The softer sounds of ‘period’ or ‘original’ instruments don’t always translate well to large concert halls, so the choice to hold the Sydney concert of Ironwood’s ‘Mozart on the Move’ series in a recital room the Glebe Town Hall had much to commend it. The smaller scale of the surrounds also made it perfect for the explanations of instruments given by the members of the group, as the audience could not only hear about them but see them at close quarters too.
For this performance, guest violinists Anna McMichael and Simone Slattery formed a vibrant partnership with violist Nicole Forsyth and Daniel Yeadon on cello.
Guest artist Nicole Van Bruggen-Harris added greatly to the enjoyment of the program with her clear, concise and enjoyable description and demonstration of the two clarinets she chose for the performance. From the start the audience could appreciate the choice of venue, as we learned of the lighter, more intimate sound provided by the clarinet, firstly the classical clarinet, a replica of one made in Vienna on 1800, almost exactly the year of composition of the first item, a trio for clarinet, viola and cello by Antonio Polzelli, reputed to be the son of Haydn. The beguiling sounds of the clarinet lent a particularly attractive quality to this piece. While at times the viola and cello functioned almost as continuo to the clarinet, after some lively and challenging passages testing the clarinetist’s dexterity to the full, the piece finished in a blaze of vigorous playing from all members.
Introductions to instruments also preceded the second piece, Haydn’s string quartet Op 20 No 4, as cellist Daniel Yeadon presented the four instruments, the oldest being Anna McMichael’s 1742 violin from Mantua. The audience gained a further insight into the life of a performer by learning that the frequent retuning that is always required of instruments with gut strings is, in the case of his cello, aided by the use of his iPhone, more accurate, he claims, than his ears.
The Haydn featured brightness and energy in the first movement; richly sonorous and plangent passages from the violin in the rather repetitious second; a sunny and confident short third; and a fourth movement that was bright and breezy, settling into a rapid rhythm as the instruments pursued each other in the joyful drive to the end.
Mozart’s popular clarinet quintet, the score of which disappeared, was written for the basset clarinet, the design of which was lost until a drawing was discovered in Latvia in the 1990s. As Van Bruggen-Harris outlined this story of mystery-like proportions, she showed us her magnificent replica instrument, built from that found drawing by her favourite French instrument-maker. With this depth of understanding, the audience could settle back into a new consideration and appreciation of a piece that most would have known for some time, and come away with new insights. The performance demonstrated the full range, versatility and power of this unusual instrument, and made one wish for further opportunities to hear the instrument.