Concert Notes: Chamber Masterworks

Australian Octet‘s debut Melbourne performances, Chamber Masterworks, are on Sunday 25 May and Friday 30 May. The Octet can be seen on tour in Hamilton, Geelong, Traralgon, Bairnsdale, Mornington and Healesville.

Concert Notes

Richard Mills

Lachrymae, Chorales… Postlude (2014)

Richard Mills is one of Australia’s most prolific and internationally recognised composers. He is currently Music Director of Victorian Opera and pursues a diverse career as a composer, conductor and artistic director. He has held the post of Artistic Director of the West Australian Opera 1997 – 2012, Director of the Australian Music Project for the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra 2002 – 2008 and Musica Viva’s Composer of the Year in 2008, and received many scholarships, fellowships and awards including an AM, in1999.

Richard’s  compositions range from Flute Concerto commissioned by James Galway, Soundscapes for Percussion and Orchestra most recently performed by Evelyn Glennie at the City of Birmingham Symphony Proms, Passion according to St Mark, operas: Love of the Nightingale, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Batavia, a song cycle Songlines of the Heart’s Desire and String Quartets.

Richard regularly conducts the leading orchestras and opera companies of Australia and has an extensive discography of orchestral works including his own compositions.

Richard Mills writes: The title of this single movement work is a simple reflection of its form. The Lachrymae — tears — are wild and angry. They are relieved by a quote of a Gregorian Kyrie, from the Mass Orbis Factor. Both gestures are worked out, leading to an apex point, where the music dissolves in cascades of canonical, ad libitum entries. This prepares for chorale statements, alternating with comments by two solo violins. The simple ending, based on a descending mode concludes the piece. The gesture has something in common with the ‘tumbling strain”   of the Indiginous musics of Arnhem Land, where I spent time at Millingimbi and Elcho island in the nineties. The textures are complex and virtuosic, but the overall shape is simple and clear. The piece is dedicated to Bill Hennessy and the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, it is also a testament to a lifelong and warm professional relationship that I have been fortunate to have with Bill for over thirty years, and also an expression of gratitude for his persuit of excellence as a player and as a teacher that has been an inspiration to our Australian profession, and that has touched so many lives.

Dmitri Shostakovich

Two Pieces for String Octet Op. 11

  1. Prelude – Adagio
  2. Scherzo – Allegro molto

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) is one of the towering figures of twentieth century composition. While his 15 symphonies are landmarks in the symphonic literature his chamber music provides a comparable evolution through a range of genres from the sonatas for cello, violin and viola, the two piano trios, the piano quintet, and the fifteen string quartets.

Shostakovich composed the Two Pieces for String Octet when he was a student at the conservatoire in Leningrad. The work was written around the same time as the First Symphony Op. 10. Although he commenced the work in 1924 it did not receive its first public performance until 1927 by the combined forces of the Glière and Stradivarius Quartets.

We hear in both movements examples of Shostakovich as a young brash modernist. The Prelude is in a three part form (slow-fast-slow) with great contrast between the Adagio and the animated conversational interplay of the middle section. The Scherzo is bold and dissonant with driving rhythms which propel the flow of the music. According to Laurel Faye (Shostakovich’s biographer) he considered the scherzo “the very best thing I have written”.

Johannes Brahms

String Quintet No. 1 in F major Op. 88

  1. Allegro non troppo ma con brio
  2. Grave ed appassionato – Allegretto vivace – Tempo I – Presto – Tempo I
  3. Allegro energico – Presto

The German composer Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) wrote music for piano, voice, chorus, orchestra and chamber ensembles. Chamber music occupied a great proportion of Brahms’ life with 24 complete works including sonatas, trios, quartets, quintets and sextets. His output follows on the traditions of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

The String Quintet in F was written in the spring of 1882 and received its first performance in the same year. The quintet is the only chamber work, except for the solo sonatas, that is in three movements. The work is scored for two violins, two violas and cello. The three movements are all developed from materials in the central Grave ed appassionato which was in turn generated from an abandoned earlier piano work. Throughout the work Brahms continually interweaves the voices providing focus and direction.

The first movement is in sonata form. It has a pastoral and melodious character. The middle movement functions as both a slow movement and scherzo. The opening theme alternates with the Allegretto vivace. The final movement combines sonata and contrapuntal form. The powerful fugal opening is reminiscent of a Baroque-style subject that is contrasted with the expansive melody of the second subject.

While the work is technically complex it resonates with a beautiful glow. In a letter to Clara Schumann Brahms described the quintet as one of his “finest works”. To his publisher Simrock he wrote “You have never before had such a beautiful work from me.

Georges Enescu

String Octet in C major, Op. 7

  1. Très modéré
  2. Très fougueux
  3. Lentement
  4. Movt de Valse bien rythmée

Georges Enescu (1881 – 1955) was a Romanian composer, violinist, conductor and teacher. His published works covers 33 opus numbers including three symphonies and an opera. His chamber works constitute a large proportion of his output.

The Octet was completed in 1900 when Enescu was 19 years of age. It is an expansive work bringing together the musical language of the late romantic period, with reference to Romanian and gypsy music along with his mastery of counterpoint. It is a virtuosic work where each of the players is treated as a soloist.

The first movement presents six themes that then emerge in the subsequent movements. The opening theme provides an expose to the scale of this expansive work. The second movement is a spirited and highly passionate fugue. The Lentement movement provides some respite in the form of a nocturne. The final movement is a waltz which synthesises the materials from the earlier movements.