The stately gold-trimmed red velvet drapery of the Albert Hall provided the perfect ambiance for this exquisite concert; the first in the 2023 season being presented by the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra.
The musicians performed on a raised stage set midway along the hall partially surrounded by the audience seated in a semicircle approximating the intimacy of a 19th century salon.
Since it was established 10 years ago, under the artistic directorship of the late Richard Gill, the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra has built a strong following among classical music buffs for its historically informed performances performed on historical instruments.
In the late 1700’s, the clarinet was considered a new instrument, and the musical cognoscenti of Vienna was enthralled by its sound. Mozart was so fascinated by the sound of the basset clarinet played by virtuoso, Anton Stadler, that in 1788, he composed his Clarinet Quintet in A Major specifically for this instrument.
Mozart’s protégé and former pupil, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, a celebrated musician and composer in his own right, composed his own Clarinet Quartet in 1808. Both these compositions were featured in the scintillating program offered by the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra.
All members of the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra, the quintet consists of Co-Artistic Director and clarinet virtuoso, Nicole van Bruggen on her copies of the 1810 Lotz B flat clarinet and 1790 Lotz Basset clarinet in A; Peter Clark replacing Rachael Beesley at late notice, on his 1820 Lorenzo Ventapane violin; Julia Russoniello (1850 Jules Grandjon violin); Simon Oswell (1740 Gaspare Lorenzini viola) and Daniel Yeadon (1781 William Forster 11 cello).
A particularly fascinating feature of this concert was the fact that the basset clarinet van Bruggen used for the Mozart work is an exact copy of the basset clarinet built by Theodore Lotz for Anton Stadler. Both van Bruggen’s clarinets were made specifically for her in Paris by renowned atelier, Agnes Gueroult.
The concert commenced with the Hummel Clarinet Quartet in E Flat Major S, 78 which van Bruggen, performed on her 1810 B flat clarinet, together with Clark, Oswell and Yeadon.
This set the tone for the evening because apart from the stunning musicianship on display this work turned into a delightful musical conversation between the four instrumentalists.
Violinist Peter Clark wears his delight in the music on his sleeve, swooning over phrases, ending others with extravagant flourishes, frequently smiling encouragement and approval to his colleagues, who, relaxed and confident in their playing, were happy to respond. This joy transmitted to the audience who happily smiled back as they relaxed into the music.
Perhaps the most interesting movement in this quartet is the second, La Seccatura, because, as van Bruggen points out in her program notes, the parts for each instrument are written in different time signatures, hence the translation of the title as The Nuisance.
This effect was difficult to discern but fun to listen out for. The musicians however seemed to have the most fun with the final movement, Rondo (Allegretto), which was peppered with cheeky pauses and happy flourishes, the sound so superbly balanced that it was difficult to discern which instrument was which as the musicians challenged each other with virtuosic runs providing a real treat for the eyes as well as the ears.
Van Bruggen then left the stage to the three strings, Clark, Oswell and Yeadon, who offered a superb account of the Schubert String Trio in B Flat major, D.471, notable for the delicate phrasing and again, the playful interaction of the three musicians.
After a short interval Clark, Oswell and Yeadon were joined by violinist, Julia Russoniello and van Bruggen, this time with her basset clarinet, for the major work of the evening, Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K.581. It was during this showcase work that the beautiful tone of the basset clarinet could be fully appreciated. .
Mozart’s fascination with the instrument becomes clear in the series of duets and trios he provides in the various sections which explore the range and unique characteristics of the instrument and reveal how well it blends with the strings.
In the final Allegretto section he includes a series of thrilling virtuoso embellishments. These provided van Bruggen with the opportunity to display her brilliant technique and mastery of her instrument, as well as provide an exciting conclusion to a superb concert.
Viennese Vogue: Mozart Clarinet Quintet, Schubert & Hummel
Albert Hall, 100 Commonwealth Avenue, Canberra
Performance: Wednesday 15 March 2023
Image: Peter Clark (violin), Julia Russoniello (violin), Daniel Yeadon (cello), Nicole van Bruggen (clarinet) and Simon Oswell (viola) – photo by Hikari Photography
Review: Bill Stephens OAM