Art Of Fugue Reinvented

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Published: 17th May, 2017


It was clear from the sizeable audience that Inventi Ensemble has established an enthusiastic following and a program focused on works by J S Bach would have been an added attraction for this Local Heroes chamber music concert.

Again, the Artistic Directors of the collective, oboist Ben Opie and flautist Melissa Doecke, lived up to their particularly apt name. It would seem that Inventi Ensemble is game for just about anything, from an arrangement of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony for five players and mixed media ventures to leading community projects which involve making instruments from everyday materials. A projected arrangement of Swan Lake is sure to produce something that will astonish and delight. More importantly, if this concert was any indication of the quality of Inventi Ensemble’s creations, it is bound to have musical integrity and be performed with outstanding skill.

Of the many, many recitals I have attended in the MRC Salon, I cannot remember one that has been presented so completely in the round. As Ben Opie explained, the five members of the ensemble for this performance found they were rehearsing in the round and wished to maintain that productive conformation. The increased level of communication and sense of intimacy that this entailed also increased the intensity of the experience for the audience. It would have been even greater, perhaps, if the MRC had been able to provide a revolving stage set-up similar to that used by the Australian National Academy of Music Quartetthaus for the Melbourne Festival, where the central stage revolved almost imperceptibly at the rate of one revolution per hour, thus giving the audience a chance to see all players and their instruments clearly. But that is a minor point within the context of a truly fascinating concert.

Opie and Doeke were joined by Jessica Oddie (violin), William Clark (viola) and Paul Zabrowarny (cello) for selections from Bach’s Die Kunst der Fugue. Three brackets of Contrapunctus were interspersed with three Canons for various combinations of instruments as well as short, helpful comments by Opie and Doecke, who had arranged the material for seven instruments, including alto flute and cor anglais.

The principal subject might be instantly recognizable, but the increasing complexity of the variations with inversions, formidable chromaticism, countersubjects and all manner of contrapuntal relationships can be challenging for players and audience alike. The Canons too were at times so fast moving and rhythmically intricate that it seemed miraculous that they maintained coherence.

Despite the plethora of musical invention, a sense of musical fluency was always apparent. In fact, the arrangements highlighted the individual voices in a way that enabled musical ideas to take on new clarity and freshness. The high technical and expressive quality of the playing was a major factor in this. Opie and Doecke are something of a “dream team” with the lower versions of their instruments making the most beautiful warm rounded tone that melded into each other in the most beautifully organic way for the opening Contrapunctus 1. In various combinations, with one or two musicians stepping out of the circle for some pieces, the variety of textures and colours provided a kaleidoscopic series of musical adventures.

Considerable virtuosity coupled with assured musical intention on the part of all players made this imaginative interpretation of Bach’s great work an immensely rewarding experience.

Heather Leviston reviewed this concert by Inventi Ensemble at the Melbourne Recital Centre, Salon, on May 8, 2017.