It is extraordinary to know that this Gala Concert, admirably sponsored by Michael Aquilina, was the 78th Melbourne Digital Concert Hall chamber music recital in a continuing festival of on-line live concerts. A dedicated audience at home welcomed this remarkable opportunity to hear fabulous classical chamber music repertoire performed by highly accomplished Melbourne Symphony Orchestra players in a unique event. Brilliant musicians, splendid program.
Weber’s Clarinet Quintet Bb Op 34, sometimes known as the Grand Quintet, is an inspiring Romantic work, and was performed with much warmth, personality and flamboyancy by clarinettist David Thomas. Often described generally as a concerto for clarinet, with strings – Tair Khisambeev, Robert Macindoe, Fiona Sargeant and Elina Faskhi, largely having a supportive and accompanying role, the work showed Thomas to be a highly authoritative leader who projected the necessary fun, happiness and excitement into every note. Weber expected technical virtuosity in the first movement – Allegro, with cascading runs and wide melodic leaps allowing Thomas to exude maximum skill and tone colour with operatic flair. Cellist Elina Faskhi was strikingly powerful and melodious throughout, with violins and viola blending beautifully, understated yet exact. Highly expressive was the contrasting Fantasia: Adagio, which opened in the saddest minor key, sombre and almost funereal in rhythm, intensely touching. Menuetto: Capriccio presto was a most playful, dazzling piece where the ensemble reinforced the dynamics with strong syncopated interjections. The contrasting second section was full of sweeping lyrical melodies, allowing the soloist to enjoy playful echoes with the cello, before a return of the scherzo-like first section balanced the movement. Weber wrote a surprising and quirky ending with a sudden, softly shaded repetition of the main theme, which felt like a ghostly echo or shadow of the main theme. Rondo: Allegro Giocoso was a galloping rhythmic movement allowing Thomas to fully excel in his solo artistry, with demanding patterns at the extremes of high and low registers, exposition of trills and ornaments, and the whole team accelerating and building into a passionate finale. The four string players warmly applauded and congratulated Thomas’ exhilarating stage performance.
Pianist Louisa Breen has been an enthusiastically acknowledged performer in the MDCH series. Her eloquent style was perfectly displayed in Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major K414, as she confidently articulated the music with fine clarity and precision. Joined by double bassist Stephen Newton, the five-piece string ensemble responded sensitively to Breen’s fluid dynamic range, giving the audience an intimate hearing, almost a magnified hearing and sight of the detail in Mozart’s score. Close-up camera shots even let us see the general music notation on the players’ stands. With a concert grand piano today, we can expect a “modern” sound and realisation in performance. Breen portrayed both a fresh, expressive and warmly engaging style; her trills shone like diamonds, and she was always most charming and direct, with clean articulation and an honest approach within the classical framework of this concerto.
A scheduled interval gave time for Richard Jackson from Melbourne Chamber Orchestra to host a talk with Louisa Breen, before bassoonist Brock Imison and horn player Abbey Edlin joined the string players for the very grand Wind Septet in Eb Op 20 by Beethoven. Described as a democratic work where scintillating solo moments are shared around the ensemble members, this fine music highlighted first violinist Tair Khisambeev’s exceptional musicality and leadership. Adagio – Allegro allowed very beautiful playing of challenging part writing and revealed musical suggestions of themes to be developed in the symphonic works of Beethoven’s later period. Adagio Cantabile revealed more sumptuous violin playing featured against bassoon countermelodies in lovely tonal sections. Quite innovative of the Classical period was this new prominent role of the clarinet, which was highlighted as it echoed gorgeous string melodies more typical of a Romantic serenade than an early Classical role. A lively and balanced Minuet was followed by Andante with (5) Variations. The first variation brought skilful interweaving of lines to the fore, with powerful cello lines adding much tonal beauty; the second, featured bassoon and clarinet tones. With each successive movement this wonderful ensemble strengthened its forwardness, unity and resolve, showing us why this septet has been a highly popular work since Beethoven’s time of writing.
The last two movements were totally delightful. A capricious Scherzo featured a glorious cello solo section, the French Horn peppered the dance with descending chord notes and prominent skipping rhythms, and the blend of ensemble tonality glowed. It was sad to reach the final section of this wonderful program. The introductory Andante was full of majesty and grandeur, and Presto fuelled a cheerful and exciting journey to a challenging virtuosic cadenza for solo violin. Being MSO Assistant Concertmaster Tair Khisambeev more than excelled in his stamina and mastery of this demanding solo, which came at the end of three significantly robust works by major composers in which he had authoritatively led the way with impressive musicianship.
Once again, we were left with high admiration, new familiarity meeting these performers, and a memorable musical experience of our local orchestral members.
Julie McErlain reviewed Melbourne Digital Concert Hall’s Aquilina Saturday Gala Series, Concert 2, presented on June 13, 2020.
Photo of Louisa Breen supplied.