SXS at SMS: accurate, emphatic, dramatic

by | May 31, 2024 | Ambassador thoughts, Chamber Groups

Sydney Mozart Society | Southern Cross Soloists

May 29, 2024, The Concourse Chatswood, NSW

Imagine a typically high standard Mozart Society concert, then add an all-Mozart programme brilliantly conceived, plus a group of nine of the top soloists in Australia and you don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict the result.

The Southern Cross Soloists were formed in 1995 and have acquired a reputation as one of the best group of soloists in Australia as well as being company in residence at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane. They have also hosted the annual Bangalow Festival though this will tragically not take place this year.

The line-up on this occasion was Amelia Hall and Peter Clark – violins, James Wannan – viola, Rachel Siu – cello, David Silva – flute, Ashley Smith – clarinet, Alex Fontaine – oboe, Nick Mooney – horn and Konstantin Shamray – piano. All of these soloists have played with or have directed major orchestras and have immaculate CV’s.

We first heard an interesting version of the overture to “Don Giovanni” which was well suited to a smaller ensemble. It is the only overture to a major Mozart opera that includes references to the operatic music and emphasises the contrast between humour and hellfire.

sxs sms

The adagio from the Gran Partita K361, originally written for thirteen instruments, is described by Salieri in the movie “Amadeus” as “…a rhythm as if from a rustic squeeze-box on which descends the most heavenly tune first on the clarinet joined by the other woodwinds”. It’s no wonder that Antonio then made a pact to shun God.

The familiar “Kegelstatt“ Trio was the only work played by the original instruments and in particular demonstrated the skills of clarinettist Ashley Smith.

Mozart’s Requiem in his favourite minor key of D has received a lot of exposure recently and it was a great idea for the group to play a version of the Kyrie, Dies Irae and Lacrimosa. This arrangement really brought home the contrast between pathos and optimism in the excerpts.

A horn quintet, which is really a short concerto for horn and strings, featured the talents of Nick Mooney was followed by the coup de grace, namely the group’s adaptation of what many including myself consider to be Mozart’s greatest work – his piano concerto in C minor op 491. The “Soloists” lost nothing compared to a full orchestra – powerful and accurate, although I question the absence of a bassoon. There was no question however about the performance of the pianist – accurate, emphatic and above all true to the dramatic nature of the work. I have heard this concerto over twenty times but this ranked with the best. Amazingly, I had never heard the long first movement cadenza written by Brahms before, a triumph in its own, right transforming the thematic ideas into entirely major keys, giving rise to a mirror image of the movement. I enjoyed it immensely as I did the whole evening.

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