Double Trouble – what a great title for a music program which included several musical pairs and family partnerships within the chamber orchestra, as well as the featured guest soloists, Leonard & Slava Grigoryan. Directing the Melbourne Musicians’ 44th Concert Season, Frank Pam is always a truly warm and welcoming host, dedicated to presenting pleasant audience-friendly programs offering a variety of orchestral music. Frank Pam enjoys talking to the audience about the performers and the music, and so he draws the audience in together with the musicians and conductor as a “family”, sharing music in the community, and today this produced an atmosphere of an honest and happy family musical affair.
Today the main fare from the 13 piece string orchestra came from the menu of Austrian-Hungarian band music of the day, and was performed with the required energetic spirit and robust character of traditional European marching or dance music. Opening today’s concert, Vindebona March (Viennese March) by Karl Komzak, a composer whose career began as a regimental bandmaster, exemplified the popular style of a parade march, purposeful and confident, true in feeling to its subtitle “Let Us Enjoy Life.” Composer Joseph Lanner, a lesser known contemporary of the Strauss family, was one of the original waltz kings of Vienna, all but forgotten outside of Vienna, was brought alive for us today with Dornbacher Landler, Opus 9, another forthright setting of a traditional country folk dance. The “Landler” was a popular type of piece in the Viennese dance halls (both Lanner and J. Strauss, Sr., played violin in a small string orchestra).
The opening pieces were played with vigour and drive, with confidence and a strong, regular pulse. In St John’s Church I sometimes felt the acoustics were hard, with fortissimos in the high string registers becoming a little strident and edgy in tone, but the contrast with the lighter Landler was warmer, softer and string tones more blended in this ensemble. In softer sections the ensemble achieved a well-rounded balance.
The Grigoryan family has a long standing association with the Melbourne Musicians, with Leonard first playing with them in 1989,and Slava, a few years later. It was more than “Double Trouble” today, with parents Irina Grigoryan playing violin, and Eduard Grigoryan arranging the first work for the guitarists – Concerto in Bb for two Guitars (from Harp/Organ Concerto Op 4 No 6) by Handel.
There are no new words to describe the brothers: a world class duo, always an exciting, musically outstanding team, who are so well loved and familiar but who always leave us awe-struck. There was much warmth in expression, superior technical precision in counterpoint and musical conversation, and fine Baroque energy. Although I felt the Larghetto was a little hurried, the ensemble accompaniment was rich and solid, and the Allegro Moderato almost accelerated to the finishing post with much joyful energy and forward drive.
Always generous with sharing their musical gifts and repertoire, the guitarists added several duo pieces to the program – an arrangement by Slava of Fantasy on a Theme by William Lawes, a free, exotic and colourful work, with many contrasting elements and innovative motives. Melodic patterns freely danced over drone-like basses, with string harmonics and virtuosic effects bridging the brilliant and adventurous scale sections of folk-like dance melodies. These resolved into a surprising form of an elegant Sarabande dance. Their contrasting second work, Tchaikovsky’s None But The Lonely Heart, was a perfect demonstration of blended teamwork, colours and expressive romantic flavours, which often allowed one guitar to solo with expressive broad melodic tones over the accompanying muted tones and syncopated chordal accompaniment of the second guitar.
J.S. Bach’s Ariosa –Cantata BWV 156 opened the second part of the program, beautifully familiar, arranged by Slava Grigoryan and performed with much feeling, sensitive dynamics, and repeated melodies being embellished with unexpected and delightful ornaments. This was such a beautiful work. The connection of this performance with the audience led us to what I call “the hush moment.” After the final cadence, the silence in the venue was held for an eternity of appreciative silence, as if no sound was good enough to follow. It signified heartfelt satisfaction for the performance, and several seconds passed before the applause broke out.
Originally written for two mandolins, Vivaldi’s Concerto in G for 2 guitars allowed Leonard and Slava to move into the foreground with demonstrated technical virtuosity, precise musical conversations, and plucked string techniques enhancing the variety of sonorities in the work. The Andante particularly stood out, deceptively simple in its musical dialogue between soloists, and the Melbourne Musicians’ violins and violas accompanied with sympathetic plucking in the accompaniment. The Allegro was an exhilarating final movement, again accelerating into an exciting coda.
Great guitar work just kept coming. Leonard introduced us to his own composition, This Time, a contemporary structured piece with colourful shades of percussive Flamenco and a touch of warm Andalusian flavour, a balance of repetition and contrast, totally admirable. Slava’s choice was Duende, a smartly moving, rapid and exciting, brilliantly executed piece, written by respected guitarist Ralph Towner.
The Melbourne Musicians rounded out their own performance with Schubert’s 15 German Dances Op 33, which restored the 19th century dance style of the day– more of a country waltz style with a solid triple meter, but almost unforgiving pulse. The theme of the solid, joyful family affair completed the program with a cheerful, robust performance of J. Strauss (Senior) Champagner-Galopp Op 8 and J. Strauss (Junior) Polka Francaise Op. 38.
Today’s “family affair” brought audience and Melbourne Musicians together for a traditional parting rendition of Silent Night, rounding off a program which wasn’t “Double Trouble” – it was no trouble at all with double the enjoyment for the audience. The contribution of the Melbourne Musicians under the direction of Frank Pam, for this 44th Concert Season, is itself truly admirable.