In the beautiful setting – and wonderful acoustics – of the City Recital Centre, the orchestra warmed a wintery afternoon with the music of Mendelssohn and Brahms. It was a pity that there were not more in the audience to share music composed in a time when romance and the emotions were so much more important in the arts and literature.
Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings in E-flat Major, written when he was only sixteen years old, seems far too complex and allusive a composition for one so young, suggesting as it does a more mature appreciation of sensations and beauty – and the depth and variation of both that can be conjured by the strings. Nothing really describes this composition better than Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny who wrote: “The whole piece is to be played pianissimo … the trills passing away with the quickness of lightning … so near to the world of spirits, carried away in the air …”
Under the fine touch and deft control of visiting Berlin-based violinist Jakob Lehman, the musicians skilfully brought those “trills” and “spirits” from the Romanticism of the late 1800s into the less light and sensitive world of the twenty-first century. The tempo of each of the four pieces invoked subtle emotional responses from each of the instruments, their voices echoing the sensitivity of the composer … and that of the perceptive performers who were interpreting the work.
Serenade NO 1 in D Major for Nonet, written in 1858 by Johannes Brahms, is no less quixotic, invoking images of a times past where horses cantered through cultivated forests and nature blossomed exotically around them. Here the triumphant notes of the horn blended with strings and winds as motifs were picked up, repeated and thrown back in a kaleidoscope of musical imagery. The mellow notes of the bassoon and bass tempered the thrilling changes of tempo and emotion, the clear notes of the flute adding piquant purity.
It is always inspiring to watch the expressive faces and sustained physicality of musicians as they respond to the lure of the music – and these perceptive performers never disappoint. Their passion and talent were especially evident in these romantic idylls, their poignant touch and emotive responses to the music, and to each other as they worked as individuals in harmony, made the performance more personal and persuasive.
ARCO’s 2020 Sydney Season will be just as exciting and varied as this one has been. Check the website for the program and bookings.