On the evening of Thursday 28th November, Inventi Ensemble presented a compact hour of Mozart Church Sonatas at the Primrose Potter Salon. I was invited by the ensemble’s manager Brienne Gawler to attend the concert, and it was my first time seeing them perform.
Inventi Ensemble is led by artistic directors Melissa Doecke and Ben Opie, who play flute and oboe respectively. The membership of the ensemble is otherwise fluid, with guest artists coming on board for different concerts and tours. The program described the group as being ‘passionate about music reaching as many people as possible’. As part of this mission, Inventi Ensemble tour widely with arrangements of large-scale orchestral works for chamber ensemble, numerous shows for children, relaxed performances designed for a range of audience such as those with disabilities, and concerts staged in nursing homes. This expansive vision for bringing chamber music to Australian audiences made a lot of sense once I saw the ensemble play with vivacious and barely contained energy.
Mozart’s church sonatas were composed with the aim of showing off the central instrument, the organ, which was played with nimble virtuosity throughout the concert by Peter de Jager. A number of pieces in the concert featured instrumentation I hadn’t commonly seen: flute, oboe, organ, cello and two violins. When the ensemble played together in this formation, the sound was full and well balanced, and featured a lovely mix of tonal colours and textures.
The first piece of the program was one of my favourites, the fabulously sprightly Church Sonata in C, K.329. There was nuanced communication between Doeke on the flute and Opie on the oboe as their parts were woven together, and all the performers displayed a fluidity and lightness of phrasing.
After the first Church Sonata, Opie announced that Inventi Ensemble had introduced a fresh element to these pieces: each would begin with an improvisatory solo based on a theme from that particular piece, played by a different member of the ensemble. This lent a dynamic and unrestricted character to the program. It also allowed each member of the ensemble a chance to display their style as a soloist, as well as a hardworking group member.
A telling example of this was the featured solo of Church Sonata in F, K.244, played by Campbell Banks on the cello. During the other sections of the program, Banks supplied a warm, solid foundation for the ensemble, smoothly blending into the mass of sound. By contrast, Banks showed his versatility during his solo, coaxing a range of colours and timbres from his instrument.
The unexpected star of the program was not a Mozart piece at all, but the zany (and I assume rarely programmed) organ Concerto in G, WV.306, by Georg Christoph Wagenseil. The piece featured dazzling melisma from the organ and moved energetically through a range of moods, from darkly dramatic to bouncy and light-hearted. At times there was an oddly contemporary feel to the piece, as the frequent organ solos almost reminded me of the pulsing rhythms of electro dance music, or a frantic keys solo played by Ray Manzarek from The Doors.
The second half of the program returned to Mozart. Church Sonata in C, K.263 featured a comical ‘solo-off’, as Peter Clark on the violin and Peter de Jager on the organ battled each other with progressively flashier phrases. Church Sonata in D, K.244 featured an opening solo from Jessica Oddie on the violin, one which showcased a rich tone of golden mahogany. Church Sonata in F, K.224 saw the ensemble stretch and pull the dynamics, creating a landscape of stark contrasts.
In summary, this concert was an exuberant and appealing introduction to Inventi Ensemble. I look forward to seeing where 2020 takes them.
Melissa Doecke– flute
Ben Opie– oboe
Peter Clark– violin
Jessica Oddie– violin
Campbell Banks– cello
Peter de Jager– organ