Friday, August 29, 2014

Intimate Letters

AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA (ACO) in association with Bell Shakespeare presents INTIMATE LETTERS at the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House. 24 August, Sydney Opera House, 26 - 30th August at City Recital Hall, Angel Place.

The Australian Chamber orchestra (ACO) with Bell Shakespeare presented a program of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Bedrich Smetana, and Leos Janacek, accompanied by the reading of some letters from the composers, which contextualised the writing of the compositions. The orchestra lead by Guest Director and Violin, Gordan Nikolic.

Sixteen year old Mozart composed Divertimento in F major, K. 138 (1772). Composed, for four separate string parts - first violin, second violin, viola and unspecified 'bass' - it could be played by one instrument of each as a quartet, or, as in this instance, by a string band. The three movements are recognisably the light, attractive Mozartian sound that always seems to call up, for me, the feelings of youth and optimism. A letter, read by Ella Scott Lynch, from Mozart to his sister, at the time of this composition, registers the banal, childish and playful personality of this musical prodigy, in astonishing contrast to the sophistication of his musical composition, and recalls quite vividly, the spirited invention, by Peter Shaffer, of Mozart in his play, AMADEUS (1979).

The next work, String Quartet No.1 in F minor, Z meho Zivota (From my Life) - 1876, was introduced by a letter from the Czech, Smetana, telling us of his diagnosed profound and permanent deafness, complicated with "a terrifying non-physical sound world of constant 'shriekings, whistles and ghastly bawling inside his head'," read by Marshall Napier. The music was a wonderfully moving work. Beautiful.

After the interval, the Leos Janacek String Quartet No.2 Listy duverne (Intimate letters) - 1928. In 1917, at the age of 63, Janacek, conceived 'a passionate friendship' for a 25 year old woman Kamilla Stosslova. In over 700 letters over the next 10 years a correspondence was carried out - the obsession never was permitted to go beyond that of 'a chivalrous devotion'. Introducing the work and between each of the four movements, letters of devotion and deflection were read by the actors - from Janacek, expressing "a friendship as necessary to my life as air or water." and that "It is just as well that it is only I who am infatuated". From Kamilla, ambiguous and sometimes playful rejections and/or encouragements.

The letters read in this concert, were only a slightly interesting accompaniment to the music, and at best, simply, contextualised the human motivation behind the compositions. (Well, the Mozart letter, really did not even do that!) That the readings selected, particularly in the Janacek performance, interfered with the experiential musical flow of the four movements, raised the question of their usefulness, except as a novelty exercise: distracting us from the hearing of the musical invention, ingenuities, rather than a qualitative asset to the experience. Really, if I wanted to know more about the composer, or the music, reading it in a program, at my leisure, would have been my preferred option. (Particularly, as the ACO do not charge for the program notes). The readings from the actors were pleasantly competent: Ms Scott Lynch, animated and sprightly, if a little over emphatic textually; Mr Marshall adequately weighted, but slightly, absent. - a 'flat' reader. The perfunctory staging by Director, Peter Evans, and assistant, Susanna Dowling, seemed unnecessary, and ultimately, boringly predictable in its choreography.

The Smetana, gave the concert, great beauty.

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