Probably the most welcome rainstorm in Sydney history put the Chatswood audience, which included eminent patrons Lauris Elms and Donald Hazlewood, in a relaxed mood for the latest concert by Sydney Mozart Society with The Australian Haydn Ensemble, were very welcome debutants to this series, well known for playing on period instruments.
- Simone Slattery hails from Melbourne but is a frequent visitor to the UK where she was a Britten-Pears young artist performing at both the London and Aldeburgh Proms. Her violin was a Claude Pierray (1726).
- Matthew Greco studied at the Sydney Conservatorium nd has played with the Brandenburg Orchestra and Pinchgut Opera, both period ensembles. He played a 1760 violin from Christian Hopf.
- James Eccles studied particularly in historical performance in Sydney and in Europe – his usual viola, made in Austria in 1739 was indisposed.
- James Bush comes from “over the ditch” and has played with most New Zealand orchestras as well as in the UK and USA. His cello was made by Auguste Bernadette in 1834. /li>
- Melissa Farrow, a founder member, also studied at the Sydney Conservatorium and has been principal flautist with The Brandenburg Orchestra since 2003. Her flute was a copy of an 1830 Tutz instrument.
Luigi Boccherini is one of the many composers, witness Hummel and Spohr, who was very popular in his lifetime but largely neglected afterwards. He is remembered now mostly for the minuet which the “Quintet” pretended to play in the original Ealing comedy, “The Ladykillers” although recently his music has had somewhat of a revival. In fact, he was the pioneer of the Quintet format with two cellos rather than two violas taken up so notably by Schubert. His flute Quintet in G minor was very listenable. Only two movements – a dramatic Allegro with a recurring seven note figure is followed by a plaintive Minuet surrounding a more structured Trio. The flute was neither dominant nor subservient.
K387 is the first of Mozart’s six Haydn quartets, an epithet that is more appropriate than the nickname “Spring” that has been given to it by persons unknown. It was probably on hearing this quartet that Haydn made his famous remark about Mozart’s genius. In a typically long winded letter to Haydn, the composer said that he was dedicating to him his six children – did this dedication include the income from their publishing and performance – I somehow doubt that this would have been practicable. New to Vienna, Mozart found the audience less receptive than his mentor, with criticism that it was too complicated. The quartet gave a superb rendition of the piece with Matthew’s enthusiastic body language being transmitted to the group. The slow movement was particularly sensitively played being placed after the lively Minuet while the final Allegro has a multi thematic fugal structure reminiscent of the Finale of his last symphony. It’s easy to see how the listeners of the day found this revolutionary.
It was good to hear the contrast of a Haydn quartet which was written at roughly the same time as the Mozart. Certainly it is a more classical piece adhering to sonata form. Surprisingly, or perhaps by association the slow movement again follows the effervescent Minuet. In this piece and the next, Simone assumed the mantle of first violinist but there was no diminution of energy. I feel Haydn was at his best in a minor key and this work Op 42 in D minor is no exception with a sad beginning and emphatic ending.
Mozart’s flute quartets are the subject of much conjecture. His letters to his father suggest that he didn’t like the flute but it is probably more that he objected to having to work to a commission from a Dutch patron, Ferdinand Dejean, when he preferred to be composing operas and his writings are reminiscent of a schoolboy not having completed his homework. Certainly, nothing in his compositions for the instrument betrayed anything other than affection. In fact, in all the quartets, the Flute dominates the strings as opposed to the Boccherini piece earlier. In this quartet K285, the flute introduces both main subjects in the opening Allegro while the opening of the final Rondo could be mistaken for a Concerto. In between is a sublime Adagio in which the flute is accompanied by Pizzicato strings. Mozart couldn’t have composed this work if he didn’t warm to the flute but, as Melissa explained beforehand, flutes at the time were one-keyed with six finger holes and a conical irregular bore, yet doubtless musicians were able to play them to good effect.
Well certainly Melissa’s playing was faultless and so too the whole ensemble who clearly enjoyed the original and innovative programming. The audience appreciated the short talk before each item and their only disappointments was that the rain had been too short lived.