The Melbourne Chamber Orchestra was founded in 1991 and continues to maintain a busy schedule of projects and performances throughout Victoria. Artistic Director William Hennessy AM has a long and distinguished history as a violinist and educator, and he animatedly led the 14-strong ensemble from the violin through the six works that comprised this program. The focus was on early forms of concerto, particularly the concerto grosso, in which musical material alternates between a smaller group of instruments (rather than a single instrument, which later became standard) and the larger ensemble or orchestra. In addition to concerti grossi by three different baroque composers, featured soloist Diana Doherty performed in an early oboe concerto, a double concerto, and a contemporary work that, although not designated as such, functions as a modern-day double concerto modelled on earlier forms.

Diana DohertyDiana Doherty. Photo © Christie Brewster

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) wrote his Opus 6 set of 12 Concerti Grossi in 1714. Such was his influence on other composers that, twenty-five years later, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) also wrote a set of 12 that he designated Opus 6. Tonight’s concert opened with Corelli’s No 3 in C Minor, the earliest work on the program and an elegantly conceived delight in five compact movements. Melodic lines interweave in delicate contrapuntal balance as upbeat allegro and vivace sections alternate between those with more sombre markings, as is standard in the concerto grosso form. A contrasting work followed from English composer Charles Avison (1709-1770), his Concerto Grosso in E flat major Op 9 No 7. Lyrical and delicate in four contrasting movements, it was nonetheless a more solidly grounded affair than Corelli’s gossamer threads of sound.

Pianist Joe Chindamo (b. 1961) will be best known to most for his involvement in jazz and film soundtracks, for which he has built up a formidable international reputation. More recently, this reputation has expanded into the realm of classical composition, and his Sanctuary for oboe, cor anglais and orchestra is a perfect complement to the other works on this program. Structurally, it is modelled on a concerto grosso, with five contrasting movements, but its instrumentation is that of a double concerto, in this case, for oboe and cor anglais. In this work, Chindamo reflects on his own experiences as the child of Italian immigrants who made their way to Australia in the 1950s, and what he describes as the ‘cultural schizophrenia’ of not being (or feeling) Italian or Australian, “an unsettling dance of conflicting identities.” In the program, Chindamo notes: “Sanctuary is a work comprising five movements (Requiem, Flight, Saying Goodbye, Postcard and Hope), each depicting different aspects of a story about turmoil, separation, longing, reconciliation and refuge. It is a musical narrative written about, and on behalf of anyone who has either been a refugee or immigrant.”

Requiem plunges the listener into a sound world of lush strings and deep melancholy, with uncertain dissonances rumbling in the lower registers. Flight moves into action, with fast, bird-like flutterings and skittery winds that mark the entrance of featured soloist Diana Doherty, Principal Oboe for the last 20 years with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and Australia’s most famous oboe virtuoso. Doherty shared the spotlight in this work with SSO colleague Alexandre Oguey, Principal Cor Anglais since 1997. An unstoppable torrent of notes ensued as duelling woodwinds traded speedy motifs in a different type of counterpoint. Chindamo’s array of influences is in evidence as Sanctuary moves through evocative, cinematic territory with Doherty’s oboe as protagonist, carrying the narrative through turbulent emotional terrain but arriving ultimately at a hopeful ebullience.

Fittingly, another double concerto next: Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin in B Fat Major RV548. This three-movement work dates from the 1720s and features a glorious Largo (violin, oboe and continuo) in which Doherty’s rich liquid tone wove mellifluously around the violin, which at times had trouble competing. Handel’s Concerto Grosso in C Minor Op. 6 No 8 called to mind the airy delicacy of the Corelli performed earlier, with Handel’s spectacular melodic lines and propulsive rhythms evident in its six contrasting dance movements. The sharing of musical ideas around the violins was a particular highlight – and mention must be made here of Markiyan Melnychenko’s beautiful tone – as was the ever-reliable presence of Ann Morgan’s measured but enthusiastic harpsichord. It was also a pleasure to note the wide variety in the ages of the MCO’s players, which must surely provide many important opportunities for intergenerational mentoring.

Doherty returned for the Oboe Concerto in G Minor Op. 9 No 8 of Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751), dating from 1722. Again her oboe soared, capturing melodic nuance beautifully and seemingly at one with the rest of the ensemble. It concluded a very well-chosen program of contrasting but complementary works that centred on the concerto before it became the solo showpiece that we know it as today. The performances by the Doherty, Oguey and MCO were received with great appreciation by a very enthusiastic audience, and there may have even been foot-stomping.