At a time when festivals and live audiences are boldly and bravely on track again, a Gala concert launching a new season is a fine way to recognise musicians who have contributed to successful past events, a chance to stimulate audiences with a taste of the future, and to provide a launching platform for exciting new young talent. It allows directors such as Australian Digital Concert Hall’s Adele Schonhardt to welcome the coming year’s artists and supporters, while encouraging audiences to explore new subscription packages for live and online performances. Galas are happy occasions.
Laura Vaughan, bass viol, and Donald Nicolson, harpsichord, are a well-loved and colourful partnership. Both performers and their instruments just look great. They opened tonight’s launch of the ADCH, with a rich and fruity set of 17th century English Country Dance tunes in a way one’s imagination was able to travel to a different time and place – just what we needed in today’s hot summer pandemic climate. Buoyant and energetic, John Playford’s Paul’s Steeple was a fine example of English early dance music, with much personality and joy being felt in the repetitions and variations of the stanzas of this invigorating line dance. We were delighted with a technically brilliant bass viol solo verse, with flamboyant keyboard displays, and a robust and energetic sound. Two pieces by Tobias Hume – My Hope is Revived (The Lady of Suffolkes Delight) and My Joys are Coming (The Lady of Bedford’s Delight – showed the contrasting style of the “gentler folk” with an elegance and refinement befitting the 1607 collection of Hume’s Poetical Musicke. Beauty and charm flavoured the duo’s last folk-like melody, the popular evergreen, Greensleeves, its variations taken from anonymous handwritten pages of Christopher Simpson’s The Division Viol of 1659.
As we anticipate and then hear new young talent, the highlighting of ADCH Next Generation Artist, violinist Leon Fei, was of significant interest. Winner of the 2020 Bach Competition (Richard Mills Prize), Leon’s choice of two unaccompanied movements from the J.S. Bach’s Partita No 3 in E was perfect for this occasion. This mature and confident soloist has a striking presence. He moves beautifully with his instrument, his pristine accuracy, mature control and expressiveness is exceptional. In the 2nd movement, Loure, rich and broadly toned phrases contrasted with finer softer statements in true Baroque style. The 3rd movement from the 6 movement Partita, Gavotte en Rondeau exemplified Leon’s colourful tone, subtle and gorgeous ornamentation, and his love of Bach’s music. Too brief an appearance, we want more of this young man’s admirable musicianship.
Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet in D minor, Op 70, Souvenir de Florence, comprised the greater part of the program, with violinists Natalia Harvey and Emily Beauchamp, and violists Merewyn Bramble and Katherine Brockman teaming with cellists James Morley and Anna Pokorny. The opening Allegro movement was full of Romantic spirit, its grand waltz melodies sweeping us into the nostalgic and sonorous atmosphere of the historical Athenaeum 2. This was an experienced, expressive and united ensemble, whose teamwork produced a deceptively larger orchestral tone.
Natalia Harvey showed assertive and authoritative leadership, exploiting Tchaikovsky’s high climactic ascending runs with power and passion in her solo work. The Adagio gave her a legato, lyrical, almost balletic sweeping melody above an opening softer pizzicato string accompaniment, until cellist James Morley swept in to partner her in the dance. Romantic melodies were shared as brief solos with string accompaniment, until all instruments became unified in rhythm, producing a less dramatic hymn-like, almost reverential quality. The 3rd movement Allegro continued the sharing of melodic and echoing phrases, at first charming and light, then developing into more energetic gypsy dance steps, stronger dynamics and heavier footsteps. Tchaikovsky is the master of ballet and theatre in his orchestral writing; his uplifting and physical style still permeated the 3rd and 4th Movements with typical minor key folk melodies, energetic dance shapes and stirring successions of repetitions and sequences of climactic runs. Solo themes were shared around perfectly, and true to the composer’s intentions, an exciting and wild acceleration by this marvellous group took us to a satisfying conclusion.
A vivid sense of gala performance was felt by the appreciative audience.
We look forward to more excitement, exhilaration and enjoyment from ADCH in 2022!
Julie McErlain reviewed Australian Digital Concert Hall’s 2022 Opening Gala as presented online from the Athenaeum Theatre 2 on January 27, 2022.