A convincing Countess


The Melbourne Musicians

James Tatoulis Auditorium, Methodist Ladies College

Sunday July 17, 2016

Rosemary Ball

                                                                                    Rosemary Ball

Taking on the Classical canon with a vengeance, Frank Pam and his players presented a mixed Beethoven and Mozart afternoon at the MLC space  a room that I’d not visited for quite a few years.   With an excellent seating plan focused on the performing area, the Tatoulis auditorium gives musicians every consideration, although on this occasion the somewhat dry acoustic might have been softened if the hall’s six acoustic baffles had been retracted.   Nevertheless, Sunday afternoon’s best soloist enjoyed the plentiful air space and coped easily with any reduction in resonant bounce.

Young violinist Mi Yang performed the solo part to Beethoven’s Romance No. 2 with caution.   Her pitching wavered a few times but she kept to Pam’s directorial script, not helped on her way by a string accompaniment that was unusually tentative, feeling its way while dealing with a pretty simple F Major score that only occasionally deviates from a slow-quaver supporting pulse.   Yang had the notes – most of them – under her fingers; what she has to work out is when to take the lead and keep it, maintaining her dynamic leverage over the orchestra, particularly the wind element which took on undue prominence against a self-effacing string body.

Soprano Rosemary Ball sang the two arias for the Countess from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.   Her vocal output is firm and packed with interest although, like pretty much every opera singer I’ve known, she suits herself about pace, taking her time over phrases throughout the four-page, slow-moving work.   Still, she established a link with her accompaniment and maintained it, even through some hesitations at the beginning of phrases.

Yang returned for the Mozart Concerto No. 4 which she negotiated with more security than in her opening gambit for the afternoon.   But then, Mozart gave his soloist plenty of exposure and Yang made more than an exercise out of the work’s appealing Rondeau finale, even if she brought a tension to her reading that will disappear as she becomes more relaxed with this concerto’s benign detachment.  The Musicians had few problems with this score, agreably pitched in D, but they have a tendency not to give an emphasis to the first beat of a bar which makes their texture soupy, lacking an impulse especially in extended passages of simple accompaniment  –  which in fact constitutes most of the body of the first movement that holds only a few four-bar tutti passages outside the opening and closing pages.

When Ball returned for the E Susanna non vien?/Dove sono sequence,  the first page of the aria itself revealed the absence of the required two bassoons.   After a short search and their return to the fold, Ball gave an ardent interpretation of this vocal glory, marred only by some distracting breaks for breath in mid-phrase; surprising, as the aria is not that demanding in this regard, the melody’s arches rarely exceeding four bars in length.  Yet Ball brought a welcome fervour to the Allegro change at Ah! se almen, with a convincing dramatic force informing the di cangiar l’ingrato cor towering conclusion to the work.

After interval, Marcela Fiorillo fronted the Beethoven G Major Piano Concerto.  The exposition set the tone, which was off-puttingly heavy for a score that is viewed as poetic and lyrically buoyant.  The soloist sets the pace for this concerto, opening with a meditative solo; Fiorillo appeared to follow her own inclinations from this stage on and you were left in a state of continual tension, wondering how long the orchestra and pianist could continue without becoming obviously discrepant.  The likelihood became reality in the third movement, fortunately just before an unaccompanied passage, and the lumpy Vivace got to the final bars without another mishap.   A reading, then, with not much to recommend it – hard work for soloist and orchestra, even in the simple central Andante where the strings turned the crisp demisemiquaver/semiquaver snaps into mushy triplets.

However, the concert did reveal the potential of Yang who, in her best moments, displayed a driving sense of direction and a firm bowing arm; as well, it gave us the opportunity to hear Ball giving creditable readings to a pair of taxing arias and carrying them off with great musicianship and impressive power.