Under the direction of most admired cellists and musical entrepeneurs Chris Howlett and Howard Penny, the Fifth Bendigo Chamber Music Festival is now a firmly established event, continuing to include outstanding Australian performers and educators, senior legends and young rising stars, ongoing collaborations with local and regional musicians and students in masterclasses and performances, and now continuing a recently established partnership with the Young Classical Artist Trust in London. This year’s Festival featured international soloists with leading artists from Australian orchestras, along with rising stars from the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) and the Bendigo Symphony Orchestra, with sell-out programs centred in the historic Capital Theatre. With Morning Recital series, Summer Nights Series, Dusk Series, Inside & Outside Conversation Series, Gala opening and closing concerts, there was much to choose from. Highly creative teaming of performers across the Festival meant that all musicians played in a wide variety of ensembles in different concert programs, maximising the opportunity to hear every artist.
Summer Nights Series 3 – Friday Night Fireworks concert opened with CPE Bach’s robust Sinfonia in C, introduced by ensemble leader Sophie Rowell as an effervescent work. Its opening Allegro assai indeed expressed tantalising and abrupt changes of mood and dynamics with stormy, strongly accented chords. A brisk and carefully expressive last movement preceded two contrasting arias by Handel with gorgeous mezzo-soprano Ashlyn Timms. The well-loved “Ombra mai fu” (Largo) from Xerxes allowed a sorrowful lighter string and harpsichord accompaniment (Donald Nicholson) to offer heartfelt and empathetic engagement. From sorrow to the betrayal of the “poison aria”, “Stille Amare” from Tolomeo, Timms presented a golden vocal quality and experienced stage presence in two dramatic and heart-wrenching arias.
We may not expect double reed instruments to bring fireworks to a concert, but Vivaldi certainly brought out their potential. His Concerto for Oboe & Bassoon in G highlighted the virtuosity of prize-winning Armand Djikoloum (oboe) and Lyndon Watts (bassoon), both Guest Principals with major European orchestras, and tonight treating Bendigo and on-line audiences with unique performances showcasing their expertise. A stately, warm and elegant first movement impressed us with colourful thematic interplay, the second movement reinforced the unique beauty and expression of the oboe in vocal aria-like melodies, and the third movement Allegro delivered us technical virtuosity, a finely synchronised partnership, and lively counterpoint with speedy high bassoon lines affirming Chris Howlett’s words that “we would never look at the bassoon in the same way again”.
Anna Goldsworthy (piano) Holly Piccolo (violin) and Chris Howlett (cello) closed this program taking us into the romantic world of one of Mendelssohn’s greatest works, the Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 66 with a display of highly sensitive, very beautiful cohesive and fluent dynamics. It was true Mendelssohn, with passionate and stormy arpeggios across the full length of the piano keyboard, a sweet and expressive lullaby reminiscent of a Venetian boat song, well-balanced and expressive imitative passages in a scherzo-like third movement, both tenderness and passion in the fourth movement with unusual high leaps in the cello melody, and chorale grandeur leading to an exhilarating close.
Fully celebrating the musical friendships and the wonderful teacher and student relationship in music, Saturday’s Community Concert, conducted by Luke Severn with Bendigo Symphony Orchestra members and Festival artists, created a different excitement in the audience. Two Bendigo-born soloists were celebrated in warm and quite ebullient music making: Noah Lawrence in Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C, and Andrew Young performing Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 4 in E-flat. Most special was the proud acknowledgement of these soloists for their first teachers, who were also performing with them in the orchestra. Andrew Young also shared a special encore, inviting his teacher Cathy Moore to join him at front of stage for a Mozart duet for two French Horns, adding a sentimental, harmonious and treasured musical moment.
From Dusk Series 3 concert – “Poetry Passion & Delight” – came a contrasting menu of lesser-known delights. The program opened with a most alluring Fantasia on Themes from Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment for bassoon and string ensemble by G. Tamplini, giving Lyndon Watts the chance to prove his instrument to be a “bel canto bassoon”. Using tenor register (“like Pavarotti” he quipped) Watts showed us an extraordinary variety of articulations, trills and ornaments, long cadenzas and legato melodies, with occasional theatrical effects ranging from shadowy and mysterious to fun and jollity. Several audience members might now say that the bassoon has become their favourite instrument!
ANAM students presented Kodaly’s setting of folk-like melodies in Intermezzo for String Trio, and two truly magnificent duos then completed this program of rarities. Pianist Timothy Young with oboist Armand Djikoloum received lengthy applause with their ardent performance of a rare gem Morceau de Salon (1859) by Prague composer J. W. Kalliwoda. Natsuko Yoshimoto, concertmaster of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, with well-loved Festival pianist Daniel de Borah gave us a glorious and wonderfully sensuous Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in G. Featuring heavenly soft high notes on both instruments and finely balanced lyrical themes with clear definition of interconnecting themes, this was a most expressive finale.
Julie McErlain reviewed Summer Nights Series 3 – Friday Night Fireworks, the Community Concert and Dusk Series 3, presented as part of the Bendigo Chamber Music Festival at the Capital Theatre, Bendigo on Friday February 2 and Saturday February 3, 2024 via Australian Digital Concert Hall.