This event was held in St John’s Lutheran Church Southgate, a popular venue for chamber music. Acoustics here are clear if not excitingly reverberant which enables musicians to hear each other quite well and to produce a good balanced and precise sound for the audience. The chamber orchestra was in keeping with the scale of the pieces presented with seven upper strings and the bass section comprising one cello and a contrabass all supported by a harpsichord. The programme was a pleasing line-up of baroque favourites and one contemporary composer.
In an orchestra playing on modern instruments one will often not get authentic performance practice let alone sound, so that aficionados of this style could not expect to have all their preferences met at this concert, but there was much to please in the selection of pieces for the non-purist.
Two established local musicians, Anne Gilby and Tania de Jong were joined by the up and coming young counter-tenor Hamish Gould recently graduated from Monash University. The first two soloists performed in keeping with their established pedigree but I was particularly struck by Gould’s capacity to listen carefully and intently which enabled him to pitch accurately with the orchestra and blend when he needed to with the soprano part in short acquitting himself extremely well.
The very well-known Albinoni concerto for oboe in d minor was performed ably by Anne Gilby. The sublime slow movement which is so difficult for oboists to control was played with the long notes controlled beautifully and a clear cantabile sound. While Anne is clearly comfortable with this music and shows every sign of having performed this many times before, she was situated behind the conductor’s left shoulder and the musical communication did not always work well leading to some imprecise ensemble. The continuo and solo were not always together and I noticed the contrabass played in all the solo sections. Very often the decision is made to have the contrabass playing in the tutti sections only, thus lending variety to the texture and translucence to the solo sections.
The Arvo Pärt was a wonderful contemplative piece with Pärt’s typical sparse texture. The movement played, Summa, comes from a choral work, a setting of the credo composed in 1977 which was later set as a string quartet and then rearranged for string orchestra in 1991. I was left feeling it needed a little more inflection in phrasing and articulation.
The Marcello oboe concerto was the strongest work in the first half of the concert with much better ensemble. This was another delightful and melodious concerto with fine playing by all. The continuo was ably played by Priscilla Taylor playing on a minimalist level in the slow movements of both oboe concertos, thus keeping a translucent texture in the music and providing fuller support in the outer movements.
Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is one of the gems of vocal music of the time with intense dramatic feeling and rich harmonies. It is scored for string orchestra, soprano and alto. The slow introductory movement begins with the orchestra building up gradually one part at a time with clashing suspensions to set the dramatic and intense emotion of the entire work. The singers then join in some time later in similar fashion. De Jong showed her operatic tendencies with much gesture of her hands and her body language expressed the music’s intensity.
- The fourth movement Quae moerebat for alto solo and orchestra was exquisitely performed by Gould with some excellent articulation defining the syncopation delicately. His phrasing was beautifully delicate and the echo effects showed excellent control of his dynamic range. This young singer is very obviously at home with baroque music.
- The tenth movement Fac ut portem showed Gould in a more dramatic light with the orchestral unison passages supporting the drama of this movement well. There were moments in this movement when Gould showed the potential power in his voice, but this was never overdone even in the short cadenza.
- The penultimate movement Inflammatus showed some excellent blending of the two vocalists. This was the movement, I thought where they showed their best ensemble work together.
There were some beautiful moments in this beautiful work. A few moments the orchestra was slightly too loud for the singers when they were singing in their lower ranges. In general the balance was excellent with a clarity that enabled one to hear all that was going on in the music. I would have liked the programme to include the words and the translations as I always feel this adds much to the perception of the music being performed.
As always there is much to commend the Melbourne Musicians for their work under Frank Pam. Keep supporting this group of fine people and here’s to their 43rd concert season.