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Concert Review MS 4


Balmain Town Hall, 8pm Saturday 21 July 2012
Independent Theatre, 3pm Sunday 22 July 2012

REVIEW by Ben Oxley (Megaphone Oz)

“Exit in case of Brahms”.

This was plastered on the walls in the venue of the premiere of Brahms 1st symphony. We had no need of this exhortation on the account given by The Metropolitan Orchestra at Balmain Town Hall. Here was robust, inspired playing directed with consummate aplomb by musical director Sarah-Grace Williams.More on the Brahms, but we started in Rossini’s Parisian salon with Saint-Sas Tarantella. I thought: did Rossini have a spider charmer on hand, as the title suggests the dance after being bitten. The scoring allowed lucid contributions from the strings and low winds. Two soloists, Svetlana Yaraslavskaya, flute and David Rowden, clarinet matched and complemented each other with brisk florid passages. The balance worked particularly well with the ensemble, again at the direction of Williams. When the dance gained momentum, and the venom spread through the body, perfect ensemble prevailed. This was the appetiser before the deeply evocative work which followed.

Across the English channel, but with inspiration from Ravel, Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis calls back to the Tudor plainchant and forward to filmic music of today. Here every string player was contributor to a sonorous account of the piece, rich with autumnal colours. One thing you can’t enjoy from the comfort of your lounge: two young boys sitting in front of me were trying to work out where the second string orchestra was. One pointed to his right; the other pointed below. Then a friend sitting across from them with his chair at 45 degrees could see their discussion. “They’re there”, he indicated to the back of the hall. Sincere acknowledgment of the keen balance and cohesion of the two orchestras should be noted. Time changes, tonality shifts all clearly indicated by the other Williams, Sarah-Grace. Tremendous intensity in concentration kept the audience in thrall. At the first performance, an 18 year old Herbert Howells described the work and the atmosphere in the audience as electric’s. There was measured assurance in this reading, with an edge-of-seat excitement.

So, back to Brahms and his Serenade in D, Opus 11. Clearly this is symphonic repertoire, and marks TMO as having successfully transitioned from chamber orchestra. Redolent of Beethoven, the players thrived on making a bold tutti in the opening Allegro molto. Perhaps the acoustic clouds the timpani at times, but otherwise there was satisfying string and wind sonority, accompanying the horns, well led by Julia Zeltzer.

Wintry sun shone through the G major Menuet. Again fine solos from the upper winds. Perhaps a little more oboe would have given this section more piquancy.

A rousing Rondo brought the finale of the concert, and gave us the sense of the orchestra’s confidence in playing solid Romantic music. Is Brahms 4th racket to follow? Let’s hope so.

REVIEW by Sarah Malcher (Theatres Australia)

On Saturday night I had the opportunity to see and hear The Metropolitan Orchestra (TMO) performing at the Balmain Town Hall. This was my first experience of TMO, and as they performed series four in their current season, I regretted that I had missed the first four series earlier in the year.

For those who are unfamiliar with TMO, it is the new incarnation of the Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra, which was launched in 2009. They cite one of their main philosophies as seeking to break down ‘traditional barriers’ that keep people away from classical music concerts, and focus on making their performances both accessible and intimate. By staging the performance in smaller venues such as Balmain Town Hall, where the ratio of orchestra members to audience is much smaller, they succeed in establishing a relationship with the audience that is often lacking in larger, more formal venues. During the intermission, the musicians mingled with their listeners and afterwards everyone was invited to share post-concert drinks of champagne. Such ways of enacting their philosophy, which encourages people not only to listen to classical music but to share their ideas and thoughts about music, is what distinguishes TMO and is one of the reasons why I think they deserve to succeed in their mission.

The program itself was enjoyable, both for the audience and the orchestra who clearly loved what they were playing. Throughout the night, conductor and artistic director, Sarah-Grace Williams, confidently led the orchestra and took the audience along with her for a delightful evening of beautiful music. Saint-Saëns’ Tarantella was a fantastic opening piece to capture the audience’s imagination, and both Svetlana Yaroslavksaya on flute and David Rowden on clarinet played with assurance and expressiveness. Brahms’ Serenade no 1 in D major was also handled well, although the standout for the night was the performance of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Building of the ghostly ‘halo’ effect of the William’s composition was achieved through the separation of the strings into sections that build upon and echo the theme, with these string sections physically separated and placed around the room with the audience between them, creating a surround sound experience not usually encountered in more conventional performance spaces. Considering that the work was composed to be played and heard best in a cathedral, the acoustics of the Town Hall served the music well.

The only thing that really detracted from the night was the lack of heating in the venue itself. Fortunately, most people including myself came prepared with scarves and coats, and slightly chill air is a small price to pay for such an intimate concert experience. I will definitely be attending the performances of series 5, and encourage everyone to experience this format of musical performance at least once. I suspect that once will not be enough.

For more information, visit http://www.metorchestra.com.au/