An evening of Mozart: a music review by Ron Jontof-Hutter

May 13, 2018 by Ron Jontof-Hutter
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The Royal Melbourne Philharmonic and the Melbourne University Choral Society presented an all-Mozart program at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne.

Ron Jontof-Hutter

The concert commenced with Philip Arkinstall playing the Clarinet Concerto in challenging acoustic conditions, given the high ceilings and spacious arches. Originally written for Mozart’s friend Anton Stadler in 1791, premiered barely two months before Mozart’s death, this concerto is the pinnacle of Mozart’s finesse, delicacy and elegance in instrumental music. Following the Clarinet Quintet of 1789, also written for Stadler,  Mozart, enthralled by the beauty of that instrument’s tone and silky timbre put this woodwind instrument on the musical map for posterity.

Arkinstall brought out the essence and substance of this piece combining virtuosic ability with attention to dynamics, warmth and beautiful phrasing. The Adagio is introspective, testing the emotional depth and discipline of the clarinettist. Arkinstall  brought out the best qualities of both instrument and music as Mozart surely intended. The finale providing contrasting relief from the Adagio, starts with a delightful  ritornello, extending with technical demands, rapid sequences and ornamentation. Arkinstall played these deftly, with joyful elegance and lightness. Maestro Andrew Wailes, provided excellent accompaniment, maintaining balance, with great attention to the delicate interplay between orchestra and soloist, in what is essentially a chamber work rather than a “showpiece” concerto with dazzling cadenzas.

Philip Arkinstall

The first half of the concert ended with the Finale of Act 2, Die Zauberfloete.

Premiered  in Vienna days before the Clarinet Concerto, this charming Singspiel (eventually developing into what is today called a “musical,”) reflects Mozart’s commitment to the ideals of the European Enlightenment and the Age of Reason.  As he often did, Mozart wrote the various parts with the abilities of the singer or instrumentalist in mind. The” Papageno /Papagena”  duet as expected, brought smiles to the audience, followed by “Nur stille, stille” and finally ending with the rousing and majestic “Heil sei euch geweihten,”  were all beautifully sung with excellent orchestral balance.

After the interval, the Great C Minor Mass brought the audience back to a sombre mood. Composed when he was 26 years old, this large work is scored for two solo sopranos, a tenor and a bass, double chorus, large orchestra and organ. Apparently intended to fulfil a vow, Mozart wrote the mass that would celebrate bringing his fiancée Constanze to Salzburg as his wife. She also sang the first soprano solo at its premiere.

The Kyrie set the solemn tone of the mass, with Maestro Wailes  paying great attention to detail. He conducted with conviction, clear beat and good eye contact with the musicians who responded accordingly. Wailes brought out the best of the orchestra and chorus, with a good understanding of the nuances, dynamics and tempi. The choral singing and performance demeanour were superb.

Andrew Wailes

Soprano 1, Suzanne Shakespeare and soprano 2, Greta Bradman sang with elegance and beauty, both complementing each other’s contrasting timbres making the performance both gracious and dignified. Their diction, phrasing and eloquence were enhanced by the well balanced orchestral accompaniment.  Tenor, Michael Petrucelli joined both sopranos in the”Quoniam,” singing with purity and confidence in a highly polished performance. His understanding of the dynamics and phrasing   in the ensemble work of this trio was noteworthy and it is no surprise that he is establishing himself as an emerging  leading Australian tenor.

Ms Shakespeare sang the “Et incarnatus est”  beautifully, accompanied by flautist Lisa-Maree Amos, oboist Owen Jackson  and bassoonist Christopher Haycroft – surely one of the highlights, and which Pope Frances referred to as “matchless-it lifts you to God!”

Baritone Oliver Boyd, sang the bass in the “Benedictus” quartet ,his rich voice indicating why he is headed for an illustrious career. He will soon be relocating to Berlin to participate in the advanced Master of Voice program at the prestigious Hanns Eisler Hochschule.

The Hosanna ended the mass with the double choir both rousing and virtuosic including a fugue, where Mozart nods to Bach and Handel.

The evening ended with the sublimely beautiful but short “Ave verum corpus” which Mozart wrote as a “thank you” following the recovery of his wife Constanze’s illness.  The choir showed just why it is so highly regarded, with a performance of superb phrasing, dynamics and balance. This work, deceptively simple yet so powerful in tenderness, melody and graciousness reflects the timelessness of Mozart at his best.

As I left the cathedral, I hardly noticed the pouring rain outside.  Maestro Wailes, singers and instrumentalists are to be commended for a performance that is a credit to the musical landscape wherever they perform.

Concert: May-12, St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne


Ron Jontof-Hutter is the author of the  comedy-satire “The trombone man: tales of a misogynist.” He has also been a guest speaker on music in various countries and is a member of the Australian Doctors Orchestra and Berlin-based World Doctors Orchestra.

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