Friday, March 20, 2009


The capital of Victoria has a new music room, a large recital room seating a thousand, no proscenium, just a stage abutting the first row of the audience. All wood: walls, ceiling, floor, even the chair backs. The walls seem to flow, with a two inch indentation looking somewhat like diagrams of ocean charts. A leaflet tells us what to savour – a big bass response. True, a bit too big, supporting horns come at us overbearing. Our old friend Bill Lyne, who ran London’s Wigmore Hall for so long with good taste and success, is quoted as saying; The Elizabeth Murdoch Hall will inspire artists to give their best. Who is Elizabeth Murdoch? the mother of Rupert (but) a much loved lady in these parts, the opening of her hall coincided with her 100th birthday in late January.

In passing: although many are convinced that wood produces the best acoustic, note that our perfect chamber music venue in London, the Wigmore Hall, is not all wood but mostly plaster, combined with wood and marble. My ears tell me that this new Melbourne Hall needs quite a bit of tweeting before it meets the claims made for it. The sound is resonant to the point of crudity, almost bathroom, that is from the circle and from the back stalls, where I sat for two concerts. Only from the third row of the stalls, where I sat for the third concert, did I get a good sound, where the sound flowed naturally. Not only was the bass response too loud but also there seemed to be a favoured octave: A above middle C upwards to top A in the treble clef. Sometimes string sound disappeared.

The programmes that I went to, February 6 -13 were mixed, sometimes orchestral first half, chamber music after the interval. First night we had the Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music but the beautiful score did not jell in performance, despite good singing from local soloists (though the “Elsie Suddaby” soprano fluffed her two climactic top notes). And the final scene of Don Giovanni was not properly coherent and in the Trout Quintet Schubert’s winning music winningly played by Piers Lane with the Goldner Quartet, the string sound often faded away. Another evening the excellent no-vibrato-period-instrumented-Brandenburg Orchestra in toothsome Mozart movements (the slow ones from the Clarinet Concerto and the Elvira Madigan C Major Piano Concerto K. 467) there were the same deficiencies. Only the crystal clear stratospheric Queen of the Night was satisfactory, wonderfully sung by American soprano, Cynthia Siedel (look out for her, she’s the tops). Sitting close to the stage came enchantment in sound and performance: Gidon Kremer and his Baltic Ensemble in a programme called After Bach Adagio and Fugue/Mozart followed by the Bach Chaconne.

At 62 Kremer is still the mature master; knees bent, rather horse-faced (handsome horse mind you) and no kow-towing, he is superior in many respects to the amazing Kennedy, Mutter, Perlman and the gorgeous young girlies. Gubaidolina’s Improvisations on a Bach motive for string quartet were diverting and so were some choice Piazolla numbers. Three of Bach’s Inventions were magically played on a vibraphone by Istvan Petenko. The encore, played by all hands, ragged Eleanor Rigby to rousing effect.

So …. if in Melbourne’s new recital room, try and sit almost on the performers’ laps, or else wait for further tweetings.

Coda: I also attended one late night recital in the adjacent small Salon, a programme given by superb flautist Geoffrey Collins with old friend Roger Woodward, still in the fine fettle, piano bashing as is his wont and as required too often by avant garde composers. No doubt the performers were scrupulously accurate in works by Ann Boyd, Takemitsu and Richard Meale. Not my tasse de thé, to my ears more like stale ship’s biscuits; and really! fluting into the strings of the piano, isn’t that old hat by now?

Audiences: none of these events was more than two-thirds full.

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