Melbourne Musicians: Mozart and Schubert

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Published: 12th April, 2017

Repeated radio announcements told us that we should remain indoors, but the intrepid souls who ventured out to hear Lee Abrahmsen sing a collection of Mozart arias with Melbourne Musicians were very glad they had ignored dire warnings about approaching storms.

The first half of the program was devoted to arias from The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte and the concert aria Nehmt meinen Dank. Only discovered in Naples and published in Rome in 1998, Donizetti’s Introduction for Strings provided a moment of respite for the soprano from this taxing vocal music.

This year Abrahmsen makes her debut with Opera Australia as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro and it was easy to hear why she has been chosen for the role as she sang Porgi amor and Dove sono. Both demand the ability to sing long legato phrases with apparent ease while maintaining absolute control of pitch, dynamic shape and beauty of tone – all of this plus dramatic engagement. Opting for fairly leisurely speeds, Conductor and Artistic Director of Melbourne Musicians, Frank U. Pam certainly didn’t make things easy for Abrahmsen, but she managed to sustain quality and energy by harnessing the breath in an admirable display of technical control.

St John’s Southgate has a resonant acoustic well suited to most voices and instruments, but it is very revealing. Yet, even at the most passionate moments of heightened drama, Abrahmsen’s ample voice never lost its radiant sheen. Enhanced by some excellent gradual crescendos and diminuendos, the vocal line was finely calibrated to produce the wistful yearning of the Countess. The florid passages of all arias displayed excellent agility and precision. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Abrahmsen’s voice, and what makes it so rare, is the sense of latent power it projects. There is a quality of spaciousness in the resonance that is giving her increasing success in Wagnerian roles. It is all the more remarkable that she is able to sing these exacting Mozart arias with such sensitive refinement. Perhaps Opera Australia has at last found a suitable Donna Anna as well as a Countess. Her singing of Non mi dir would suggest so.

Although a lack of rehearsal time resulted in less than perfect playing from the orchestra occasionally, the wind section in particular produced some really lovely moments. The velvety warm tone of Jason Ly’s oboe combined with Jane Robertson’s clarinet to make an impressive contribution to Per pieta, which also benefited from the horn echo of the decorated soprano line. Giving extra dash to the violin solo in the short Donizetti work, Irina Grigoryan was a sure-footed Concertmaster, while convincing depth of tone from the three lower strings gave the pieces greater richness and substance overall.

Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 was an appropriate choice for the second half of the concert inasmuch as it complemented the first Mozartian half of the program nicely. It is also one of the most popular works in the symphonic repertoire and, perhaps most importantly, one that the orchestra members would have played several times or, at least, known very well. Beginning at a fairly sedate pace the first movement lacked the expected spring and energy, but the symphony as a whole was most enjoyable. Again, Jasper Ly’s oboe was something to relish.

This is Melbourne Musicians’ 43rd Concert Season and Frank U Pam is to be heartily commended for the way he has identified and fostered outstanding talent over so many years. It was a pity that more people were unable to attend this concert; they missed out on something special.

Heather Leviston reviewed this concert at St John’s Southgate on

April 9, 2017.