WASO’s Festival of Chamber Music

Government House Ballroom

reviewed by Neville Cohn

Even in so zany and improbable a treatment of Bach originals as Luther Henderson’s arrangements for brass ensemble of some of the Master’s Preludes and Fugues from the “48”,  the sheer power and universality of the great composer’s musical ideas are wondrously apparent.  Titled Well Tampered (note spelling!) Bach, it was aural delight from go to whoa. I recall once listening to some of Bach’s work played on an ocarina – and again marvelling at how meaningfully it came across even on so improbable an instrument. In the extracts from the “48”, members of the WASO’s brass section were consistently on their mettle in the opening concert of WASO‘s chamber music festival.

I particularly relished a jazzy version of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor (from Book 1). It came across like some New Orleans take on the original. I relished every moment. I rather think that if Bach himself had, through some miracle if time travel, been at the Ballroom on Saturday,  he’d have given the players a wave of approval.

There was a non-Bachian offering as well: Joshua Davis’ South American Tango Suite: delightful, toe-tapping material that allowed WASO’s brass players to demonstrate their abilities with verve and precision. Tuba playing was excellent.

In the much loved Brandenburg Concerto No 5, soloists Semra Lee-Smith (violin) and Andrew Nicholson on flute gave point and meaning to every phrase. But higher decibel levels were needed for the harpsichord part to make a meaningful contribution. It was too discreet.

To get proceedings underway, we heard a magnificent brass fanfare  – a sonata (composer unknown) from Bankelsangerlieder dating from around 1684 – with players positioned on the tiny balcony at the rear of the stage.  It was a thrilling utterance.

During the intermission, concertgoers took their ease outside the Ballroom in the area fronting the venue where drinks and snacks were on offer. There was also a giant chess board for those who might have wanted a game or two during the intervals. And there was music, too, with flautist Nicholson offering streams of glowing tone on his golden instrument.

Later, we listened to Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet. Here, Allan Meyer was at his impressive best, producing a stream of sound that would surely have pleased even the fussiest of listeners. As WASO’s principal clarinet for years, Meyer has brought distinction to innumerable orchestral works. It was a joy to listen to him in Brahms’ masterpiece. As if drawing inspiration from this sonic magic, the string players sounded on very best form, not least cellist Louise McKay who was strikingly attired in crimson.

Also on the bill was Haydn’s String Quartet in D minor, opus 76 No 2, an offering enhanced by seriousness of purpose on the part of all four players.