Last Thursday evening saw the Australian World Orchestra bring their ‘Chamber 8’ to Melbourne to perform first as a septet, and then as a quintet for this evening of superb chamber music in, it must be said, the rather large ‘chamber’ of the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall.
True to their ‘supergroup’ billing, uniting musicians from 8 different day jobs, the group received rather a rockstar reception on first taking the stage, with the usual warm applause augmented by not a little whooping and hollering from more than one section of the crowd before e’er a note were played. Taking a cue from that I’m going to leave the standard review format a little (and in any case, I highly recommend you read Simon Hirtzel’s excellent review of the group’s Queensland… can I say gig? I think we’ve established enough rockstar cred now to start calling this a gig.)
A point made in that review is that the Beethoven Septet in E flat major Op. 20 on the programme this eve was in some ways the pop music of its day, and that is very much how the performance came across both in terms of the musicianship, which was of course immaculate, and also in terms of the physical connection with the pieces played. This was especially shown through the contrast between the two pieces.
The Beethoven, performed first, features much tossing of melody and theme back and forth between the strings and the wind, side to side, almost violent (in a beautifully restrained, tightly controlled way) in nature; unfettered but smoothly guided. This was mirrored in the actual physical presence of the musicians, to the extent that I halfway expected Daniel Dodds on violin and Paul Dean on clarinet to leap from their seats and, if not actually meet, at least start riffing off each other in glorious byplay in the middle of the stage. Indeed, Paul had much of the Angus Young about his presence while Daniel has (at least to my eye) something of a Neil Gaiman look about him – and there is a tenuous link there, since Gaiman did briefly play in a punk band in the 70s.
Okay, perhaps very tenuous. But if Tahlia Petrosian doesn’t look and play the way Joan Jett would if she played viola in an orchestra rather than guitar in a band, I’ll eat my hat.
The point of that isn’t just to harp on the rockstar angle, but to talk about how while the ‘actors’ changed only a little (losing the windy instruments and adding Natalie Chee on violin) for Dvořák’s String Quintet No.2, Op.77, the dramatis personae changed significantly to suit the music – less playful, more flowing; more joyful, less badinage. Youthful exuberance wasn’t banished, but it was curved behind a more mature façade, where expression is done more by suggestion than by leaping out at you. The whole structure of the performance (gig) was perfect for bringing the intimate chamber performance to a large venue while capitalising on the populist nature of the music. And, just to show that I’m not drawing the longest bow since the English at Agincourt, at interval I spoke to a young lady (who I shall not call a groupie) named Maddie there specifically to see Andrew Bain on the French horn. As far as I know no autographs were sought nor signed, but it would have fit in perfectly with the tenor of the evening if it had happened!
All in all, a fantastic gig. I give them 4.5 pints out of 5.