The Mayor’s Gala concert for the Bendigo Chamber Music Festival opened with a performance of Robert Schumann’s Andante and Variations, Op.46 – a work that displayed an innovative texture of orchestration, featuring two grand pianos, two celli and one French horn. As discussed in the introduction, Robert Schumann discarded his original orchestration by eliminating the cello, however at a later stage, Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann chose to perform Schumann’s original version, which included the cello. This original orchestration remains, to this day, as the preferred version.
The performance opened succinctly with an expressive and poignant introduction, which was followed with the principal Andante theme played upon the two grand pianos in a call and response structure. The accompanying celli and horn added to the texture with meticulous attention to the phrasing and cadence points.
Notably, the performance of the two pianists (Daniel de Borah and Ariel Lanyi) displayed total cohesion and synergy throughout the following thematic variations, which ranged from graceful and evocative phrasing to cascading semiquavers, demonstrative staccato statements and peaceful resolutions.
The presence of the two celli (Chris Howlett and Howard Penny), in addition to the French horn (Nicolas Fleury), complemented the texture of this piece, adding extra depth and sonority to the timbre of the ensemble. In true fashion, these musicians displayed a consummate awareness of style and structure within the chamber music idiom. The entire performance was exemplary, with a well-considered and convincing presentation of melody and form within the style of Robert Schumann.
The second item for the evening was presented with the outstanding clarinettist, Jonathan Leibowitz, performing the Première Rhapsodie for clarinet and piano (and orchestra) by Claude Debussy. Laurence Matheson was the excellent associate artist with the accompaniment.
Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie was written as a test piece for the final year graduate clarinettists at the Paris Conservatorium of Music. Nonetheless, this composition has come to sit firmly within the upper hierarchy of clarinet repertoire. Jonathan Leibowitz equates this hierarchy equal to that of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.
The performance commenced with a dreamlike introduction evoking a sense of mystery and calmness. The principal theme then emerged on the clarinet with a soft and penetrating timbre. A fluid and sustained tone, within a very soft setting, was fluently demonstrated with ease and commitment.
Jonathan Leibowitz continued to develop the following phrases with a continuing sense of momentum and impressionist texture. It was very pleasing to see the performance was indeed a collaborative rendition between the soloist and the accompaniment. Both performers gave a mature, convincing, and comprehensive statement of impressionist style.
As the performance progressed, Jonathan Leibowitz demonstrated multiple occasions of technical brilliance, performed effortlessly and seamlessly. Notably, the articulated passages of accelerated semiquavers impressed with their perfection and masterful control. Similarly, the breath control (including circular breathing) was extremely impressive.
Despite the abundance of technical challenges, Jonathan Leibowitz, executed everything with foremost attention to the content, structure, and formal development throughout. This was a superlative performance! The performance concluded with a perfectly timed and resounding final note, followed by generous and appreciative applause from the audience. Bravo!
The final item on the programme was the Andante and Variations for String Quartet, Op.46, by Gaetano Donizetti. On this occasion, the quartet was presented in orchestral style, comprising the full complement of string instruments. The overall performance displayed a vigorous attitude to the calling and responding of the phrases. Throughout, there were glimpses of the Donizetti bel canto style, as heard in his operas. Yet it was apparent that the musicians ventured further into a more concise and evocative interpretation, as influenced by the Viennese and Italian classical idiom.
It was appealing to view the ensemble exchanging a broad range of dynamics and expressively performed accents. This was particularly evident in the third and fourth movements as the ensemble settled into a joyful and exciting declaration of orchestral style. Commitment was evident throughout with purposeful and exuberant phrasing. The final cadence declared an emphatic conclusion to the evening’s successful presentation of the Mayoral Gala – Bendigo Chamber Music Festival, 2023.
Mark Dipnall reviewed the Mayor’s Gala concert, presented as part of the Bendigo Chamber Music Festival at the Capital Theatre on February 4, 2023.