Delightful discovery

18 August 2020

A performance by the youthful Cygnus Arioso turns out to be just the ticket on a bleak winter’s afternoon, writes Sandra Bowdler.

‘The Power of Strings’, Cygnus Arioso ·
Government House Ballroom, 16 August 2020 ·

The Restart the Arts concerts are a wonderful gift from WA Governor the Honourable Kim Beazley to those people of Perth locked away from the rest of the country and the world, who care for such things. Punctiliously observing social distancing and hygiene considerations, the necessarily small audiences are being served up some sumptuous treats in the Government House Ballroom.

Cygnus Arioso were not a group I was familiar with but, on a bleak winter’s afternoon, their concert turned out to be just the ticket to warm up the day. The circumstances of COVID-19 challenged the “new-generation chamber collective” to become more adaptable and the ensemble has brought together various musicians for multiple online and live performances. On this occasion, we were entertained by 15 string players presenting two well-known items from the string chamber music repertoire, Mozart’s Divertimento for strings in F major and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C major.

The orchestra appeared on stage with a minimum of fuss and launched into the Mozart with no hesitation. There was no conductor, but the ensemble was led by concertmaster Akiko Miyazawa, a regular member of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra since 2012. The most noticeable thing about the group was their youthfulness on the one hand, and their professionalism on the other. One would have thought they had been playing together for some time, but in fact this was the first outing for this particular configuration.

The Divertimento in F, along with two others, was written by Mozart when he was fifteen, which probably no longer surprises us, but it is certainly a work of youthful joie de vivre.  The orchestra impressed from the start with its polish and discipline, producing transparent textures with well-articulated phrasing combined with a smooth legato. The second movement (Andante) opened with a particularly sonorous tone, continuing sweetly to its sunny conclusion. The Presto movement which concludes the work contains more opportunities for the varied instruments involved, and the dynamics were observed with satisfying subtlety.

Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings is one of the pinnacles of romantic string composition, popular since its first public performance in St Petersburg in 1881 when the composer was at the height of his powers. Not least of its charms is its opportunities for each section to strut its stuff, with solo workouts for violas, cellos and double bass as well as the violins. The opening “Pezzo in forma di Sonatina” (Piece in the form of a Sonatina) is often considered to be an homage to Mozart, and this was a particularly suave but warm-hearted performance.  The second movement, “Walzer” (waltz) has its own popularity and the players here showed great lyricism in negotiating through its intricate layers. “Élégie” had a nicely hushed opening and displayed warm tone from the violas, and the final modulation was well handled. After the delicate introduction to the “Finale”, the orchestra swung into the Allegro section with enthusiastic exuberance, concluding with great élan.

The audience did not stint in its approval. After the applause died away, Miyazawa briefly thanked people for coming out on such a horrible day, and expressed gratitude to the performers. As an encore the orchestra revisited the second movement of the Tchaikovsky, once again greeted with warm applause, and sending everyone off with a smile.

Cygnus Arioso’s next concert is August 30 at Camelot Theatre, performing part three in the Beethoven Sonata Cycle.

Pictured top: The youthfulness and professionalism of Cygnus Arioso, led by Akiko Miyazawa. Photo supplied

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Author —
Sandra Bowdler

Sandra Bowdler is an archaeologist who has been writing about music for some twenty years, most recently for Opera magazine (UK), Bachtrack and Handel News. She is also the author of “Handel’s Operas in Australia, a performance history” Händel Jarhbuch (2017). Her favourite piece of playground equipment would be the picnic bench with smoked salmon sandwiches and champagne.

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