Small packages

MOZART MARATHON

3MBS

Hawthorn Arts Centre on Sunday February 26

goldner-string-quartet

                              Goldner String Quartet

A whole day of Mozart?  It would have delighted my one-time colleague on The Age, Kenneth Hince, who thought that the composer had a direct link to the Holy Ghost and would rarely allow any fault to be found in his (Mozart’s) work – although even he admitted that some of the minor dance music and divertimenti weren’t to be taken seriously, just as Mozart himself regarded them: note-spinning money-earners.

For the occasion, 3MBS assembled a fine array of local and interstate musicians to present six programs, each of 90 minutes’ duration and all of an internal variety that would have pleased the appetites of the radio station’s listeners more than musicologists.  For example, the day’s first offering comprised a piano solo, a piano trio, a piano quartet, the Oboe Quartet and a cello sonata movement by the younger surviving son, Franz Xaver. Participant numbers fluctuated as the afternoon wore on, with a piano concerto in the third program, the Turkish Violin Concerto and the Clarinet Concerto in the pre-dinner event; inevitably, the Eine kleine Nachtmusik serenade finished the journey but in string quintet form involving players from the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra.

Nearly every program had a piano solo segment, usually a sonata or one of the last two fantasies.  Choral music emerged in a bracket from the 3MBS Choir under Michael Leighton Jones.  But aficionados enjoyed mainly chamber works, the few I heard coming from sensible musicians.  For instance, the opening gambit was the B flat Piano Trio K. 502 with Elyane Laussade handling the keyboard, Melbourne University’s Head of Strings Curt Thompson on violin, and 3MBS Board Chairman Chris Howlett providing the cello line.  For an ad hoc ensemble, these players produced a fairly comfortable reading if not over-endowed with polish.   Howlett had the easiest task but Laussade and Thompson worked competently in more exposed positions.

Hoang Pham kicked off the piano solos with the D minor Fantasy, a well-known quantity for every pianist and given with little deviation from the expected path, probably more stolid than it needed to be but outlined with exemplary neatness.  The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s principal Jeffrey Crellin headed the Oboe Quartet, escorted along his way by violin Markiyan Melnychenko, viola Simon Oswell and cello Josephine Vains. Although this was another ensemble fabricated for the occasion, its members worked effectively together, Melnychenko presenting just enough of a challenge to Crellin’s dominant timbre to keep the work from tedium.  Still, it’s a slight product, benevolent and summery, and this reading met its uncomplicated requirements without fuss.

The Franz Mozart piece was an Andante espressivo from the composer’s solitary E Major Cello Sonata, the movement itself in B minor with a young performer, Charlotte Miles, coping with the notes supported by an unidentified accompanist.  It would take a more assured musician to make something memorable from these few pages but Miles and her associate gave it some gusto, although nothing of its melodic content lived in the memory a few seconds after it stopped.

Finishing the first program, the Australia Piano Quartet gave an intelligent account of the G minor K. 478 work.   Although these musicians have played at the Melbourne Recital Centre, I can’t remember encountering them there.  According to what I have learned about them, the violinist of the group is Rebecca Chan, currently serving as an assistant leader in the Philharmonia Orchestra; her place for this work was taken by Sydney Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Andrew Haveron.  The remaining regular personnel are:  a welcome constant on the MRC scene, pianist Daniel de Borah; the APQ’s artistic director, cellist Thomas Rann; and violist James Wannan, also a notable expert on viola d’amore.  The group gave an excellent reading of this splendid score: professional in attack, confident across all lines,  the ensemble constantly malleable in phrasing and reliable in delivery.

Half an hour’s break, and Benjamin Martin opened the next recital with the Rondo in A minor.  Again, the performance proved unexceptionable, finding an appealing level of moderated melancholy in the bagatelle’s main recurring theme and plenty of fluent action in the episodes.  You might have expected more regularity in the trills, like those dominating  bars 134-5 but Martin negotiated the piece’s mildly action-packed pages with tact and a refined delicacy to the sotto voce concluding six bars.  Tenor Andrew Goodwin, accompanied by de Borah, then sang two of the most well-known arias for his voice: Dies Bildnis from Act 1 of The Magic Flute, and Don Ottavio’s Dalla sua pace, originally written to replace Il mio tesoro –  nowadays, both arias are sung in Don Giovanni productions, fleshing out the nondescript character musically if not emotionally.   These were a pleasure to hear, Goodwin’s vocal colour typified by a strong and evenly applied line which shows an exemplary responsiveness to Mozart’s lyrical phrasing and the emotional points of da Ponte’s texts.  Has this singer been seen/heard in opera here?  He’s a gift to any company with enough nous to sign him on.

Laussade returned for Mozart’s A minor Sonata K. 310.  She left out the first movement exposition’s repeat, but then so did most of the other sets of performers I heard.  The work seemed to present some memory problems, a few fumbles coming at points that are not technically challenging, mostly in the concluding Presto where the texture is too spare to hide any flaws.  Finally, the Goldner Quartet which we so rarely hear live in this city treated us to the Dissonance K 465 in C Major.  These players have 22 years of uninterrupted mutual experience without any change of personnel, so their readings present as uncommonly fluent, the linear inter-twining negotiated with unflappable confidence and a remarkable, if expected, mutual dynamic awareness.

To be honest, I would have preferred to hear not just this one, but an entire program of Mozart quartets from the Goldners.  For that matter, it might have been useful to hear all the piano pieces – sonatas, fantasies and rondo – in one hit.   But then, the rest of the day’s programs involved music that is hard (impossible?) to partner with anything: the Gran Partita, the Clarinet Quintet, the Piano and Wind Quintet K 452 – works that suck the air from their surroundings.  Yet, for all the programmatic leaping around, 3MBS patrons were able to enjoy juxtaposed greater and lesser products of an unparalleled musical genius.  I’m only sorry I couldn’t stay for more than these first two recitals but it seemed pretty plain that the audiences on Sunday were getting more than their money’s worth whether they stayed for only one stanza of play or for the complete six.