The Melbourne Chamber Orchestra’s four concert festival in Daylesford, demonstrated what can be achieved with excellent musicianship and intelligent programming. William Hennessey’s direction is a key part of this variable ensemble but with so much talent at hand it truly was a feast of music.
The opening concert, an intimate affair with violinist Shane Chen and pianist Igor Machlak, presented powerful performances of sonatas of Beethoven (Op.12/1) and Brahms (Op.108). The playing remained poised with an easy understanding between the duo. The balance of sound, often a challenge with Beethoven’s piano writing, was well sorted. Brahms’s Scherzo from the F.A.E. Sonata provided a suitably dramatic finale.
The Hamer Quartet opened the second concert with Beethoven (Op.18/3). The ensemble playing was as expected from this highly successful quartet. The dialogue between parts and the shaping of textures were polished, with a clear sense of direction. Australian Lachlan Skipworth’s single movement Quartet No.1 “Yamagoe”, evoking the shakuhachi, was a total change of mood and colour. Intense in its static nature despite its rippling undercurrent, the work gave the quartet opportunity to explore techniques with some excellent pizzicato playing a feature. Dvorak’s popular “American” Quartet rounded off the program with energy and enthusiasm balancing the beautiful lyricism of the work.
The Orchestral Concert, with guest recorder virtuoso Genevieve Lacey, covered a broad palette of musical colours and styles. Lacey’s arrangements of sacred vocal of Leonin, Perotin and Dunstaple gave small sections of the orchestra opportunity to shine. Challenging recorder concertos by Vivaldi and Sammartini were performed with ease, allowing the soloist to counterbalance the rapid outer movements with a fine cantabile in the slow movements. Beethoven’s “Grosse Fugue” Op.133 had some of its mysticism removed in a precision performance with the full string ensemble. The MCO’s arrangement of the adaptable “Tyalgum Mantras” of Ross Edwards was spellbinding. The Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis of Vaughan Williams brought the concert to an equally sublime close.
The Brahms Piano Quartet No.2 filled the program of the final concert. Composed on an epic scale its four movements drew the best from William Hennessy (violin), Louisa Breen (piano), Stefanie Farrands (viola) and Michael Dahlenburg (‘cello). The clear direction of the performance was driven by virtuosic skill and determination. The ensemble work was flawless as each musician pushed harder with the developing musical demands. The broad themes were logically shaped, ready to continue the progression. Breen’s work with the demanding piano part was solid overall yet particularly poignant in the slow movement.