The spotlight was on the musicians of wind quintet Arcadia Winds – the first ensemble to go through Musica Viva’s Futuremakers programme – in the third concert of the Musica Viva Festival. And while the first two concerts of the Festival focused on a few larger works, this programme was more eclectic, spanning a variety of styles and instrumental line-ups.
Arcadia Winds’ flute player Kiran Phatak began proceedings with Sydney Symphony Orchestra cellist Rowena Macneish and pianist Amir Farid, performing Bohuslav Martinů’s Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano. Phatak’s sound was bright and resonant, floating above the driving cello and piano in the first movement. Farid’s darkly melancholy piano opened the Adagio before an ominous flute solo – underscored by pizzicato cello – became a haunting, interweaving duet between Phatak and Macneish. While technically solid as a rock, more humour and joy could have been drawn from the bouncing Allegretto scherzando, but this was nonetheless a fine performance that brought out the clean beauty of Martinů’s writing.
The remainder of Arcadia Winds joined Phatak on stage for György Liget’s Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet, an intensely rhythmic work drawing on Romanian folk music. The ensemble hit the ground running in the fast-paced first movement with it’s chirping piccolo and mile-a-minute bassoon lines, Matthew Kneale getting a laugh as he walked out to take the movement’s final bassoon note as a quirky solo. David Reichelt’s clear, penetrating oboe was a highlight of the second movement as were clarinettist Lloyd Van’t Hoff and hornist Rachel Shaw’s solos in the Adagio. The whole ensemble brought a crisp momentum to the work, the fast interlocking parts working like clockwork and the motoring finale throbbing with energy.
Bassoonist Matthew Kneale demonstrated a vibrant athleticism on his instrument in the first movement of Alexandre Tansman’s Sonatina for Bassoon and Piano, joined by Farid on piano. The second movement Aria allowed him to show off a more lyrical side before a giving a performance bursting with energy and rapid-fire articulation in the Scherzo.
The highlight of the first half, however, was a performance of Britten’s first published work, the Sinfonietta for Chamber Orchestra – a wind quintet (Arcadia Winds) plus a string quintet (Marianne Broadfoot, Kerry Martin, Jacqui Cronin, Macneish and Kees Boersma). The ensemble created a sound both lush and richly detailed, the variations of the second movement providing an abundant interchange of ideas while the Tarantella was bustling and feverish, the expansive sound of the full ensemble unravelling into dextrous individual lines, accumulating again to build to a raucous climax.
A trill from Farid’s piano opened the second half, Amy Dickson tracing smooth lines on soprano saxophone above his burbling tremolos in Graham Fitkin’s Minimalist Gate. Dickson’s sound had an elastic flexibility as she alternated spiky attacks with mellower lyrical passages in a fascinating exploration of texture.
Husband and wife team violinist Pinchas Zukerman and cellist Amanda Forsyth presented the only wind-free work on the programme – a slightly trimmed and rearranged version of Reinhold Gliére’s Op. 39 Duo for Violin and Cello. Of a generation just older than Shostakovich and with a naturally conservative approach to composition, Gliére was never accused of ‘formalism’ and indeed his duos, written in 1909, sound older than they are – the Gavotte is basically a pastiche – but they are nonetheless beautiful and Zukerman and Forsyth created a rich, warm sound throughout. The Impromptu had a dark folky feel while the Scherzo – which the pair used as the finale, having cut the Etude – was both and stately and brightly energetic.
Arcadia Winds clarinettist Lloyd van’t Hoff brought the concert to a close with a spirited performance Nigel Westlake’s quirky Rare Sugar – a single-movement clarinet concerto for which van’t Hoff was joined by Farid, Boersma and the Goldner String Quartet. The sound of bows bouncing off strings gave the work a woody, percussive energy, the work full of lurching syncopations, vibrant clarinet flourishes and a jazzy momentum underpinned by Boersma’s plucked bass. Quieter moments – van’t Hoff’s clarinet emerging in and out of nothingness over crystalline piano chords and milking the silence and space of Verbugghen hall in his cadenza – gave way to bright, sweeps of melody and driving rhythms, the piece culminating in a virtuosic frenzy of notes.
While this programme may not have had the clean unity of Concerts 1 and 2, the array of moods, styles and musicians made for entertaining listening and a chance to hear the unique individual styles of a number of the Arcadia Winds musicians – all of whom proved as impressive as soloists as they are ensemble members.
The Musica Viva Festival 2017 continues until Sunday April 23