In the Elizabeth Murdoch Hall of the Melbourne Recital Centre on Thursday evening July 27, 2017, a somewhat smaller audience than I am used to in this place was treated to a truly engaging and exquisitely performed concert by the newly formed AWO Chamber 8 ensemble of the Australian World Orchestra (AWO). They brilliantly delivered as promised, a truly captivating program of beautiful music
It was good to see so many students from the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) in attendance. The players of the AWO were in Melbourne to take part in a spectacular one-off performance of Olivier Messiaen’s orchestral masterpiece Turangalîla-Symphonie conducted by Simone Young two nights later.
On a no frills stage in this acoustically wonderful hall without fancy lighting or a mood-setting atmosphere, the musicians involved in the AWO Chamber 8 accomplished their objective by showcasing their considerable skill set both individually and collectively with great élan.
Those who braved a really cold Melbourne winter night to be there were warmed all the way through by the lingering beauty of it all, which continued to resonate for a long time after.
Chamber music has been sacrosanct since I encountered it played live in a perfectly proportioned panelled room in a historical building in Salzburg during the early 70’s by professional musicians performing on period instruments.
Here it was again, sending off wonderful fireworks in both my head and heart and reaching all the way down to also touch my soul.
I loved that I could so easily hear each individual instrumental voice resounding joyfully as the players of the AWO Chamber 8 came together blending seamlessly to create a soundscape of pictorial elegance. Each instrument reached a pinnacle of perfection in the hands of its own experienced and talented player.
What more can be said about the master works of renowned composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). He gave the music of his age a new attitude, new meaning and new life, ensuring his influence on the progress of musical life up until our own time would be profound.
Beethoven embraced high standards of excellence, which remained the same whether he was playing to masses of people or select members of the nobility in a salon.
The musicians played Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat major, Opus 20, a work originally written in 1799, when his approach to melody, harmony and considered phrasing made sure this work has stood the test of time.
As he put his pen to paper to create this delight, Beethoven had just completed his first symphony.
He was a young man nearly 30 was full of optimism for his future in music. He concentrated a great deal on achieving a masterful technique.
Seven instruments were the magical number, allowing him to create a musical téte a téte; one perhaps he hoped would always take place in an intimate setting where the many aspects of its argument would be absorbed and debated succinctly.
Considered one of Beethoven’s finest chamber music compositions, when it is played as it was by this group of outstanding musicians, it is not hard to see why it became so very popular in his own time, much to his chagrin.
Its contrast with the emotional outpouring evident in so many of his more mature works, ensured the public would compare his later self to the man of his youth, who were really not one and the same, due to his rapid descent into deafness.
The unusual scoring with its single clarinet, horn, bassoon and trio of strings, including two violins and a cello, allow musicians to engage in high-spirited solos and duets. And they did so on this night with great dash and style.
Beethoven balanced the Septet’s lyrical mood with freedom of form and crisp, clear tonalities. His broad melodies and rich sonorities set the stage for an almost tender relationship of great intimacy; one entirely free of sentimentality or excessive zeal.
Daniel Dodds (Festival Strings Lucerne) played lead violin and the mellow sound of his instrument wondrously became the perfect foil for the smooth silky playing of clarinettist Paul Dean (Queensland Conservatorium), the resounding double bass of Matthew McDonald (Berlin Philharmonic) the velvety plaintive and delicate sounds of the bassoon played by Lyndoon Watts (formerly Munich Philharmonic) and the sweeping intensity of the French Horn played by Andrew Bain (LA Philharmonic Orchestra)
Paul Dean became so animated his feet kept lifting up off the floor, as he became entirely lost in the beauty and drama of it all. His clarinet an instrument I love best in classical mode, revealed its warm creamy timbre and caressing effects superbly.
Beethoven offered his listeners a deeper understanding of place and so it is no wonder to me audiences have loved this work down the centuries since he crafted its state of being.
During the interval everyone was in a good mood and animated because they were feeling uplifted and joyful. After interval was the String Quintet No.2, Op.77 by Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904).
Encouraged by Johannes Brahms, one of the seminal musical figures of the Romantic era in music, and a recipient of countless honours and awards Dvorak remained a modest man of simple tastes loyal to his Czech nationality, using folk material in writing his own language for music of his time.
This work certainly showcased the composer’s talent for melody and technical fluency and in the hands of the five musicians playing it, achieved new heights of expressiveness.
For my companion and I this String Quartet was the highlight of the evening. Whereas the first work engaged both our head and heart with joy, this one engaged the heart and soul with great depth, its fine balance of sentiment and expression, discernible.
The slow soulful Poco Andante was truly sublime and I found myself at one point holding my breath lest the glory of the moment be lost. Purity of sound was to be the outstanding hallmark of the playing of this small group of five musicians, including Tahlia Petrofina (Gewandhaus Leipzig) on Viola.
Natalie Chee (SWR Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart) as lead violin surpassed all boundaries with her more than sublime performance.
She and her colleagues gave the audience a clearer understanding of how music can achieve way beyond geographic and ethnic restrictions and become redolent of a new world, one in which humanity can indulge in a new narrative about how it would feel to come together in peace with such exquisite harmony.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
BEETHOVEN: Septet in E-flat major, Op.20
Adagio – Allegro con bri
Tempo di Menuetto
Tema Andante con Variazioni
Scherzo. Allegro molto e vivace
Andante con moto alla Marcia – Presto
DVO?ÁK: String Quintet No.2, Op.77
Allegro con fuoco
Scherzo: Allegro vivace
Finale: Allegro assai
Violin Natalie Chee (SWR Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart)
Violin Daniel Dodds (Festival Strings Lucerne)
Viola Tahlia Petrosian (Gewandhaus Leipzig)
Cello David Berlin (Melbourne Symphony Orchestra)
Double bass Matthew McDonald (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra)
Clarinet Paul Dean (Queensland Conservatorium)
Bassoon Lyndon Watts (formerly Munich Philharmonic)
Horn Andrew Bain (LA Philharmonic Orchestra)