The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO) has earned its brilliant reputation as one of our best period instrument orchestras. Its sounds are made more glorious by the individual abilities of it fabulous team of musicians who collaborate so well.
At the Elizabeth Murdoch Melbourne Hall Melbourne Recital Centre on Saturday 12th September, 2015 the splendid composition known as the Linz by Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart provided a fabulous finale to the guest director appearance of London based forte pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout with the ABO.
The melodic phrasing of the music making for the program Mozart’s Fortepiano conducted and played with great dexterity by Kristian Bezuidenhout was effortlessly elegant, highly expressive and shining with subtlety.
The fortepiano made before 1830 has a very different sound to that of the modern piano. Bezuidenhout has stated that once he started playing it; it changed both his relationship to music and Mozart.
The instrument’s timbre is delicate, its range while dynamic is limited and its nuance of tone completely captivating. It speaks like a wonderful caressing voice in Bezuidenhout’ hands and he dazzled his Australian audience not only with his artistic individuality, but also with the beauty, sensitivity and heart-felt emotion of his playing.
With both vigour and variety he made his chosen instrument, and his audience, sing out with sheer delight.
For this splendid concert Kristian Bezuidenhout took ABO players, who were led by Guest Concertmaster Madeleine Easton, back to their heartland of playing excellence, as with sensuous beauty and soaring vitality they teased and titillated our expectations.
Kristian Bezuidenhout is no stranger to Australian shores. Born in South Africa he began studies here as a young man before completing them in London. He still likes to call Australia ‘home’ and has played with the ‘Brandies’ before in 2007 and 2011.
This time he was invited by ABO artistic director Paul Dyer to not only showcase the fortepiano a rarely seen instrument here in concert, but also works par excellence by Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782), his brother Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710 – 1784) and the young man they influenced, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
JC Bach’s Sinfonia in G Major, Op. 3 No. 6 felt like being integral to a beautiful Fete galante scene painted by sensitive French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721).
On the cusp between the former grand manner of the Baroque and coming classical style, its variations on a theme especially in the Andante, made me believe I had landed in the mythologized land of Arcadia, to live in peace and harmony with nature.
A social and musical success, this work had true ‘grace’. Both energetic and then slow and sonorous, truly divine strings echoed each other like the sound of beautiful songbirds deep in a forest.
It was indeed ‘elegant, accessible and melodic’.
Johann Christian was the youngest and sixth son of the famous Bach musical family, whose influence stretched back generations and included its most celebrated member, his father, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).
Subsequently Johann the son seemingly pushed himself harder and travelled further than any other Bach before him. He travelled way beyond the boundaries of Germany, eventually becoming known as the English Bach, when he was appointed music master to King George III’s wife Charlotte and their children
Exquisitely subtle, I absolutely loved the Sinfonia in D minor for two flutes and string orchestra F65 by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, who was the eldest and favourite son of the father.
Perhaps more than his brothers he had so much more to live up to.
Reputedly a ‘troubled’ soul who sometimes buckled under the weight of his heritage, his exalting Sinfonia is certainly a shining legacy.
ABO flautists Melissa Farrow and Mikaela Oberg and the orchestra with Kristian Bezuidenhout gently coaxing everyone, submitted graciously and with exquisite delicacy to the sheer beauty and generosity of a truly stunning although short Adagio.
Then followed the fabulous ever-building Fugue! Words failed…I was quite undone and glad we had a short break to catch our breath and prepare for what was to come.
The stage was re-set for the work that would be the piece de resistance of the evening, the solo performance of Kristian Bezuidenhout playing Mozart’s Piano concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466.
More than any other perhaps, content and form balance each other beautifully in this marvellous piece of music by Mozart. It has a compelling logic in its construction.
With great dexterity and virtuosity Kristian Bezuidenhout showcased the work itself, the composer’s intelligence and ingenuity, as well as his own brilliant technical prowess. In his hands it took flight as he made this concerto his own.
At the pinnacle for piano performers, the work has order, balance, grace and elegance in proportion and while it reflected its composer’s own preference for aesthetics through its textures, tempos and pauses of great ingenuity, it also displayed and demonstrated clearly to all present Bezuidenhout’s emotional daring.
He generously gave us a true and sublime period experience of the fortepiano, lifting us up into yet another realm of beauty altogether. It truly was as if he, Bezuidenhout was Mozart.
