Australian World Orchestra’s  chamber spin-off…a music review by Fraser Beath McEwing

July 26, 2017 by Fraser Beath McEwing
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With the veracity and popularity of the Australian World Orchestra now firmly established, its creators, led by conductor Alexander Briger, no doubt feel the need for development. That’s what last night’s chamber music concert was all about.

Beethoven Septet

While performances by the full orchestra are a highlight of the Australian musical calendar every two years, the availability of suitable venues often restricts where it can be heard. And timing is critical, because its all-Australian members are short-term borrowings from leading orchestras around the world as well as Australian state orchestras. One way to spread the opportunity to hear these top-class players is to arrange small groups of them into ensembles to perform chamber music. The same rule applies as it does to the full orchestra: they’ve never played together before and may never do so again.

Eight of them assembled at the Sydney City Recital Hall to present a two-work program of Beethoven and Dvorak. While the quality of the players, and their ability to form a watertight septet and quintet was inspiring, the size of the audience was pitiful, with about two thirds of the Recital Hall seats left empty. Even with outstanding players and an attractive program, the fact is that Sydney doesn’t love chamber music. Hopefully other states will be more enthusiastic.

Beethoven wrote his Septet in E flat major, Op.20 for seven different instruments: clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and double bass. Although there are many combinations possible and, indeed, used, this is probably the most pleasing because it offers a variety of sounds underpinned by the double bass which acts as a keel. In its time, it was one of Beethoven’s most popular works. It was written for his own benefit concert in 1800 – which was an outstanding musical success as well as bringing in a handy pile of deutschmarks.

The Septet has all the Beethoven hallmarks, from the lingering beauty of the second adagio movement to the playful fifth movement Scherzo. Although I couldn’t pick a weakness, I especially liked the violin of Danial Dodds. Paul Dean’s clarinet tone reminded me of creamed honey, even if his seated calisthenics were something of a distraction.

The Dvorak String Quintet No.2 in G major, Op77 called for two violins, viola, cello and that chassis-providing double bass again – played by Matthew McDonald. Even though the Beethoven had been beautifully integrated, this purely string combination was even more precise, and belied the fact that these musicians were not an established ensemble. I fell in love with the purity of sound Natalie Chee extracted from her first violin part – to which Dvorak often gave top billing. I’m a bit of a sucker for a soulful slow movement and the third, poco andante, did it for me.

While this was a musically very successful concert – and included a surprise ten minutes from a string quartet of young musicians who are part of the AWO’s masterclass program – organisers will be looking at better ways to attract audiences. The only performance by the full orchestra this time around will be in Melbourne when it will play Messiaen’s Turangalila-Symphonie, an admirable but brave choice when it comes to putting bums on seats.



Chamber 8 Sydney City Recital Hall





2 Responses to “Australian World Orchestra’s  chamber spin-off…a music review by Fraser Beath McEwing”
  1. Herbert Sternberg says:

    It’s not that Sydney is averse to Chamber Music. The hall would be full for say the Takacs Quartet. The AWO itself is an ersatz orchestra containing a handful of European based Australian musicians and ipso facto the chamber music group is an ersatz group from within an erzatz orchestra. I am surprised that the hall was even one quarter full

    • Fraser Beath McEwing says:

      While I wouldn’t argue with your comparison between the Chamber 8 ensembles and well known chamber groups for pulling a crowd, I do take issue with calling the AWO ‘ersatz’ which is lofty way of saying ‘inferior substitute’. Both Zubin Mahta and Simon Rattle thought is was among the world’s best. While you have every right to disagree, the balance of learned opinion is against you. But thanks for the comment.

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