The Melbourne Digital Concert Hall has been presenting online live-streamed concerts to support Melbourne’s musicians during the COVID-19 shutdown. It has been a hugely successful venture by Chris Howlett and Adele Schonhardt, raising to date over $160,000 that goes directly to the musicians involved. The bassoon and cello recital from Jack Schiller and Anna Pokorny was part of the Faces of our Orchestrasprogram showcasing individual members of the state’s orchestras over the first week of May. As with some of the other concerts in this series, it featured an unusual but effective combination of instruments and players that one would rarelyhear playing individually.
Jack and Anna opened their program with a short Sonata for Bassoon and Cello in Bb Major comprising three movements, Allegro, Andante and Rondo, probably written by Mozart when he was 19 years old. Although two bassoons were more typical for this kind of work in Mozart’s time, it was published for the bassoon/cello combination. The piece demonstrated a characteristic youthful playfulness, with a neat and charming Andante and cheeky Rondo. The players’ sensitivity to each other’s parts was exemplary, although the admirable walnutty tone of the bassoon at times outweighed the quieter presence of the cello; the subtleties of the bassoon’s dynamics, tone and phrasing were more clearly heard. Was this the limitations of our sound system through the computer, or something to do with microphone placement when players are necessarily distant in the current COVID time?
A slight annoyance with the streaming technology (no doubt due in part to the number of people in Melbourne competing for their share of the NBN!) was that the sound dropped out occasionally and vision briefly froze in snatches. Not your usual concert experience, but one to be tolerated under these new circumstances of concert listening.
There followed a set of six selections from Dix Duos pour 2 Violoncellos by Glière, adapted for cello and bassoon. These showed a nice range of dynamic and emotion, although the playing didn’t always seem to match the description of each movement as we had it on the (emailed) program notes; I wondered if the players had changed the order or substituted from the omitted movements. The program notes said that Glière’s piece led to a “more uncertain atmosphere” in comparison to the Mozart. To me this was an accurate description; Glière was born in Kiev and wrote these little pieces in 1911 while working at the Moscow Gnesin School of Music (and for a time taught Prokofiev). The work seemed to capture some of the spirit of Russian music of the time, with a delightful tossing around of motifs. They were lovely little miniatures showing the versatility of the players and their interplay in an enjoyable and vigorous conversation, the mood of the pieces ranging from nostalgic and summery to serious and more autumnal. Again we could have wished for more expressiveness when the cello had solo lyrical phrases – but was it just the sound being unbalanced?
Chris Howlett’s final comment at the conclusion of the concert was that it had been “cute, perky and fun”, and I endorse this – it was a delightful program well played. We found ourselves, perhaps weirdly, clapping at the computer screen as the performers took their bows in the empty Athenaeum. Old habits die hard, but it sprang from our involvement with the performance. And it’s the least one can do to show one’s gratitude to the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall and all the participating musicians.