The Australian Romantic and Classical Orchestra (ARCO) under the leadership of Australian musician and educator Richard Gill OAM performed its third and final concert for 2017 at the City Recital in Sydney on Sunday 17th September.

An exquisite Revolutionary Romance concert was performed by the ARCO Chamber Soloists. Fine chamber musicians passionately performed the sublime chamber works by Mozart and Spohr. They delivered the rich sounds, colours, ornamentation and textures on classical period strings played with heartfelt passion.

A real highlight was the basset clarinet played by the Australian star of this instrument Nicole Van Bruggen. I will remember her performance on this wonderful instrument and Mozart’sClarinet Quintet in A Major, K581’ for a long time. It is no wonder these superb musicians are so committed to delivering historically informed performances ‘HIP’ in such intimate settings.

The program began with Louis Sphor’s ‘String Sextet in C major Op. 140’ in Allegro Moderato. Spohr was German born with a reputation during the first half of the 19th century as a violin virtuoso, conductor, author, teacher and a prolific composer.  Spohr commented when he wrote this piece that his spirits were raised by the current events in Germany. He wrote upon the manuscript, “At the time of the glorious people’s revolution…& reawakening of Germany.”

Sphor’s String Sextet first movement in Allegro Moderato has a warm and expansive opening theme unified by the trilling motif which appears again and again with the various themes. It’s very much in this singing style that Spohr described the violin bow being the ‘soul of playing”. In this first movement the first viola is entrusted with the main theme.

Later, the first violinist Rachael Beesley introduces the second subject. Both melodies are quite inspired and make a lasting impression. The first viola is the thematic leader for much of the movement but the higher pitched melody and jubilant bird like trills carried by Rachael Beesley (violin) were beautifully balanced by the subdued accompaniment of the other strings. Lovely playing overall by this superb sextet.

Next performed was the Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A major K.581 (1789) consisting of four movements for clarinet, two violinsviola, and cello 

Clarinetist Nicole van Bruggen commented during the pre-concert talk that Mozart wrote the Quintet for his friend Anton Stadler and the virtuoso’s basset clarinet which had been made for Stadler by Theodor Lotz. This ingenious instrument with its bulb like bottom joint looks more like a pipe suited for smoking rather than music making. It includes four lower notes not present in the modern clarinet.  Though the piece was a showpiece for Mozart’s friends sadly the original scores and the original basset clarinet had been lost. Copies have been made from mere descriptions and a program picture of the instrument which was only discovered in 1992 by a clever musicologist in Latvia. Nicole further explained that the arrangement played is the closest the soloists feel the way it would have been played during Mozart’s time.

The first movement ‘Allegro’ opens with an elegant and graceful statement from the strings before the entry of the clarinet. The golden, velvety woody smooth tones of the basset clarinet being most memorable. A dialogue between the strings and the clarinet with melodic lines and harmony threaded through each other. Superb fingering by first violinist Rachael Beesley and wonderful melody progression between Nicole Van Bruggen (basset clarinet), Mime Yamahiro-Brinkmann (Violoncello) and Rachael Beesley (Violin).

The second movement ‘Larghetto’ sees more of the clarinet solo, gliding and floating on top of the strings. It’s written in the bright key of D major with the clarinet appropriately the voice of the song. Though the tone is more sombre in this movement there’s glimpses of a happier melody played by Rachael Beesley (violin). The strings largely take a supportive role throughout and it is only in the middle of the movement that a dialogue takes place between the second violin and the clarinet.

The third movement is in the form of a Menuetto and Trio I and II. The Minuet opens in A major and is followed by the first Trio, set in A minor, for strings alone. Some lovely viola playing by Jane Rogers here. The movement concludes with the bright Minuet and at times a higher pitched basset clarinet melody though it’s the low basset note cadenzas which are were flawlessly executed by Nicole Van Bruggen. She appeared to be having so much fun with those basset notes. The combo of strings and wind is rather beautiful in this section.

The final movement, “Allegretto con variazioni” is a set of five variations and a coda, beginning with a lilting and cheerful theme in the strings. It’s almost in trio style, choppy melodies played by the strings with plenty of scope for Nicole Van Bruggen‘s Clarinet sweeping arpeggios showing off the basset low notes at their best. Wonderful articulation of the melody played by Jane Rogers (Viola) supported by the other strings. Overall a beautiful performance by string and wind players

Following the interval the second half proceeded with Mozart’s ‘Grande Sestetto concertante in E flat Major K. 364’ in 3 movements. The original version was scored for solo violin, solo viola, 2 oboes, 2 horns and strings including a divided viola. The arrangement played by the ARCO string sextet was based on an unaccredited edition arrangement of 1808. Impressive to hear six players creating a true chamber work in a ‘sinfonia concertante’ style best described as one merging between concerto and symphony. The piece opened with the first movement in ‘Allegro maestoso’ followed by ‘Andante” and ‘Presto’. The solo parts were effectively shared around the instruments. Like the orchestral original, this version had prominent lines for a solo viola Simon Oswell and violinist Rachael Beesley. Wonderful articulation of melody between all the players. The ‘presto’ was lively as expected with beautiful crescendos played in unison ending in a glorious finale.

The program finished with an encore and Nicole Van Bruggen returning to the stage with the bright clarinet arrangement of the Rondeau from Mozart’s K378 Violin Sonata. The concluding Rondeau used a lively dance rhythm played brilliantly by Nicole Van Bruggen and the rest of the players. Their ability to bring out the colors, especially that of the Basset clarinet, tonal quality and character of period music with conviction is outstanding.  

A most memorable concert performed by seasoned chamber players who have known each other, some for more than 20 years, reunited by their love and commitment to ‘HIP’ music.

Highly recommended. Be sure to attend ARCO’s 2018 season concerts upcoming.