The splendid acoustic of the Elizabeth Murdoch Hall allowed us to hear every note gloriously as with breathtaking sensitivity he revealed both the dramatic and passionate tone of a work that Mozart perfected and personalized.
This sophisticated concerto’s reputation over the centuries since it was composed has only but grown and it was easy to see why. Must say that I like the analogy of this work where the orchestra and the soloist reflect symbolically the tensions that shape our society.
The work’s ultimate end of collaboration and reconciliation certainly satisfied everyone. The exquisite solo voice that dominated the whole piece enriched all who were there.
The piano was Maestro Mozart’s favourite instrument and while complex in structure, his works for it miraculously sound simple, strikingly original and highly individual.
The French folk song based second movement was yearningly serene and I found myself suddenly aching all over with the magic of the whole experience.
Kristian Bezuidenhout has a prodigious technique and he brilliantly masterminded Mozart’s ongoing dialogue between the instruments, creating an extraordinary sense of excitement, while embellishing its themes with stormy outbursts and rich orchestration.
I loved where the oboes hauntingly echo the piano. Then there is the considered intrusion of the horn; nothing quite like the exquisite playing of a period horn by Darryl Poulsen and Doree Dixon to provide such a lasting and glorious resonant sound.
Widely considered the greatest pianist of his own time, Mozart was also a great improviser and his works exhibit both his strengths and personal proclivities.
This work was at that point where Mozart left the fun and frivolity of the Rococo behind and ventured into a realm of romance, plumbing the depths of our very spirit and soul with sheer excellence.
Much in demand for concerto, recital and chamber music engagements, Kristian Bezuidenhout first gained international recognition winning both the prestigious First Prize and Audience Prize when he was 21 at the Bruges Fortepiano competition.
Since then he has played in early music festivals around the globe including Barcelona, Boston, Bruges, Innsbruck, St. Petersburg, Venice and Utrecht; the festivals of Salzburg, Edinburgh, Schleswig Holstein, Tangelwood and Luzern and Mostly Mozart at the Lincoln Center.
Today most fortepianos have their origin in instruments made by Johann Andreas Stein of Augsburg (southern Germany) from the early 1770s.
Mozart played a concert in the Goldenersaal at Augsburg in October 1777 on one of Stein’s fortepiano’s with great success.
Count Wolfegg from Salzburg reputedly exclaimed excitedly ‘I never heard anything like this in my life!’
Consequently Mozart became a great enthusiast of the instrument, which in Vienna was further developed by Anton Walter, who built the only fortepiano Mozart owned during the early 1780s*. He experimented with various combinations for the fortepiano, especially when combined with other solo instruments.
After interval Flautist Melissa Farrow joined with Kristian Bezuidenhout to present the brief but bounteous Mozart’s Andante for Flute, K315.
This work showcased Mozart’s masterful art of blending a solo instrument with an orchestra with great freedom. He exploited the Baroque flute as far as technically possible at the time, which in Melissa Farrow’s hands sang with ‘rapturous melodiousness’.
This short work was superbly and sweetly rendered and at one stage I realised that I was holding my breath with the perfection of Melissa Farrow’s playing.
Then followed the Symphony No.36 in C major Linz, K425.
Deeply serious its slow carefully considered introduction heralds the arrival of what was contemporarily described as Mozart’s ‘quite new grand symphony’.
This work originally written in 1783 was completed in four days to accommodate a local count, who upon hearing of the Mozart’s’ arrival in Linz, announced a concert with Mozart. The composer did not let his host down.
The Allegro spiritoso continued to raise our expectations, while the Andante that followed was both slow and purposeful, lending an air of sophistication to a work that attested to the supreme sensitivity of Mozart in his unending search for perfect balance.
Oboes, trumpets and drums are all used effectively and the bold harmonic forms of Mozart’s energetic finale brilliantly brought everything to a pinnacle of perfection, providing a sublime conclusion to an outstanding evening, one the audience appreciated through thunderous applause.
This was certainly a concert for me that eloquently expressed Mozart’s language of the heart.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015
Watch the Video
Kristian Bezuidenhout on Interpretation of Mozart
J.C. Bach Sinfonia in G major, Op. 3 No. 6
W.F. Bach Sinfonia in d minor
Mozart Piano concerto in d minor, K 466
Mozart Andante for Flute, K 315
Mozart Symphony No. 36 in C major Linz K 425
*Mozart’s fortepiano was later refurbished and modified internally for Mozart’s widow, Constanze, c.1808 and is owned by the Mozart Foundation in Salzburg.