franck and Peter Sculthorpe joined less well known Australian composers Stephen Yates and Robert Acheson, as well as the vastly underrated Miriam Hyde, in a line up that gave great scope to McNicol's technical dexterity. The solo pieces, by Sculthorpe and Acheson, gave the violinist the opportunity to explore some interesting sonic variations, without alienating the audience. . Sculthorpe's Irkanda I was everything an audience expects from this now-iconic composer; Acheson's piece, on the other hand, seemed to lack a sense of coherence and definition. The piece, rather than taking the listener on a pre-determined journey, could have begun or ended at any point.

Schmidli - an endocrinologist by trade (that's surely taking a little too far the musician's oft heard criticism 'Get a real job') - provided sterling accompaniment, taking the lead only when required and appropriate. The instrument and the writing, rather than the performer, were at fault in the Franck Sonata, where sometimes the piano tended to overwhelm the violin.

Overall, the choice of pieces and their execution were of the high standard Canberra audiences have come to expect of McNicol. My only reservation is a sense of something lacking in the expression of his passion for the music. This was particularly, and unfortunately, evident in the opening piece of the program, where Bloch's scorching and searingly sweet Jewish melodies required just a little bit more than the undoubted technical accomplishment they were given.
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Southland Times
August 1983

Symphonia At Best

The Invercargill Symphonies's spring concert at the State Insurance theatre on Saturday night was a major event in local music showing the orchestra in the peak of its form and introducing a fine new pianist. The concert was attended by a large audience which was fully prepared to appreciate the best, and duly received the finest of what the province had to offer.

The symphonia was joined by three soloists for different parts of the programme: Hornist Paul Mayhew, pianist Robert Schmidli and soprano Heather James. None could be faulted for their performances but the high point of the evening had to be the spectacular "Hungarian Fantasy" for piano and orchestra by Liszt. The exciting flamboyant work brought out the best in both pianist, Schmidli, and the orchestra, and was dazzling to watch and listen to.

Effective Bass

It began with. a very effective use of the bass part of the orchestra featuring bassoons, double basses and cellos, which led on to a spectacular opening section for the piano. The work was a splendid grandiose gesture, and the performance was evidence of the talent in the orchestra and the pianist, and also showed up the high quality of the State Insurance theatre's beautiful grand piano.

Opening the concert was "Rhosymedre", a prelude on a Welsh hymn, by Vaughan Williams. Right from the start the orchestra looked and sounded impressive on stage, and this work, with its haunting melody, and overall impact like a swell of emotion, was a nice halfsubdued note to start on.

Principal Horn

Paul Mayhew, the principal horn with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, was the soloist in the performance of Mozart's "Horn Concerto No 4 in E Flat Major." The three movements swapped moods from lively and jaunty, to romantic quiet, then back to the quick and rousing again. Mayhew showed a good command of a difficult instrument and soloist and orchestra combined well.

"Valse Triste" was a moving work, with an effective introduction on plucked strings. Its major force was the emotional range it conveyed - from carefree, to menacing, to sadness. The overture from Verdi's opera, "Nabucco", was a dramatic narrative summariz. ing, as an overture does, the opera's transitions and moods.


Heather James, a local soprano, well known for her parts in local choral and operatic works, showed her sure and impressive style in two of Dvorak's "Gypsy Songs" and the aria "0 Mio Fernando" from Donizetti's opera "La Favorita." "Gypsy's Liberty" was passionate to the core, while "Songs My Mother Taught Me" was more gentle and nostalgic. The aria was short and to the point, and altogether the final im. pression was of a stylish and impressive singer, complemented but definitely not dominated by an able orchestra.

The symphonia wound up their concert with the "Spartacus" Ballet Suite No 1, by Khachaturian, which revealed all parts of the orchestra as accomplished. A dramatic tale of the revolt of Roman slaves, led by gladiator Spartacus, the music was packed with emotion and tension, and was on a grand scale. Climaxes were spectacular, using all sections of the orchestra to the fullest to build up the impact.

The orchestra was conducted by Edward Aspey and lead by Vincent Aspey.
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Southland Times
Monday 14 September 1981

Cello and Piano
In Recital

Pleasantly Intimate in presentation, a recital by Margaret Cooke, cellist and Robert Schmidli, pianist, last night was of a quality which could have commanded a large audience.

