THE MOZART PROJECT PART 2
The Melbourne Musicians
James Tatoulis Auditorium, MLC, Kew
Friday May 17
Frank Pam and his expanded orchestra began this program with a collection of German Dances by Haydn in an arrangement by Bernhard Paumgartner. The Austrian conductor apparently found some merit in extracting Haydn pieces from their original settings and fabricating suites like this one which originally comprised 12 elements but Pam & Co. only player 10 of them. Probably just as well as the third one had to be re-started. I’m not sure what came unstuck although, in the early movements, the horns weren’t covering themselves with glory in terms of articulating some pretty easily achieved notes.
Indeed, the rendition of these simply-framed pieces – at least two of them familiar from the master’s catalogue – laboured under an ongoing tempo disadvantage. Pam would attempt to beat one in a bar – obviously assuming that the band could fall into line when given a down-beat – but the indecisiveness revealed that matters might have been more enjoyable for all concerned if he had hammered out three beats until the players felt confident in their work. Yes, once the labourers had settled to the task, things went swimmingly enough and the five woodwind gave plenty of spine to the more forward tutti passages. But a little more pre-determination and consensus on what was required would have lifted the experience to a higher level.
Speaking of such, Elyane Laussade gave a fine account of the solo part in Mozart’s Piano Concerto in F Major K. 459, one of the knock-out gems in the sequence of works that this composer produced in the form across his career. No, it wasn’t a flawless performance from everyone involved; even Laussade seemed to lose her place in some first movement passage work near bar 211; I’m not sure that the second oboe was au fait with the work’s style all the time; Kaye Duffel’s flute solos in the middle Allegretto at bars 44 and 60 sounded over-powered for their context; and the one point in the progress of this movement where the counterpoint gets complicated and players should be observing the conductor, these players were not as solicitous about their group tempo as you’d expect.
Much of the 12-strong string corps’ efforts worked well enough with only a few signs of nervousness from an over-anxious violin. Their corporate contribution was often submerged under the wind septet so that tutti interpolations were dominated by flute-and-oboes in combination. But the initial Allegro‘s argument remained clear and carried out with determination; if the middle movement could have gained anywhere, it might have come with a slower speed so we could luxuriate in the Figaro woodwind figuration. Laussade gave a deft animation to her outline of the finale’s main theme, but you noticed (for the first time, in my case) the length of the movement’s first ritornello – from bar 24 to bar 120 – chiefly because, across its ;length, you missed some bite from the upper strings. What was needed was not just an attack, but a driving attack on this jubilant set of pages, particularly in that sudden attack of the D minor fugatos between bars 288 and 321 where skill and pleasure combine to brilliant effect.
Dittersdorf’s F Major Symphony Kr. 70 is an amiable, straightforward construct with no particular distinction to it. As in the night’s first work, this easy-going work suffered from indecisive attack, its first three movements all opening with an anacrusis, although the second Rondo is more of a gavotte than anything else. Once under way, the general momentum carried all along. But even the final Allegro – a simple 2/4 with everybody playing block-chord quavers while the horns belt out the crotchet pulse – sounded unsure at the outset. When the whole body seems to be feeling its way, the results are bound to come across as leaden-footed; nobody is in a hurry to rush on towards the next unknown territory.
This lack of assurance also cruelled parts of Haydn’s Symphony No. 55 in E flat, the Schoolmaster. Here, the demands ratcheted up several notches, just at the wrong time as the musicians were betraying fatigue and this is not music you can stroll through. Pam managed to set movements off with more success but the shaping of this symphony’s optimistic sentences seemed to be a work in progress without many signs of near-completion. Even the solo for cellist Laurien Kennedy in the Menuetto‘s Trio reached some questionable pitching in the homeward stretch after the bar 65 fermata.
I suppose what you missed throughout were bounce and elation. It takes some skill to animate a passage like the strings-only passage from bar 123 to bar 140 of the first movement but playing it without phrasing inflections is not an option. And this work’s solid second movement variations need explication and clear definition for their riches to emerge. A few more in the string body might make a difference but the problems of entering into the music with informed unanimity of intent and unflagging attention to the work’s internal processes require a more informed approach from the core players in this venerable organization.