BY ELSABETH PARKINSON
UKARIA Cultural Centre, 30 July
As Arcadia Winds took to the stage of the UKARIA Cultural Centre in the Adelaide Hills, I realised I was about to become part of something very special. The venue’s concert hall is small, but framed by soaring walls of glass which reveal dazzling views across the valley. Against this backdrop, Arcadia and their guest artists, professors Thorsten Johanns and Ole Kristian Dahl, presented a concert which was not only overflowing with artistry, but genuine and inviting.
They announced themselves with a vibrant jungle of a work – Janacek’s Mladi, where nostalgia wrestles with childish glee. Though rain misted the hills outside, the ensemble was watertight, with perfectly coordinated dynamic and colour changes. The blending was a marvel, particularly well-handled by Rachel Shaw, whose horn (a brass instrument alone among woodwinds) supported without overtaking the other voices. Each player was evidently hearing and enjoying the shape of the work as a whole, turning to each other as they passed the themes along, smiling and swaying to the music even during their own bars of tacet. Bassoonist Matthew Kneale was literally dancing, shifting his feet and crouching with the energy of a coiled spring!
Such good humour must be shared, and the musicians chatted and joked with their audience between works. The atmosphere was so relaxed that the audience didn’t hesitate to applaud after single movements when they were particularly well-played, and the performers accepted this with open delight. Six Rossini arias, arranged from The Barber of Seville for two bassoons, were favourites for this kind of treatment. Figaro’s famous Largo al factotum was hilariously in-the-spirit of the original, abounding in comic timing and even shouts. Dahl showed us the bel canto of the bassoon, producing a tone with the smoothness of a fine, strong wine. Kneale manfully sustained the breakneck pace while notes glittered under his fingers like sparks from flint. The duo played with infectious enthusiasm, and though their tempo often careened on the knife-edge of rushing, they kept it together.
The sun came out again as Arcadia presented Echoes and Lines by Perth composer Lachlan Skipworth, commissioned for them earlier this year. The quintet rose expertly to the challenge of blending their notoriously tricky instruments. A remarkable balance was struck in a brief duet between Kiran Phatak (flute) and Lloyd Van’t Hoff (clarinet) – for an instant, they created a completely new, cohesive sound together, with overtones of fluting silver and the clarinet’s warm fuzzy centre. The work was also an adventure in contrast, made of many fragments, some micro-movements of a few seconds long, but all with their own flavour and character. They flowed organically between players, constantly changing like the patterns of light and shadow across the land.
Johanns and Dahl displayed both humour and mastery in Poulenc’s cheeky Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon. The program was rounded out with five Mozart Divertissements and a seldom-heard work by Franck’s student Vincent D’Indy. His Chansons et Danses was a wind septet with just the right instrumentation for everyone to join in – a joyous farewell to the intimate concert experience they’d created. Even nature seemed to unite with the musicians: as the last melodious notes faded away, a brilliant rainbow was just brushing the hills outside.
Image supplied. Credit: Dylan Henderson.