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Historical instruments, consummate musicianship at its best
The Australian Haydn Ensemble - led by Skye McIntosh, who also introduced the program - is a collective of some of Australia's most talented young classical musicians with a commitment to the works of early classical composers played on period instruments. The festival line up included NZ recruit James Bush on cello, as well as James Eccles on viola, Melissa Farrow on flute and Simone Slattery on violin.
The concert opened with the Flute Quartet in D major, K285. Flute-playing was a popular accomplishment of the up-and-coming gentleman in late eighteenth century Germany, and this flute quartet was originally commissioned by amateur flautist Ferdinand de Yong to show off his skills to his friends. In this performance, the solo line was played by Melissa Farrow on a reproduction boxwood baroque flute based on a design originally made in Dresden in 1780s.
The woody sonority of the baroque flute added interest and contrast to the more stringent sounds of the strings. That contrast was particularly marked in the second movement, an Adagio, where the flute floats a wistful melodic line above a delicate cushion of plucked strings. Alfred Einstein described this moment as 'perhaps the most beautiful accompanied flute solo that has ever been written', a sentiment with which this first-time listener finds it hard to argue.
The second piece was the String Quartet in G Major, K387, written as a tribute to Mozart's mentor and friend Joseph Haydn. In this piece, the flute was replaced with the violin, played by the expressive Simone Slattery. A high point of the concert, this quartet represents a prime example of the mature Mozart, full of exuberant musical imagination and requiring energetic musicianship from the strings.
The piece is in four movements contrasting the energetic first movement with a syncopated, dance-like second movement and a powerfully delineated slower Andante Cantabile. But the full mastery of the piece is in the commanding last movement with the dramatic intensity with each of the instruments takes turns to display its virtuosity. It builds to a climax that turns out to be a false dead-end, as Mozart brings us back to an intimacy and a quiet ending that reminds us of our humanity.