The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s concert at the Mary’s mount Centre, Loreto College, was a welcome return for one of Australia’s elite ensembles. The programme was created around a chamber orchestra, with orchestral strings playing the dominant role. First violinist Dale Barltrop directed and was soloist in the concerto-like work “Vox Amoris”, of Peteris Vasks.
J.S.Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto set up a comfortable start to the concert as the orchestra breezed through the well-known first movement. Guest harpsichordist Donald Nicholson delivered and improvised cadenza, one of several popular treatments of the second movement, before the string orchestra rapidly took the third movement to its lengthy but logical conclusion.
Carl Vine’s “Smith’s Alchemy”, an extension of his third String Quartet, brought out the best from the musicians. The challenging rhythms and colourful effects, with contrasted pizzicato and arco characteristics, were superbly handled from the start. The lyrical middle section, as solo ‘cello, viola and violin passed the melody to each other, gave time for serene reflection before the return of the activity of the first section.
Very soft tremolo on the high strings opened “Vox Amoris” before the solo violin took the spotlight. Within its slow pulse this work makes great demands on the soloist, with its long phrasing accompanied by virtuosic cadenzas. Barltrop gave the continuous melody clear direction while remaining secure in the bravura passages.
The concluding work, Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto, added the excitement of winds, particularly the three oboes. The two French horns, adding contrast in tone and rhythm, were excellent. Overall the dance characteristics were confidently presented.