Arts Review

Classical Connections: Mozart, Haydn and Bartók

The Queensland Symphony Orchestra Presents Classical Connections: Mozart, Haydn and Bartók

QSO Studio, ABC Centre

25th August, 2023.


Mozart- Divertimento in E flat, K.166

Bartók- Divertimento for String Orchestra

Haydn- Symphony No.45 (Farewell)


Chief Conductor Umberto Clerici


Dr Gemma Regan


A brilliant engrossing concert showcasing the QSO musicians in their natural habitat


The packed QSO Studio was abuzz at the ABC Centre for one of the rarer Up Close to the Queensland Symphony Orchestra concerts, where you see exactly where all the musical magic is created at the rehearsal studio with Chief Conductor Umberto Clerici at the helm. Clerici described it as 'being at the musician’s gym where they experiment and practice taking a great orchestration and dividing it amongst great musicians'.


Divertimento was the focus of the concert, a work primarily designed for the entertainment of both the listeners and the performers, popularised in the Classical period by Haydn and Mozart. In Italian it means fun and was designed to be light and fluffy for the amusement of the listeners.


Mozart’s Divertimento in E flat opened the concert with only ten musicians and unusually, no strings! The small woodwind section with two French horns made a lovely change with a chamber music set up. However, one downside of being so close to the orchestra is that any technical issues are instantly apparent as Brian Catchlove was having issues with his clarinet, blowing and cleaning it for what appeared to be a blocked key. Fortunately, it seemed to resolve after the first few movements allowing the oboes and clarinets to fraternise frivolously.


For a total change of pace, the woodwinds and brass were cleared from the stage and replaced with 60 voluminous string musicians for Bartók’s neo-classical Divertimento for String Orchestra. The contrast between the two Divertimentos was striking. Not only in instruments, but tempo, style and fury.


The brilliant, psychotic piece was commissioned while Bartók was on holiday in Switzerland, being asked to compose something ‘not too difficult!’ Perhaps, he was partaking of the opiates and nitrous gas rather than the fresh mountain air as it has three highly contrasting crazy movements, none of which would be considered to be ‘fun’ or ‘not too difficult.’ 


The first more folksy, Allegro non troppo used concerto grosso, by contrasting a small group of soloists with the orchestra. However, the puffing train Copeland-style soon reduced to tortured strings with a frantic Phoebe Russell releasing hell on her double bass. The sound also phased in and out mimicking riding on a terrifying carousel which finally stopped with a soft pluck.


Terror and violence pervaded through the fabulous second Molto adagio movement with a Jaws-like dark and sinister entrance, with the cellos creeping behind frightened screaming violins. As it became more frantic it was reminiscent of Psycho with Clerici slashing at the strings with his baton like Norman Bates!


The third movement, Allegro assai started at a trot as the violins now chased their victims, the violas reaching a terrifying pace. Suddenly, there were whirring bees and Clerici became balletic as they entered a fairyland interlude with plucking strings, then a return to the crazed train journey of the first movement until it finally runs off the rails! 


Haydn’s Symphony No.45 (Farewell) returned to the more sane-styled music, but with a twist! The pre-romantic super loud composition features a famous musical protest to their employer Prince Nicolas Esterházy. As Haydn and his orchestra had been away from home for a long time he hinted that they were ready to go home with each musician gradually leaving the stage in the last movement. 


It was a hilarious end to a fabulous concert, when the French horns suddenly just walked out of the rehearsal hall, closely followed by the oboes. As the orchestra gradually diminished, Clerici feigned exasperation and also left leaving a small core playing until only the two first violins, Alan Smith and Concertmaster Kristian Winther remained until packing up.


It was a brilliant engrossing concert and I heartily recommend you attend an Up Close concert in 2024 showcasing the QSO musicians in their natural habitat for a totally different type of concert experience. Fortunately, it was recorded for future airplay on ABC Classic FM as it was the last in the series.


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