ARCO. Pic by Robert Catto


EYBLER String Quintet in D major, HV.186

SCHUBERT Octet in F major, D.803


Nicole van Bruggen, Clarinet

Niels Coppalle, Bassoon

Anneke Scott, Horn 

Jenna Sherry, Violin 1 

Peter Clark, Violin 2 

Simon Oswell, Viola 

Daniel Yeadon, Cello 

Rob Nairn, Double Bass 


Wednesday was the final night of a bold and lengthy tour for the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra. What better place to stage the grand finale than Sydney’s City Recital Hall. The tour took them from Noosa QLD down through Brisbane, Orange NSW, Newcastle, Canberra ACT, then on through VIC and SA. Accompanying the tour, as usual, they programmed the Voyage of Musical Discovery in tandem. This is a program targeting school students and tertiary level students offering inspiration and education with music and lectures from professional musicians. For this tour, their Voyage of Discovery guest artists were didgeridoo player William Barton and violinist/composer Véronique Serret.

The orchestra was founded only a few short years ago by the late Richard Gill AO and is now directed in partnership between Rachael Beesley and Nicole van Bruggen. Unique in their approach, the ensemble comprises of musicians specialising in Historically Informed Performance  (HIP) mostly living in Australian east coast cities and some from overseas. With no home base for the orchestra, Beesley previously explained this can be of great advantage. Her reasoning is they are never paying for the travel of every musician, particularly between Sydney and Melbourne, because there are orchestra members already located there.

The program for the Sounds of Vienna tour was beautifully chosen. Two very special chamber ensemble pieces that fit together perfectly. 

The first by a lesser known and unjustly forgotten composer from Vienna, Joseph Eybler. The second by one with whom everyone is familiar… Schubert.

In his lifetime, Eybler was famous for good reason. An excellent musician and composer he was appointed Music Master to the Imperial family of Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria. On the death of Salieri he took over the appointment of Hofkapellmeister. For his long standing duty, he was raised to nobility at around the age of 70. 

Considered a musical genius, Eybler was a distant relative of brothers Joseph and Michael Haydn and a close, long standing friend of Mozart.

Perhaps it was this mixing and mingling with the greatest classical composers the world has ever seen that diminished Eybler’s legacy. There seems to be very little info about him though his catalog numbers some 250 works.

The first half of the program was Eybler’s String Quintet in D major, HV.186. With such strong influence of the great composers surrounding him, the opening Adagio movement sounded familiar and yet completely new. The players got off to a slightly unfocused beginning – perhaps because the performance was being live-streamed around the world by the Australian Digital Concert Hall – but things settled down within a minute or two.

It was an interesting piece in construction. A quintet comprising of regular string quartet (Jenna Sherry, 1st Violin; Peter Clark, 2nd Violin; Simon Oswell, Viola; Daniel Yeadon, Cello) plus the double bass of seasoned professional Rob Nairn. The double bass added much depth and richness to the sound, like adding a whole new dimension.

Yeadon and Oswell provided very solid grounding for the rest of the group in the opening Adagio. Everyone looked like they were really enjoying the Minuetto, treating it very delicately with great respect. The two violins worked really well together in this movement and Eybler provided a creative outlet in solo work for each instrument.

During the third Andante movement the group got very playful with the tempi, Sherry providing plenty of excellent virtuoso playing. The forth Minuetto / Allegretto and fifth Adagio movements seemed more tense and difficult to play but the final Allegro Vivace was just that. Vivacious, bold and superbly played. The audience loved it and offered generous applause.

Moving in to the second half was Schubert’s Octet in F major. The strings were joined by co-Artistic Director Nicole van Bruggen, clarinet; Anneke Scott, horn and Neils Coppalle, bassoon.

The group felt more confident and focused with van Bruggen on the stage. She performed some wonderful solos, her playing never egotistical, always generous, expressive and reliable. Scott began her performance with the longest note in the world which she held beautifully stable and well pitched. Many a player would have keeled over trying to hold the note together but she handled with aplomb.

The gentle waltz of the Adagio movement featured van Bruggen and Oswell. Most interesting to note was the soft muted voice of Coppalle’s bassoon which is a modern reproduction of one by Carl August Grenser from the late 1700s. Every instrument on the stage was either an original or reproduction from between 1705 and 1840 giving the collective voice of the group a rounded, soft sound rather than the harsh, metallic ringing of modern instruments. The period instruments tend to draw you in closer as if you are listening in the salon. Schubert’s composition featured a really lovely passage in this Adagio starting with the first violin and adding each string instrument, one by one, to the conversation. It was a beautifully connected and sensitive interpretation.

The Vivace was next, a fabulous lumpy bumpy romp with lots of changes of tempi followed by an Andante of variations that were highly danceable, the musicians clearly enjoying themselves. The fifth Menuetto movement was just delightful, very easy to listen to with conversations between clarinet and first violin and some more beautiful work by Scott on the natural horn. The final Andante molto / Allegro movement was so full of joy, we wished it would go on all night. 

It was a magnificent performance by Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra as always. Their work is consistently an incredibly high standard with players who are principals of orchestras from all around the world.

They will be touring again from mid-August with their program Tempestuous Skies. Check their website for performance dates and make sure you book early:

Photos by Robert Catto


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