Comparisons between the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and the Australian Chamber Orchestra are inevitable, but almost entirely positive. Both are known for their professionalism and vitality, and the charisma of their directors, one a keyboard player, the other a violinist. It’s particularly interesting when either orchestra moves into its less usual repertoire, the ACO playing Bach, perhaps – and, on this occasion, the ABO celebrating a giant of the Classical period in its recent program, Mozart’s Jupiter.
Symphony No 41 in C Major K551 known as the “Jupiter” was Mozart’s last symphony, and an acknowledged tour de force, so it was instructive to begin the concert with the Overture to Lucio Silla written when the composer was just 16.
Dyer stood to conduct at first, establishing the tempo and spirited attack from about 20 strings and his fortepiano, the valveless brass instruments acquitting themselves well in the company of the others. The Overture had several movements, the second lushly and gorgeously Mozartian, the fortepiano enhancing the sound with more depth than Dyer’s usual harpsichord as its role moved between continuo and solo instrument. The third movement sounded bigger than one might have expected from a relatively small ensemble. It was short, like an emphatic coda.
This was an impressive start that showed the Brandenburgs to be entirely at home with Mozart. It augured well for the next work, Concerto for Flute and Harp K299, Mozart’s only harp concerto and a regular item in lists of favourite classical works. Harpist and soloist Marshall McGuire remarked that the instrument “travelled through history with the flute” (played on this occasion by Melissa Farrow).
Soloists and orchestra played together for the opening, McGuire’s easy dexterity matching Farrow’s mellow flute with its lovely phrasing. The effect was again of listening to a rich – and much larger – chamber orchestra. Much of the sound was built around arpeggios and there was a distinctive classic shape to the movement
The flute was light yet strong, its sound appearing to float above the rest. Marshall was an intense and careful partner, but his own dexterity was amazing when seen at close quarters. Too often the harp itself grabs all the attention within a large ensemble, but the performance is obscured. The coda allowed further appreciation of these two beautifully blended instruments.
A perfect introduction to the Andantino by the orchestra had all the sweetness and warmth of Mozart. The soloists amplified on the main theme as the orchestra gave gentle support. Long notes on the flute were set against lovely passages from the harp, often with interesting rhythms. It was Dyer’s turn to be watchful so the timing was perfect as he turned to the orchestra for the ending to the movement. The full ensemble joined in the sprightly orchestral theme that introduced the third movement, brass and woodwinds joining in the fast rondo. Solo flute and harp then entered, with the same challenging tempo, but a variant on the melody. The flute was best balanced with the harp and strings as at times it was overpowered by winds from the orchestra. But the concerto was brought to a triumphant end that again justified its popularity.
After interval, for the first time in this concert Paul Dyer did not conduct from a keyboard. One assumes that Mozart’s Jupiter symphony does not have provision for one, although some classical symphonies allow the fortepiano a continuo role. The attack was very precise despite some complex rhythms within the opening statement. The Brandenburgs director varies his conducting style, including moving his whole body, an expansive sweep of the arms or sometimes simply a finger put to the lips for a moment.
Whatever the approach he managed to conjure up a big symphonic sound from the orchestra interspersed with bursts of melody. Flutes and oboe were a typical pairing as in one pretty interlude and the brass was a felt force but not intrusive. There was a joyous reiteration of the theme before a gentler exposition of it but it was back to a bigger sound as the first movement came to a resonant close with the strings playing beautifully. (There was no clapping but one sensed that many in the audience would like to!)
The marking, Andante cantabile, was a sure indication that the music would sing and after two perfect introductory phrases it did. Dyer emphasised the lilt of the music as well as its depth, making it quintessential Mozart. The leader of the orchestra set the tone with lower strings echoing the others beautifully. The winds then led the orchestra into a new minor key subject with long-held notes reminiscent of the Mozart Requiem as the winds and then the horns remained very important to the texture.
A quick tuning was needed before the minuet. It began gently but soon swelled to forte before being repeated. The trio had the same lilting sensation as heard earlier in the work. As for the Finale, after the violins played a few quiet notes it was on for one and all including the trumpets. However this was the first of a pattern of sound: light winds, a little counterpoint, then tutti. As the symphony moved to a close its tempo increased, winds and trumpets became more important, while never overpowering the melody.
Dyer led the build-up to a massive climax and, after a brief pause, violins and winds introduced what would be the final burst of sound. This time the audience had licence to applaud and did so enthusiastically.
Suzanne Yanko reviewed the concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre on September 14, 2014
Overture to Lucio Silla
Concerto for Flute and Harp K299
Symphony No 41 in C Major Jupiter K551