The Melbourne Chamber Orchestra’s recent concert Rococo Cello was well named. Not only was Li-Wei Qin the soloist in two of the four items, the MCO’s resident cellist Michael Dahlenburg again stepped up to conduct.
Where then was the founder and director of the ensemble? William Hennessy was in the second of his two usual positions, this time as leader of the orchestra, and energizing the youthful group (standing to play) as always, despite being the, shall we say, most experienced player on the stage. Leadership and solo roles changed smoothly throughout the program, which comprised:
MOZART Idomeneo: Overture & Chaconne
CPE BACH Cello Concerto in A major Wq172
HAYDN Symphony No 88 Letter V
TCHAIKOVSKY Variations on a Rococo Theme Op 33
Mozart was is a good choice to begin. The Overture & Chaconne from the opera Idomeneo had the edge of unfamiliarity, while also containing all the characteristics which make this composer so easy to listen to. The playing was very careful, perhaps too much so… but there was a sudden burst of energy to bring the work home.
The conductor proved to have a steady hand in the opening work and would also prove to be a sympathetic conductor for the soloist, renowned cellist Li-Wei Qin when he arrived on stage for CPE Bach ‘s Cello Concerto in A major Wq172.00. Conductor and soloist agreed on a very smooth start, but the cello picked up the tempo and spirit of the work, infusing it with feeling. Qin at times played with the orchestra as part of the whole, interspersed with his unique messages style and stand-out technique – whether adagio or allegro which alternated throughout the three movements of the concerto. The second movement Largo had a moody introspection which anticipated the romantic era. Even the violins had a dip which gave the illusion that the cello was at a higher pitch. A number of “duets” between Hennessy and Qin were highlights while a brief cadenza gave the soloist opportunity to show why he is so famous. The fast movements which completed the work showed Qin’s ease with even a demanding score. (This was just a hint at what was to come.)
I must say that when I first saw the program I thought that the third work, by Haydn, was a little too much from the Classical period. Especially as the choice was only for the orchestra which could surely handle something more adventurous. But the work proved to be another example of how neglected this composer, with no good reason. After a perfect first chord (and a few less in sync) the orchestra ,soon settled into a spirited Allegro. The second movement, Largo, saw sweetness added by use of the brass as well as winds, with the flute particularly noteworthy.
Another charming element to this movement was violinist Hennessy’s reiteration of an ascending scale.. The minuet which followed had triplets so fast as to be like a series of grace notes, followed by an allegro that revisited the opening, while the final allegro con spirito lived up to its name, and more than justified Haydn’s place on the program.
There was a complete change of pace for the final item, one which literally placed the cello on centre stage. The soloist returned to transport the audience into the 19th century as represented by Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a RococoTheme. The orchestra began with the sprightly theme … but it would be fair to say that after that all the attention was on the soloist.
This was a bravura performance by Li-Wei Qin From a quite balletic start (a reminder of this composer’s best known popular works) the variations were a vehicle for the cellist to show his mastery of his instrument, in everything from sonorous andantes to sprightly allegros. The piece might well have been written as an encore piece (in the manner of Tosti, the “encore composer’’) with each movement tossed off by the performer, but precious in its own right. Although this did not allow for the measured observation of the structure of the whole (as with the Classic pieces that preceded it), in Li-Wei Qin’s hands the effect was entrancing. Only an unreasonable listener could want more, and in this crowded Hall such a person did not make their appearance.
There can only be quibble about the appearance of such a polished performer, and that is that more than worthy orchestra he played with was perhaps not given as much credit as they should have for their performance. The MCO continues to draw a good audience in its own right, and so it should.