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Reviews/Music

Fremantle Chamber Orchestra: Freo faves feel at home

21 March 2022

Our reviewer Claire Coleman joins Fremantle Chamber Orchestra’s stans* to see classical courtliness meet vigorous recklessness in the collective’s latest program.

‘2 Mozarts and 2 Swedes’, Fremantle Chamber Orchestra ·
Fremantle Town Hall, 19 March 2022 ·

Fremantle Town Hall’s slightly stifling airlessness somehow carries the vibrancy of a reunion, or a gathering among distantly related cousins. It’s the second concert by Fremantle Chamber Orchestra (FCO) since returning to their “home” venue, after lengthy but successful negotiations with the City of Fremantle for subsidised use.

Over its 17-year history, FCO has proven to be a labour requiring not just love, but devotion, from director Hans Hug and the extended biological and musical family members he has rallied to the orchestra’s cause. 

This, too, might explain the familiar atmosphere; it seems the devotion runs both ways.

For “2 Mozarts and 2 Swedes”, FCO pulls from both established and emerging pools of Perth musicians. Ambitious conductor John Keene and affable oboe soloist Hannah Woolley, plus a number of the orchestra’s members, are today’s rising stars. Accomplished concertmaster Rebecca Glorie and other experienced colleagues season the group.

An image of Conductor John Keene, who will be leading the FCO in 2 Mozarts and 2 Swedes.
Conductor John Keene leads the FCO in Saturday’s concert. Photo: Bob Sommerville.

Commencing with the first Swede, Joseph Martin Kraus’ Symphony in C minor, Keene exploits the emotionalism of the work’s “sturm und drang” elements with slightly exaggerated tempo choices. The orchestra responds expressively to Keene’s subtle yet dramatic gestures and facial expressions, producing a dynamic first movement, a polite second movement, and a frisky closer.

Woolley takes the stage next, bringing long and shapely phrasing to Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C major. Her first movement cadenza is lithe and unruffled, matching well the charm with which the orchestra interprets the whole work.

The second half opens with a deviation from an otherwise classical program in the form of a neo-Romantic style work for strings by Kurt Atterberg (the second Swede). I didn’t know Atterberg’s Adagio Amoroso before this (hopefully not an embarrassing confession from someone whose Bachelor is in classical music!), so for me it is an unexpected and welcome new discovery.

Adagio Amoroso has an old-Hollywood flavour in its tone colours and techniques, with lashings of rich vibrato and melodramatic phrases. Glorie shines in a violin solo, with confident fingerwork and subtle tonal shifts that help her lines to either rise above the rest of the orchestra or tuck in among them. Atterberg calls for several question-and-answer style phrases to be exchanged between Glorie and different sections of the orchestra, which highlight the exquisite blend of the cello section, but unfortunately expose slightly iffy intonation in other sections.

Ahead of the anticipated closer, Mozart’s well known “little G minor” Symphony no. 25, Keene briefly entreats the audience to “open your eyes to the possibility that Mozart is rock and roll”. While such a statement is certainly hyperbolic – Keene isn’t the first to stake a claim on having a fresh take on Mozart – it does pave the way for him and the FCO to attack the work with pleasurably reckless abandon. 

Shying away from the courtliness that can sometimes pervade chamber work, the first movement’s big dynamic shifts and emphatic accents elicit slightly bemused chuckles from the audience. Stately second and third movements are followed by a hedonistically charged final movement. The audience is appreciative.

While FCO gives much to its stans*, it also creates opportunities separate from WA’s major orchestras for proficient musicians to play. FCO’s ability to do this while also investing in the development of emerging artists like Woolley and Keene demonstrates the breadth of its value to the Perth community.

*stan: an exceptionally zealous fan. Portmanteau of “stalker” and “fan”, but without the sinister overtones.

Pictured top: The Fremantle Chamber Orchestra with Hannah Woolley and John Keene (standing). Photo: Bob Sommerville.

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Author —
Claire Coleman

Dr Claire Coleman is a pop musicologist, choral conductor and musician. She trained classically in piano, but wrote her doctorate on nostalgia in indie folk, and continues to lecture remotely in pop music studies in Berlin and London. Claire compares the high of bullying strangers into singing to doing hypothetical illicit drugs, so watch out or you might end up an unwitting participant in one of her choral adventures.

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