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Review: Beethoven Septet & Louise Farrenc Nonet – New Perspectives


A journey in E flat, from the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra.

The concert began with the soft but persistent stride of the Adagio of Farrenc’s Nonet in E flat major. A nonet is an uncommon musical arrangement, and the composer here, Louise Farrenc, is equally obscure to modern audiences. But this was not so in her time. There is a genial freshness in the style of the Adagio, and this is counterpoised by Allegro, which follows in quick succession. The Allegro features fiendishly-difficult cascading arpeggios for Nicole van Bruggen on clarinet and Lisa Goldberg on bassoon. Given the sprightly tempo, they are dispatched with the quickness of a short breath. A motif on the violin, performed by Jenna Sherry, yearns upwards and there is a certain felicity of expression in Sherry’s meandering cadenza.

In the Andante con moto, Tatjana Zimre stood out on the oboe. Her expression on that instrument was effortless, and never forced. This is especially important for lyrical music like this, which tends to sing, if not speak, to its audience.

The Scherzo was an experiment in the way different metres can change emphasis in various musical phrases. It begins with the pizzicato strings and a few passages which pre-empt a delightfully dramatic motif. Then follow chromatic flights of fancy, and a quirky ending, sotto voce. It is a masterclass in originality, and shows the talent of its author.

The Allegro part of the fourth movement features some delightfully whimsical passages for the clarinet. The theme for that movement is introduced by Sherry on the violin, whose playing became more relaxed as the concert progressed, and the remaining instruments pick it up in quick succession.

After a brief interval came Beethoven’s Septet in the same key – E flat major – composed half a century before Farrenc’s nonet. The opening chords demand attention, but in the most genial way possible. The Allegro con brio features a variation of the theme in the opening Adagio and is presented in sonata form. The horn, performed skilfully by Anneke Scott, features prominently in the development of the movement.

The second movement was made for clarinet, and Sherry and van Bruggen shine here in what is a protracted dialogue between the two in long legato phrases. The trio in the third movement includes a tricky passage in triplets for Anneke Scott on the horn, and the clarinet’s response to this is a persistent repetition of a high C. The trio in the fifth features another trio, this time with a time for Danny Yeadon on cello to shine with an extended cello solo. Another highlight of this movement was Sherry’s performance on the violin, which featured shimmering tremolos throughout.

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