Fremantle Chamber Orchestra

Rudolf Koelman, violin

Fremantle Town Hall

reviewed by Neville Cohn


I cannot imagine a more striking event to bring music at Eastertide to a close than a frankly magnificent account of George Conus’ Violin Concerto.

Arriving in the city almost unheralded, Rudolf Koelman, who was for some years concertmaster of the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam and one of Heifetz’s last pupils, proved himself a prince of the violin. In what might possibly have been the Australian premiere of the Conus concerto, Koelman left no one in any doubt of his superb gifts.

Conus, incidentally, who was born in Moscow and died there as recently as 1933, is nowadays a largely forgotten man due, perhaps, to never having developed a strikingly original compositional style. His concerto, of which Heifetz was a ardent champion, sounds as if it might have been written under the strong influence of Tchaikowsky. One has only to listen to the opening measures of his Violin Concerto to realise how strikingly they call to mind the introduction to the older man’s Piano Concerto No 1.

Koelman, who plays a fine Pressenda fiddle dating from 1829 and is entirely worthy of it, brought infallible accuracy and agility on the fingerboard, a sublime bowing technique – and very real musicianship – to his performance. Beautifully controlled double stopping was another fine feature of a performance of enviable finesse, presented in the grandest of grand manners. Bravo!

As curtain raiser, we heard Mozart’s early Symphony in G minor K183 with Jessica Gethin presiding over events. A clear-cut and unfussy beat coaxed a consistently disciplined response to the first movement. Here was a stylish performance that bristled with vitality.

If there were some minor intonational lapses in the slow movement, this might well have been due to the distraction provided by latecomers impatiently and rudely knocking on the hall doors. I very much liked the quality of the woodwind choir in the trio section of the Minuet. Small lapses notwithstanding, this was a most pleasingly meaningful account of one of Mozart’s finest early symphonies.

KoelmanHearing this orchestra which consists, inter alia, of well-above-average teenage musicians and a sprinkling of older instrumentalists was revelatory. If this performance is indicative of the standards that the FCO routinely brings to its concerts, then it is a major addition to the city’s music scene. It deserves support and, if the size and enthusiasm of the audience for this concert are anything to go by, the FCO is certainly receiving it.

Copyright 2006 Neville Cohn

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