The first leg of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s journey into the life and music of the world’s most famous musical prodigy began just as you would expect: with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Köchel 1. Before Richard Egarr seated himself at the double manual harpsichord to play what may or may not have been the four-year-old Mozart’s first compositions (they were written in his sister’s notebook so may have at least in part been hers) we were taken on an entertaining guided tour by two notable broadcasters also known for their travelling prowess.
Mairi Nicolson gave an enlightening pre-concert talk in the comfort of the main auditorium (rather than the over-crowded discomfort of the Stalls foyer – at last!), drawing our attention to important features of the works to be played. At the beginning of the concert proper, it was clear from the warm welcome accorded Eadric Ayres that the audience included many who remembered ABC FM’s Emma Ayres with affection. Ed, as he prefers to be known, prefaced each musical item with readings from relevant letters by Mozart, his father and others, largely about composing, performing and various financial concerns.
It would be difficult to find a more stylish exponent of Mozart’s music than Egarr. Following the solo harpsichord pieces, which incorporated some surprisingly florid passages, members of the orchestra joined him on stage for the eight-year-old Mozart’s Symphony No. 1, while Ayres read excerpts from related correspondence. Egarr conducted the relatively small band of players from the harpsichord, sometimes standing to emphasise a dynamic or make an expressive point. In satisfying accord, the orchestra gave a buoyant, appropriately youthful-sounding account of the symphony. Egarr’s sweeping glissando across the lower keyboard during the final Presto seemed to encapsulate the panache and sense of joy that he brought to the music.
Jacqueline Porter also radiated joy as she sang Exsultate, jubilate. An animated singer with lovely resonance on the upper notes, she was, nevertheless, presented with quite a challenge by Ayres’ reading of Mozart’s concluding words: “sings it like an angel”. Would she? Indeed she would. The point was proved by her warm tone throughout the piece, a beautifully drawn out cadenza at the end of the “Tu virginum corona” featuring limpid floating notes, and excellent agility for a sprightly “Alleluja” that culminated in a ringing top C.
The Adagio in E, K261 was probably composed as an alternative to the slow movement of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.5. In addition to directing the orchestra, Eoin Andersen played this tuneful movement with a sensitive lyricism that was much appreciated by the audience.
The string section injected a great deal of vitality into their reading of the eponymous work, Eine kleine Nachtmusik. The audience was so carried away by the first movement that normal concert protocol was ignored in favour of enthusiastic applause. And why not? The use of contrasting dynamics, tempi and attack, plus an exuberant ending gave fresh vitality to one of the most familiar pieces of classical music of all time.
It may have just been coincidence, but Ayres’ introduction to Symphony No. 31 with readings about travelling to Paris and Mozart’s thrill at having a fast carriage ride could not have been better timed. Here we were on Bastille Day with the Tour de France racing along while the MSO played the Paris Symphony as their final and most substantial work for the evening. A slightly expanded body of strings and a wind section that included a pair of clarinets (the first time for a Mozart symphony) gave a polished and most enjoyable performance. Some of the chord initiations for the combined winds and brass were so perfectly coordinated that they acted as one alluringly textured voice. A spirited Allegro concluded the concert on just the right jubilant note.
Heather Leviston reviewed MSO plays Eine Kleine Nachtmusik at the Arts Centre Melbourne, Hamer Hall on July 14, 2017