01 March 2013

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra: Eroica

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra
Elisabeth Murdoch Hall
Melbourne Recital Centre
Monday 18 February 2013

First clarinet and Timpanus* were in My Mexican Cousin getting fortified with double-shot espressos in a lurid green cups. They had an hour or so before Beethoven 3; plenty of time for started and by the time it did it was clear that the caffeine really had kicked in.

 Guy du BlĂȘt not playng a tympanus

But it was Britten before the drinks break: his 10-song Les Illuminations to poetry by the controversial young French poet/gun-runner, Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud. 

Britten may have preferred Peter Pears’ version but the songs fitted the rich voice of Merlyn Quaife superbly. They took her well into the mezzo range and she appeared not to notice. Ms Quaife had voice control and dramatic sense and power enough to produce an electrifying performance; wild, beautiful and full of non-romantic dissonances. I wanted to hear it again.

Merlyn Quaife

Sometime about the age of 15 I acquired a second-hand console radio. It stood about three feet tall and had a flat top – just the thing on which to perch the cream bakelite Collaro turntable I’d installed in a wooden box and hooked up to the innards of the radio. It was my ticket to vinyl - World Record Club vinyl - and that included poor Beethoven’s Number 3 in glorious lo-fi mono.

With the passing of 55 years I’ve acquired a working knowledge of the music but MCO’s performance was a revelation.

Only 30 odd (that is +/-) musicians in a hall that was perfect for them. EM Hall loves deep strings and it loves brass. It’s pretty keen on tympani too. Clearly the caffeine had kicked in just in time for the Eroica. Hennessy, W probably thinks he led his brilliant, talented and superbly well-prepared young players but every timpanist knows they do (give or take some fractured grammar).

The same case might be made for the double bass player**. She was the wonderful, growling foundation for the funeral march.

Emma Sullivan

But then again it’s hard to argue with a French Horn and only a fool would have tried to get the better of the trio of them; precision, control and rich beauty.

But it’s the strings I’d give the gold star to. Many are ANAM graduates, many play in a chamber group, all of them know how to pitch the note (and this was supremely evident in some very high pp bits) perfectly. Even though many past strings have evolved into other, more well-known orchestras or conducting, the strings still have the stamp of their true leader. Hennessy, W has chosen well and trained well. They are equal to the best world –wide.

The Grabbott had clearly done the work long before we arrived. His (their) Eroica was rich, full-textured and brilliant. He knew exactly what dynamics, what emphases, what passion he wanted – and so did his team - so he raised only a minor sweat in his lounge suit. Note: no ridiculous white ties for this lot. The small group allowed the wonderful, vertical structure of the music to show and we got none of the mush that 100-strong orchestras often produce.

 Graham R Abbott

A good whack of the audience were young people. They heard music performance that should bring them back – jeans and tee shirts and all (and about time).

*Guy du BlĂȘt moonlighting from Lucovico’s Band
**Emma Sullivan

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