It’s often said that music has the power to soothe the savage beast. Listening to the beautiful music of Mozart played exquisitely by one of Melbourne’s premier ensembles is certainly a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The chap that fell asleep by the middle of the concert and began to snore was certainly soothed!
The programme of four flute quartets was played on “period instruments”; that is to say instruments that either are copies or original instruments set up to behave and sound just like the instruments of the late eighteenth century. The flute was a five keyed flute of the time and the string players used classical bows and gut strings. In this way everything becomes more refined and nuanced and less strident than the modern instruments would make this music sound. The listener thus has to attune his/her ears and sensibilities to this different aesthetic which is not always an easy thing to do.
There were so many good things to comment about the performance, but I note a few here in passing. The passages in octaves between flute and violin were beautifully in tune reflecting the long term musical relationship between Dikmans and Moon. The playing was always full of gesture assisting to get the musical story across. The dynamics within the group to achieve their excellent ensemble and cohesion were fluid with different leadership roles being taken according to the needs of the music. It was nice to hear the viola get the melody in the variations and also the ‘cello. There being no second violin as in a string quartet, the viola had to take on that role. In this way the violin and viola had to work together which they did with excellent ensemble. The flute sat to my left and the other instrumentalists in order were violin and then viola with the semi-circle completed by the ‘cello on my right. This arrangement puts the strings together for good ensemble and the flute appropriately as the “solo” instrument which it so often clearly was.
I felt the group settled into the second quartet more than the first and achieved a better balance and tuning between strings and flute as they warmed to the acoustic. Some returning of the strings occurred at this point. Wyselaskie Auditorium used to be very much like the public baths with too much reverberation and the addition recently of some 44 acoustic panels has considerably helped. The hall is still a little too friendly to the bass though and occasionally the ‘cello was slightly louder than it needed to be.
The programme notes were informative and just the right length to get an appreciation of some of the background of which Dikmans has thoroughly researched. In speaking with him you get a clear indication of how much more he could have put in the programme notes. Some of the terms were explained as well as the historical and philosophical background and as to why and for whom Mozart wrote these pieces. This always helps to de-mystify aspects of the music although, judging by members of the audience, most of them were probably quite well up on their music and music history. This is a tribute to Elysium that professional peers come to listen to them.
As the whole concert was similar repertoire one can feel that there is too much of a good thing. I personally latched on to the last quartet’s (D major) middle movement with its pizzicato string accompaniment to the sublime flute melody. This change in texture would have been welcome earlier on especially with this movement being, as Einstein says in his book on Mozart, “the most beautiful accompanied solo ever written for the flute”. However the rollicking final movement of this quartet really does lend itself to a final movement in a concert so I can understand putting this at the end. The encore was one of the movements from the Haydn flute quartets, the allegro from op 5 no 1, and this change in style perhaps could be incorporated in further concerts of this repertoire by this group so as to provide the ear and the sensibilities further variety in one concert programme. In any case this was a programme performed with exquisite refinement and dedication to the classical aesthetics.
I for one will be looking forward to when Elysium perform the Haydn flute quartets being one who is greatly appreciative of this repertoire.