Concert Review: Beautiful Boccherini/ Australian Haydn Ensemble/ Sara Macliver

Sara Macliver
Sara Macliver

Beautiful Boccherini –  Australian Haydn Ensemble with Sara Macliver, soprano

Skye McIntosh (Artistic Director & violin)/ Simone Slattery (violin)/ James Eccles (viola)/ Anthony Albrecht (cello)/ Jacqueline Dosser (double bass)/ Melissa Farrow (flute) 

Cell Block Theatre, Darlinghurst

Sunday 13 March 2016

The Australian Haydn Ensemble’s (AHE) inaugural Sydney concert for their 2016 season opened with the first movement of Boccherini’s Flute Quintet in g minor, Op. 19 no.2. This is an agitated and intense movement which gave the musicians of the AHE the opportunity to display their rapport and fine ensemble. In particular, the classical flute played by Melissa Farrow blended delightfully with the period strings.

The soloist for the concert was soprano Sara Macliver who began with Zerlina’s two arias from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The two arias display both the teasing and consoling aspects of Zerlina’s character. Macliver displayed superb Mozartian style and phrasing in both arias. Her clear, pure sound rang beautifully through the Cell Block – though its acoustics were sometimes less kind in louder passages. The chamber arrangements by Vi King Lim were quite effective with the flute providing just enough colour variation to the basic string sound.

The concert continued with Mozart’s Divertimento for Strings, K 137. Again, the AHE displayed a fine sense of style, sensible choice of tempi and lightness of touch, especially for the humorous elements in the last movement. Their decision to reinforce the cello line with a double bass proved unnecessary in the Cell Block’s lively acoustic and obliged both players sometimes to suppress their sound markedly.

As its name indicates, the Cell Block used to be a gaol.  Situated within the historic convict era precinct of Darlinghurst Gaol, its sandstone walls of the hall challenge the performers with a quite resonant acoustic. At low volumes the sound is warm and attractive but at louder levels it tends to overload and can introduce an element of harshness.  The AHE seemed very aware of these challenges and accordingly attempted to avoid the challenge by reducing the dynamic level of the cello and double bass. However, these instruments were occasionally played so lightly that it sometimes affected the ensemble’s finely judged balance.

To conclude the first half of the concert, Sara Macliver sang two more Mozart arias. Ach ich fühls from Die Zauberflöte allowed her to display a greater emotional depth while still retaining a wonderful purity of tone throughout her range.  Following this late Mozart aria, written just months before he died, came the aria Laetari iocari from Apollo et Hyacinthus, written by Mozart at the age of 11. Although it is an otherwise unremarkable work, it gave Sara Macliver the opportunity to display her bell-like upper register and her mastery of coloratura and vocal calisthenics, providing a suitably bravura conclusion to the first half.

After the interval, the programme consisted of Boccherini’s Stabat Mater (G 532) for soprano and string quintet.  Like most settings of this text, Boccherini’s work is a series of mostly slow and contemplative movements in which he adopts the style of the Classical operatic tradition. It was a good choice for this venue since the meditative music glowed in the warm sound of the Cell Block. It also called forth some exquisite singing from Macliver with fine control of long legato lines, beautifully shaped phrases and unfailing beauty of tone. The string ensemble continued to support Macliver with heartfelt responses. Boccherini’s score marks the cello line as an obligado and this was admirably played by Anthony Albrecht, especially in the Eia, Mater section where there was some sensitive duetting with Skye McIntosh. The final section of the work was particularly poignant, especially the moving final Amen with James Eccles providing an emotionally throbbing viola line.

The next series of concerts by the Australian Haydn Ensemble will be in late May with chamber works from the Classical period.

Larry Turner for SoundsLikeSydney©

Larry Turner is an avid attender of concerts and operas and has been reviewing performances for Sounds Like Sydney for several years.  As a chorister for many years in both Sydney and London, he particularly enjoys music from both the great a capella period and the baroque.  He has written programme notes for Sydney Philharmonia, the Intervarsity Choral Festival and the Sydneian Bach Choir and is currently part of a team researching the history of Sydney Philharmonia for its forthcoming centenary.




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