On a sunny winter afternoon, I rolled up to Turramurra Uniting Church in the Upper North Shore of Sydney, to witness a most interesting concert titled “Hungarian Connections” given by Ensemble Vinifera, a chamber group formed in 2013 by current and past members of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra.
The core of Ensemble Vinifera comprises violist Ella Brinch, cellist/founder/artistic director Andrew Wilson, and clarinettist John Martin. On this occasion, they were joined by violinists Catalin Ungureanu and Airena Nakamura.
One could loosely call the first half “fun” and the second half “serious”
The first work Quartettino for clarinet and string trio by the little-known twentieth century Hungarian composer and musicologist Rezso Kokai was flighty and joking in mood, “froth and bubble” as stated by Andrew Wilson in his introduction. The second work Duo for viola and cello “with two obbligato eyeglasses” by Beethoven was seemingly not intended to be published but to be played by himself and his close friend and supporter Baron Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanowecz, amateur cellist and the Secretary to the Hungarian Chancellery at the time Beethoven moved to Vienna. Both Ella and Andrew got into the spirit by wearing spectacles, which I swear they did not need when they played the Kokai, imitating the original short-sighted performers!! The final work after interval was Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet Op 115, the most substantial work in the program and which required the involvement of all five players.
Like his teachers at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, Bartok and Kodaly, Kokai was strongly influenced by Hungarian folk music but he differed in the use of these melodies in his own music. Instead of using folk tunes in an authentic fashion, he seemed to take small snippets of these tunes and developed them to compose his own unique sound. The first movement was a bright Sonatina and the second movement a jaunty Scherzino, both highlighting the clarinet. The third movement, a mournful Canzonetta, was memorable for its lovely expressive violin melody while the fourth movement, a fast Finaletto, featured an interplay between the violin and clarinet.
The Beethoven Duo was a lighthearted work played in a most befitting fashion. It consisted of two completed movements, an Allegro followed by a Minuet and Trio. Ella on her 1960s Carletti viola and Andrew on his 1950s Agauche cello provided a polished performance.
I was able to have a brief chat with both Ella and Andrew over afternoon tea at interval which was very pleasant and relaxed.
The Brahms work was one of his last so it understandably reflected his melancholy and loneliness as many of his good friends pre-deceased him. The first movement Allegro was played at a good speed without being too restrained, the second movement Adagio – Piu Lento showed off the sonority of the clarinet, and the third and fourth movements reinforced the lovely combination and balance between the clarinet and strings.
Ensemble Vinifera | Brahms Clarinet Quintet | 2:30pm 14 June, 2015 | Turramurra Uniting Church
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Ensemble Vinifera: Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence 15 November >>>