15 June 2015

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra: Hennessy’s Beethoven

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra
Deakin Edge
Saturday 13 June 2015

Some people are given music for their birthdays. My mum was given a shiny new piano trio written by Benjamin Martin for her 90th. She can’t read it and I get lost at about page 1.5 even when Seraphim Trio are playing it. But she likes it because the first two pages of the manuscript hang in her room.

William Hennessy was given an auto-performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto for his 60th (he’s really quite young). It was a sort of self-gift because he’s artistic director of MCO.

In September last year the conversation went something like,
‘Next year we’re gunna do the Beethoven.’
Which number?
‘Nine. Just joking, just joking.’
Right. Who’s on the piano?’
You mean, Who’s on the fiddle?’
Right. Who’s on the fiddle?’
‘Me. It’s for my 60th.’
Ah! Right. And since you have a Melba complex, we’re gunna play it all round the State.

So we, the Saturday audience, saw and heard Hennessy’s wonderful birthday gift. The thing we didn’t see until the end was a second present, a Haydn’s concerto – or at least its second movement.

Young Mr Dahlenberg got a gift too: the conducting gig.

Everyone, including me, was happy, and that’s important. I’ve paid good pensioner-money for my seat so I hafta enjoy it.

Mr Hennessy didn’t need a white bow tie (and YMD knew he’d just look silly behind one) to tell us he was a master. We knew it from his quiet, absolutely controlled entry (I could see, mentally, he’d been away somewhere for a couple of minutes while the orchestra set the landscape for him) and we knew it in part, until we got to the second movement, from the cadenzas.

Beethoven had started slow because of the four notes of the tympanist (try arguing with the tympani) and I was worried until I realised YMD had it under control. He had the wonderful valveless trumpets – they had been a bit dominant in Haydn’s witty (the violins tune up in the fifth movement) 60th Symphony before the long break – under control too. He built the tempo gradually to that which is slower than many contemporary recordings (I can play this faster than you and bugger the definition) but I had no problem with that. It worked. It was a stately but exciting performance. Powerful.

Beethoven Violin Concerto Op. 61 1st mvt

The second and third movements (no break) built to pure magic. Everyone knew what they were doing. The baroque trumpets, less harsh than a modern trumpet, welded themselves to the bassoon and the horns as if they’d been bred together. The strings, of course, were flawless but we knew that would be the case before they came on stage. Hennessy was totally master here. It was as if legato was his middle name and that, with his controlled phrasing, made the second emotionally intense.

Beethoven Violin Concerto Op. 61 2nd mvt

If that wasn’t enough, the encore piece, the second, adagio movement of Haydn’s C major concerto followed.

Encores can destroy the atmosphere that a musician has spent half an hour crafting. This encore piece established and built the classical, emotional atmosphere of Beethoven and reinforced it. The Haydn concerto is firmly baroque but in Hennessy’s hands it was firmly baroque-tending-to-romantic. The performance was spell-binding. The seven second silence that the conductor asked for – and was given – demonstrated that.

William Hennessy has a long and distinguished history of strings education and performance in this State.

In this these performances one could see why.

Repeated Sunday 14 June at Elizabeth Murdoch Hall

then up (and down) country Victoria.

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