Given in the Southland Museum art gallery, the recital was sponsored by the Invercargill Society of Registered Music Teachers and it should have attracted considerably more students than were present. They would have gained front hearing well chosen music beautifully played.

Margaret Cooke, a cellist who has achieved much during her two years in Invercargill, will leave in January for London, where she will study for two years with a Fanny Evans scholarship from Otago University.


Robert Schmidli, who studied with lola Shelley in Christchurch and Johannes Giesen in Dunedin, is making his career in medicine, but as, a pianist is of a professional standard which could command a high ranking among recitalists.

Together, the two artists showed sensitive rapport.

That was evident from the start in the Elegie for cello and piano by Gabriel Faure, a good example of his delicately-balanced idiom. to which tonal warmth and emotional glow were imparted.

Beethoven's Sonata in C minor, unusually dramatic for an early work, made the pianist's quality evident. It was strong in contrasts, technical command and expressive range.

In the Debussy Sonata for cello and piano the many demanding rhythmic and dynamic changes were effectively encompassed.


Six studies in English folk song by Vaughan Williams produced lyrical cello playing and sympathetically phrased piano accompaniments in settings ranging from poetic to quizzical in mood.

As a representative short recital of Chopin's piano music Robert Schmidll could not have chosen better than the Nocturne in C sharp minor, the Mazurka in A minor and the Etude in G flat major. As he played them they were an exposition of authentic style and virtuoso quality.

As a finale there was Beethoven's Sonata in A major for cello and piano, probably the best known of the five such works he wrote - a middle period composition of mature beauty. An excellent example of the integrated dialogue style Beethoven so often required in sonatas for two instruments, it was played with well-balanced, expressive mastery.

Mrs Mary A. Poole, president of the teachers' society, thanked the performers and the response to their music indicated that more such recitals would be appreciated.
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Christchurch Press
April 1977

by C Foster Browne
Secondary pupils' music

Selected pupils from secondary schools throughout New Zealand gave a concert to a large audience in the Christ's College Hall last evening. The pupils have had a week in Christchurch of intensive study in orchestral playing. The programme began with an appropriately airy performance of Rossini's overture to "Italian Girl in Algiers." This had well-created and sustained atmosphere, and the neat and carefully balanced playing from all sections of the orchestra made an immediately favourable impression. The strings of the orchestra then played Holst's St Paul's Suite, with clear part-playing, good expressive response, and most commendable phrasing. Once again the spirit of the work, as in tended by the composer, shone through the performance honestly, more than making up for whatever small defects there may have been. Tone of really excellent timbres was a continual delight.

Susan Higgs (violin) Margaret Cooke (cello) and Robert Schmidli (piano) were the soloists with the orchestra in the first movement of Beethoven's Triple Concerto, Opus 56. The two string play ers, both playing with excellent style matched their attractive timbres charmingly and with musicianly skill and savoir faire. Theirs was interpretation sincerely thought out and brought to polished conclusion. Robert Schmidli's pianoforte playing, clear and of beautiful rippling tone had admirable vitality and conveyed understanding and conviction. The orchestra responded with engaging brio playing with cohesion, balance and vivacious sense of colour, quick to convey expressive change, and bringing resounding climaxes.

"Turkey in the straw", a diversion for orchestra-by John Ritchie demanded, and got, very close attention and a good sense of humour, and was effectively and enjoyably performed. The woodwind and brass ensemble. conducted by Peter Rowe responded with preision and eclat in Vaughan, Williams's "Folk Song Suite." They played well together and graded their changes of levels with care. The liveliess of the playing was exemplary.

The programme ended with the first movement, allegro non troopo from Brahms's Second Symphony, brave and by no means nsuccessful attempt at. one high peaks of symphonic literature. It is remarkable what grasp these young players had of movement after only a week's working together. The performance had life and colour kept its shape remarkably well.

Very high praise must gladly be given to John Emeleus, who conducted orchestra so clearly and inspiringly and through this week, has supervised the training, much, much of it carried out by an expert band of helpers.

The leader of the orchestra David Kempthorne, has given his players a strong sense of discipline, and led them with confidence and security.