Hats off to Christopher Moore, program director, conductor and violist, who programmed a delightfully new and fresh programme with a difference for a tour of Regional Victoria. The Warrnambool Lighthouse Theatre played host to the MSO for the orchestra’s fourth concert on the road, and Moore selected a small but high quality program of two rarely performed classical works, and one new Australian composition, all perfect for a reduced orchestra visiting country venues where smaller stages can be less accommodating for the full MSO.
Brahms’ five movement piece, Serenade No 2, composed for a reduced orchestral score featuring woodwind, strings and only one pair of horns, opened the program with a moderately paced
Allegro Moderato, ambient, fresh and delightful, with standout oboe solos and many shades of a pastoral soundscape. Whether presenting relatively brief phrases or broader melodies, gentle strolling steps or lightly skipping beats, the orchestra executed exquisite warmth and blend. Brahms’ score for the second movement Scherzo (Vivace) allowed for an increased power in the strong unison playing, simple cross rhythms and shifting stressed pulse beats typical of country folk dances. Despite the polite, well-tempered tempo, the accented melodies were accompanied by a firm harmonic structure, and were performed with admirable dynamics and colourful detail. By contrast, the Adagio non Troppo which followed, produced heavier, more weighty pulse beats, seemingly gentle but almost becoming ponderous, hymn-like, tending to be grounded with an earthy sobriety. Here the orchestra sustained the darker colours with beauty but with just a slight languishing feeling. Quasi Minuetto also was a movement which began in a sprightly manner, with the contrasting Trio being performed with smooth, sentimental and tender sounds, sweet, but restful and restrained. The final Rondo (Allegro) regained momentum and blithe spirit with French horns and exemplary woodwind solos adding sharper colour and power to the warm strings where united cellos and double basses consistently made their presence felt throughout with strong pizzicato pulses.
Surprise, surprise, after 28 minutes it was now interval, and the sizeable audience mostly remained in the theatre wanting more music. As orchestral visits to country centres are few and far between, the audiences are always hungry for more.
With Iain Grandage’s All the World’s a Stage, the very opening bars made an immediate colourful and strong impact, demanding our full attention and engagement. The orchestra gave us a fully expressive, dynamic and sensitive presentation of an intelligent and creative work for string orchestra. Well-balanced and precise in its structure, the work was inspired by the passage from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, with seven connected movements following the ages of man from childhood to the inevitable spiritual finale. Grandage described the work as “a series of interconnected motifs, both rhythmic and melodic, [which] weave their way through the work as do certain techniques… most notably, extensive use of glissandi, clusters and artificial harmonics.”
This imaginative work began with energetic life, (The Infant Child). Players used a variety of string techniques to produce highly expressive short fragments of glissandos and themes repeated through different registers of the string sections, with full-bodied layers of repeated pulses and motifs. As musical life came to each ‘stage of man’, these glissandos and motifs continued to be influential, as broader conversations developed between rising strings. Slower passages were emotionally expressive, connections from one ‘stage’ to the next, with new ‘tonal centres’, were subtle and smoothly contoured. The final movement Sans Everything (Without Everything) took on a new magical translucent texture, with sustained upper harmonics and pianissimo shimmering trills, a feeling of being still, pillars of sound without pulse, creating a sense of repose and floating harmony. One felt a suspended veil or mist of sound and spirit.
This was an admirable performance of a most exciting and adventurous piece of music which was highly enjoyed and strongly applauded for this World Premier performance.
Before the third and final work in the program, Principal Viola of the MSO, Christopher Moore affectionately introduced the new member of the orchestra – the precious, Maggini viola currently on loan to the MSO. Built in 1610, 150 years before Mozart was born, just the first sight of this treasure was warmly acknowledged by the audience. With violin soloist Sophie Rowell completing the partnership, we felt this performance of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola would be something special. It was more than special. It was scintillating. If it is true that Mozart wrote this work specifically for certain musicians at the time (1778-79), choosing the key of E flat which had symbolical significance for him, this type of work is one of its kind, ‘different’ to his concertos and symphonic style.
It requires two highly accomplished soloists to bring this work to its full potential in true operatic, almost bel canto style, particularly with the unaccompanied passages requiring virtuosic high points, and much embellishment of motifs. Christopher Moore and Sophie Rowell, with our fine MSO string players, excelled in giving us an enriching experience of Mozart’s work. The confident, warm partnership between the two soloists produced a technically impressive and joyful musical journey. Most admirable was the expressive exchange of musical dialogue in their unaccompanied solo sections, whether the dialogue consisted of repeated patterns in lively ‘conversation’, or parallel lines in perfect harmony, with refined but energetic cadences. Like partners in a dance, the communication between the two instruments in the musical dialogues showed the soloists’ personalities, relationship and love of the music. The orchestra similarly responded with the exact spirit and dynamics demanded by these illustrious soloists.
No wonder some people living in the country are heard to say – “why go overseas when in Warrnambool we can hear music by world-class Australian soloists, orchestras and composers like this.”
Julie McErlain attended “An Evening With The MSO” on October 19, 2018