The “Beautiful Boccherini” concert was in an interesting venue, the Cell Block Theatre in the National Arts School complex in Darlinghurst, part of the old 19th century prison. The concert hall, which was a 3 floor high women’s prison first occupied in 1841, has now been gutted and only the outer sandstone walls remain with a new roof and wooden floor. It is long, narrow and high, so the acoustics, as one would expect, are church-like and particularly well suited for the featured work in the second half of the program, Boccherini’s “Stabat Mater”, it worked well for the secular instrumental pieces too.
The Australian Haydn Ensemble was formed in 2011 and has enjoyed a justifiably rapid rise in popularity and renown. All the works in this concert were arranged for a small ensemble of period instruments, up to string quartet plus double bass and flute.
In the Boccherini Flute Quintet in G minor Op19 No2: first movement, delicately played pianissimo passages were contrasted with fiery fortes. Sympathetic passing of melodies between the instruments made for wonderful ensemble playing. The players approached the piece with strength and conviction, but also with humility for the music. Every nuance was brought out, making this an exquisite example of classical performance.
The remainder of the first half of the program was all Mozart, who was born after, but died before Boccherini. While contemporaries, there is no known meeting between them, but they are both at the centre of the classical tradition.
Sara Macliver, the guest soprano was introduced with her performances of Zerlina’s arias from Don Giovanni, “Batti Batti” and “Verdrai, Carino”. Zerlina is a soubrette role for a young, small and innocent voice but Macliver’s voice is rather larger than that. Keeping a quiet sustained legato line might have overcome a problem in this acoustic, but her sound was alternately boomy and then inaudible at the end of phrases.
The Divertimento for strings in B flat K137 was arranged for string quartet plus double bass and worked well. Again beautiful ensemble playing, particularly between the first and second violins, and the whole ensemble played to the acoustics. The slow-fast-slow movement structure is rather unusual in this piece, but the ensemble carried it convincingly and with grace. The fast movement was especially sparkling with youthful vigour.
A friend of mine once remarked “Don’t tell my wife, but I am in love with Pamina”. The performance of “Ach ich fuhl’s” (Magic Flute) was stunning. Macliver produced a delicate, sustained and even tone and allowed the acoustic to guide her. I am in love too. I missed the clarinet interaction with the voice in this arrangement; flute, though beautifully played, is not quite the same.
“Laetari Iocari” from the lesser know opera “Apollo and Hyacinth” was written by Mozart when he was about 12. Macliver sang this alternately with delicacy and then spectacular roulades; an impressive performance. Notwithstanding the ridiculous age of the composer, this aria deserves to be better known than it is.
The Boccherini’s “Stabat Mater” performed is the earlier of two settings he wrote; this one dating from 1781, and was arranged for 5 part strings and soprano. There is a long tradition of Stabat Mater settings and Boccherini’s yearns with the best of them at Mary’s suffering at the foot of the cross. It is not unremitting misery; no self respecting classical composer can resist a good bit of optimism; the enlightenment. All darkness has little meaning without some light. The ensemble singing/playing just got better and better as the piece progressed. The final movement “Quando corpus morietur” was an exquisite jewel of the most delicate musicality.
This concert was recorded by ABC Classic FM, so if you missed it, you can catch it again at 5pm on Sunday the 20th of March.
Australian Haydn Ensemble: Beautiful Boccherini | 14 March 2016 | Cell Block Theatre