Review / Sinfonia gets ‘loud applause’ but needs refinement

Music / “Mozart and Schubert”, Canberra Sinfonia. At Wesley Uniting Church, July 21. Reviewed by TONY MAGEE

Canberra Sinfonia in rehearsal at Wesley. Photo by Peter Hislop.

THE coupling of Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 and Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 was an inspired choice for the launch concert of Canberra Sinfonia, played to a capacity audience and conducted by Leonard Weiss.

These two delightful works pair well together and allow for a minimum of fuss in resetting from one to the other. Simply the addition of one flute and two bassoons and the transformation is complete from Mozart to Schubert. Neither symphony uses timpani and both are truly set in the chamber orchestra idiom, which suited the compliment of about 20 players perfectly.

Whilst the whole concert can certainly be deemed a great success, I was disappointed by the lack of care and attention to detail in tuning the orchestra in preparation for the Mozart, which opened the first half of the concert. This is not something that can be glossed over or given anything other than maximum priority and care. The Concert A from the principal oboe was strong, clear and consistent as each section used its unique tone to try and find the same pitch, but alas this did not occur, particularly within the first violins and violas. 
Nonetheless, the work was still played with conviction and included some intelligently shaped phrasing and dynamics. Leonard Weiss’ conducting is precise and clear. Gone is the baton he usually uses for his larger National Capital Orchestra, in favour of the Stokowski-led tradition of sweeping hand gestures, almost as a magician weaving a magical spell.

Woodwind section. Photo by Peter Hislop.

During the final movement of the Mozart, the afternoon sunlight burst through the magnificent stained glass windows of Wesley, illuminating the second violins in spectacular splashes of ever-changing colour – an effect that would have been the envy of professional lighting designers and which nature delivered for free.
Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 is a work that he himself described as Mozart inspired, exclaiming in 1816 as he was devising it, “Oh Mozart, immortal Mozart! What countless impressions of a brighter, better life hast thou stamped upon our souls!” So began the second half of the program, with the orchestral tune-up being much more successful this time. The expanded woodwind section was really the stand-out in this performance with beautifully executed melodic lines and phrases and excellent intonation and balance.
Other highlights within this reading included a nicely played falling arpeggio from the french horns at the end of the second movement and excellent bass foundation support during the entire symphony from the two double basses.
Concertmaster Helena Popovic did an admirable job leading the ensemble, although I felt that some of the string players need to pay more attention to her gestures and bowing in order to make each section and the strings as a whole, as richly harmonious and uniform as possible.
Canberra Sinfonia has the potential to become something quite special. Whilst this launch concert was charming and most enjoyable and the initiative is to be loudly applauded, it also revealed a range of details ripe for further improvement and refinement. In the words of their Patron, soprano Louise Page in her program notes: “I expect great things from the Canberra Sinfonia”.

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