In just four months the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall platform, streamed from Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre, has raised half a million dollars as professional musicians have brought world class music, through ticketed concerts for a modest price, into the homes of music lovers. Last night over 600 patrons, many from regional areas, celebrated the 120th MDCH concert, with this significant milestone being acknowledged in pre-concert, pre-recorded welcoming words from Martin Foley, MP, State Minister for Creative Industries. He warmly congratulated Co-Directors Adele Schonhardt and Chris Howlett for their outstanding success with this artistic venture, and acknowledged the importance in continuing to connect musicians and paying audiences.

Melbourne Digital Concert Hall MCOMusicians from the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra. Photo courtesy of Melbourne Digital Concert Hall

Celebrating its seventh concert on this platform, Members of the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra delighted us with music to blow all our cares away – commencing with Mozart’s Divertimento in D K136 (‘Salzburg’ Symphony No 1), a light, cheerful and uplifting piece, significant for demonstrating the polished writing of a 16-year-old genius with its aristocratic and refined structure. The musicians may have felt a little self-conscious performing with obligatory face masks, and perhaps as a result took the Allegro with a sprightly, but anxious, urgent pace and slightly exaggerated, but invigorating dynamics. The Andante then flowed beautifully with the simple charm, warmth and elegance of refined chamber music, notably with some very expressive soft ensemble playing. Both the balanced teamwork and the well-honed skills of ensemble members was exemplary, as shown in the meticulous and expressive imitative dialogue between solo instruments. The Presto became a work of many colours, with the ensemble delivering high spirited, joyful and energetic playing while exploiting the contrasting dynamics of Mozart’s buoyant score.

Stefan Cassomenos at the piano. Photo courtesy of Melbourne Digital Concert Hall

The opportunity to perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4, albeit arranged for piano and string ensemble, was highly welcomed by one of MDCH’s regular and popular concert pianists, Stefan Cassomenos. Sensitively played, almost understated, the hushed chords of the piano’s mysterious opening theme, preceding the ensemble’s dramatic response, took the listener directly into the complex world of emotion of Beethoven the Genius. The responding strings sympathetically emulated the broad range of colours and emotions demanded by the soloist, whether shadowy and deep or sparkling and crystal clear. The Allegro Moderato requires the soloist to highlight music which can be both simple and extraordinary, and Cassomenos gave us an intelligent, studied, technically flawless delivery. The Andante con Moto truly emphasised the concerto’s dialogue between solo instrument and string orchestra. Totally engaging was Cassomenos’ tonal variety as he produced resonant, lyrical replies to the anguish and tension built by dotted rhythms heralded by the surging string players. The final Rondo Vivace allowed the soloist further demonstration of his impeccable technique, with exquisitely controlled crescendos and extended effervescent trills. Most welcome and exciting were Beethoven’s original cadenzas which were played fluently and with an extra touch of magic, as we could feel the connection from composer to soloist to audience in the many shades of expression. The MCO musicians spontaneously applauded the soloist after the closing moments.

Generously, Cassomenos joined Chris Howlett in a short Q&A, in which the pianist spoke of his experience playing with a versatile ensemble which gave a different intimacy in performance, and shared his personal commitment to being respectful of the humanity and intentions of every composer, Beethoven clearly being one of his favourites.

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