Bach, Schubert and Beethoven featured in this latest concert by the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra.
Bach, Schubert and Beethoven are serious names indeed, especially for an afternoon concert on the first day of spring. Yet this proved to be a popular program, well executed and even light-hearted in the hands of the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra.
The MCO, comprising a core group with guests from three established orchestras, seems to be going from strength to strength with each program. As if to mirror that, this concert left its best offering until last, when it was joined by solo pianist Aura Go.
The first item, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.6, featured a pared-down ensemble, although the string players were joined by Ann Morgan at the harpsichord. This added much to the vibrant lively sound of the work. However, although there was a good balance of sound, having the two violas (rather than violins) act as soloists was, to my mind, not entirely successful in some of the extended passages of the first and third movements.
There was warmth, though, thanks to the dominance of the lower strings – and, unsurprisingly, the second movement, adagio ma non troppo, benefitted. In this, the violas’ sound furnished a delightful counterpoint to the cello, played with sensitivity by Howard Penny, and the ensemble excelled at the more declamatory statements of the final movement.
The full string complement of the orchestra was given play in the second work, the Fifth Symphony in Bb Major D485 by Schubert. Winds and brass also swelled the sound, with an impressive respect for dynamics and balance, particularly in nicely judged crescendos throughout the work.
The well-known Andante benefitted from sensitive phrasing, and the winds as a section had an almost Mozartian quality to them in this movement and the brisker Minuet that followed. The orchestra achieved a lovely contrast between the stricter rhythms of the dance and the flowing arpeggios that gave the symphony its harmonic texture.
As for the final movement, Allegro vivace, it asserted the strength of Schubert’s composition, with a full and satisfying symphonic sound. Individual instruments were also heard to advantage, as in a later subject that saw the cellos and Bass emulate not just the notes, but the spirit of the upper strings. All this was the more impressive as director William Hennessy conducted from his position as first violin. Clearly the orchestra was well rehearsed!
However, the final work, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op.15, had both a soloist and a conductor, with Michael Dahlenburg deserting the cellos to take his place on the rostrum. This proved a wise move as, even in his first piano concerto, Beethoven exploits the possibilities of the solo instrument. A steady baton is needed to hold the elements of the work together – and this Dahlenburg provided.
The work progresses rapidly from the gentle opening by the strings to a fuller orchestral sound (with the trumpets a distinctive element) –then, of course, becoming a brilliant vehicle for the solo piano. In Aura Go one sees the consummate soloist, with attention to clarity of sound, technique, delicacy, lyricism, control of dynamics – and all without any hint of ‘concert-pianist fuss’.
Go both achieved a lovely empathy with the orchestra and successfully carried off a cadenza of complexity and brilliance, before Dahlenburg brought the orchestra in with perfect timing. This ease carried through to the second movement, Largo, notable for its lilting subject and ornaments. The final Rondo had equal appeal but for a different reason, as pianist and orchestra set a cracking pace without compromising the melody and orchestration of the work. Early Beethoven it might be, but this performance gave strong hints of the greatness that the composer was to achieve in his mature works.
The Beethoven also lifted the experience beyond being simply a pleasant Sunday afternoon concert to something far better. It was not perfect, perhaps (few concerts are!) but it showed that Aura Go and the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra richly deserved the enthusiastic applause they were given.
Melbourne Chamber Orchestra
Aura Go – piano
Michael Dahlenburg – conductor
William Hennessy – director
Bach – Brandenburg Concerto No. 6
Schubert – Symphony No. 5
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 1
Melbourne Recital Centre
(Pictured:Pianist Aura Go)