The Melbourne Chamber Orchestra attracted a sizeable audience to Elisabeth Murdoch Hall at the Melbourne Recital Centre, testament to the orchestra’s growing importance in the musical life of this city. Of course, both the advertised concerto and soloist Anna Goldsworthy were drawcards in their own right, but the entire program and performance made this a very enjoyable way of spending a Sunday afternoon.
Mendelssohn’s String Symphony no.10 in B minor was more like an overture, in its brevity and lack of separate movements – although different sections were clearly evident in the music. They served as a showcase for the MCO’s command of technique as well as contrasting dynamics – and the ensemble’s synchronicity, with artistic director William Hennessy’s leading from his own violin.
The fourteen string players were heard to advantage from the sombre minor key opening, the lower strings giving depth to the sound, with sweetness contributed by the violins, including Hennessy’s. The considered phrasing augured well for the two Mozart works that were to dominate the program.
Although all players were faced with a sudden change of pace in the work (the viola part called for unusually fast bowing), they maintained the flow of sound apparently effortlessly. The final section was the most “symphonic”, with runs and reiteration of notes for emphasis, interspersed with a tuneful theme. A greater challenge was the final Presto – it was well met!
Even before applause had died down, the grand piano was wheeled out and brass and wind players joined the MCO for the title work of the concert: Mozart’s Last Concerto, No.27 in B flat major. Hennessy then escorted Anna Goldsworthy, a tall, elegant figure, to the stage. Goldsworthy’s reputation precedes her: writer, festival director, member of the Seraphim Trio. But many had not heard her perform as a soloist so her arrival was greeted with some excited anticipation.
We were not disappointed. Although No.27 is a well-known concerto, with all three movements beginning with a familiar subject, there is scope for individual interpretation or, at least, style. Goldsworthy is the ideal Mozart pianist, playing with clarity and an apparently light touch that makes even tricky but brilliant accidentals and cadenzas seem unforced. Clever pedalling kept the continuous harmonies distinct from each other, and phrasing allowed the listener to hear the shape of each phrase.
Hennessy’s direction of the MCO was sympathetic to this approach. The familiar opening had well-observed dynamics and, for the most part, the balance of piano and orchestra was good. Some of the best moments were found in “dialogues”, such as the piano playing with wind and brass in the first movement. Syncopated strings added interest to what was a quite long first movement.
The second, Larghetto, demonstrated Goldsworthy’s feeling for Mozart as the piano articulated the beautiful theme (as if for variations), with the rich orchestration that soon followed immensely satisfying. The same could be said of the entire third movement, in which piano and orchestra partnered to present a vibrant piece of music, at times showy, but at its heart unmistakeably Mozart, deeply felt and superbly executed.
The final work on the program was also by Mozart, his Symphony Mo.36 in C major K425 Linz. The work’s complexities were evident from the outside and in its four contrasting movements, but the MCO – having acquitted itself so well as a partner in the concerto – seemed to relish them. The performance was notable for the crisp strings in the first movement with lovely winds in the second. The Minuet saw Hennessy set a swaying pace which his orchestra followed smoothly, unfazed by contrasts in dynamics and a rapid transition to the Trio.
The fourth movement completed this empathetic rendition of the symphony. It was fast but delicate, even in the lower strings and sustained horn notes. Hennessy took a mature approach to the development of this movement, which would have suited a full-sized symphony orchestra – but did not appear lacking in any way, delivered by twenty or so players.
In reviewing this concert I have not forgotten the third item – Impromptu for String Orchestra by Sibelius. Another solemn piece, it nevertheless was rich in harmony and was well suited to an orchestra (rather than the piano form that inspired it). The MCO moved seamlessly from the respectful, measured pace of the opening to a more flowing rhythm in this well-chosen piece.
But the night belonged to Mozart. The finale of the symphony was thrilling – and left the impression that Melbourne has every reason to be proud of its chamber orchestra. The orchestra has several initiatives planned including the formation of the Australian Octet. Details at www.mco.org.au