Cygnus Arioso plays Grieg and Schoenberg with Summer Camp string orchestra at Government House Perth

David CusworthThe West Australian
Cygnus Arioso play their Summer Camp concert finale at Government House Ballroom on Sunday.
Camera IconCygnus Arioso play their Summer Camp concert finale at Government House Ballroom on Sunday. Credit: Nik Babic

Cygnus Arioso string ensemble returned to Government House Ballroom on Sunday as vigorously as they bounced back from COVID shutdown last year — with the promise of a brand new chamber music festival later this month.

Grieg’s Holberg Suite was a tantalising opener to their Summer Camp concert finale, the full tone of a big string group filling the room from the opening chord; by turns mellow and silky, measured dance tunes giving way to a touch of Scandi noir and returning for a rich cadence.

More familiar in the original piano setting, the layering of sound was especially pleasing as the viola led off the Sarabande movement, throwing to other voices then blending as only a string orchestra can.

Melodic lines were expressed in co-ordinated bowing and a gentle rhythmic swaying, like a breeze through nature, rising and falling in swelling dynamics.

The Gavotte was more angular but just as sonorous, jaunty and playful, adding and peeling off layers —-and repeat — en route to the folkloric ending.

Baroque overtones in the Air wafted over the audience zephyr-like, then plumbed the depths of the range before rising tutti and falling back to the euphony of the first entry, the lead passed around gently, building to a dramatic climax and delicate cadence.

Finally, the Rigaudon poured rivulets of sound, ebbing and flowing, fading to a whisper then regathering in full ensemble; stately and florid in conclusion.

Akiko Miyazawa
Camera IconAkiko Miyazawa Credit: Nik Babic

The combination of experienced professionals — led discretely but decisively by violinist Akiko Miyazawa — with younger musicians gelled well, despite only a few days rehearsal.

But what came next almost consigned Grieg to the hors d’oeuvres.

Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night brought Viennese sturm und drang to the stage, reflective but distinctly dark, swirling as if glimpsing the endless dilemma of desire through the mists of time.

Now more than ever the seamless blend of sound asserted a dense, almost tangible quality over which violins wove a gossamer-like patina, blending back into the collective for repeatedly impassioned passages.

Schoenberg’s inspiration in a shocking poem of love’s dark secret also channelled Mahler in the accidie of the more modest phrases, though always faithful to Schoenberg.

Above all it was a poetic reading, the febrile foment of romantic distemper authentic and agonisingly dramatic.

There was lyricism, too, in Miyazawa’s solo leads, but all within the ambit of Schoenberg’s deep night.

Towering passages spoke of undisclosed mystery, yet warmth returned like a beam of sunlight in a curtained room.

Few pieces for strings alone would be as daunting and rewarding.

From that start Miyazawa and composer husband Lachlan Skipworth can confidently point to riches in store when they take over the upper level at Perth Concert Hall on January 30 and 31 for a Chamber Music Weekend of four concerts, their ranks bolstered by flautist Andrew Nicholson, clarinettist Ashley Smith and harpist Yi-Yun Loei.

The Corner Stage has been redesignated Chamber Music Stage for the event.

Part One features the principals and guests in works ranging from Schubert to Skipworth’s Piano Quartet No.2, written for a VR dance film last year and premiered here live.

The second opens with a brass quintet led by WA Symphony Orchestra principal trumpet Brent Grapes, followed by works for harp, strings and piano.

Sunday’s first session opens with Skipworth conducting his own clarinet quintet, played by Smith, and concludes with the four principals leading Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro.

The final concert revisits Grieg’s Holberg Suite and concludes with Mozart.

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