Sunday, August 13, 2023

Richard Tognetti's Australian Chamber Orchestra delivers stunning concert, further enhanced by Matildas exhilaration.

Australian Chamber Orchestra. Photo: Nic Walker

by Tony Magee

How does one begin a classical music concert? 

Usually, by taking ones seats and sitting and chatting until the orchestra makes its way onto the stage. Soon any soloists involved and the conductor arrive with appreciative applause and the concert begins.

Not on this occasion.

Audience members all left home with the Matildas and France still locked in a nail-biting nil-all score.

Once seated, it was obvious that most people were glued to their mobile phones, myself and my mother included.

Then someone from the front row stood up and valiantly called out “7 to 6 on a penalty shoot-out! We won!”

The packed Llewellyn Hall erupted in cheers and thunderous applause, the volume, enthusiasm and overwhelming happiness, something the likes I’ve never seen or heard before in that venue. 

The cheering was deafening and the atmosphere was electric.

Some of the ACO players were seen coming out at the back of the stage jumping up and down, instruments in hand, full of elation and joy. 

The orchestra hadn’t even taken their places at their seats. It was still pre-concert time.

Things eventually calmed down.

The orchestra then arrived on stage, took their seats and conductor and first violin and leader Richard Tognetti soon followed.

Wonderful, appreciative applause ensued, but nothing like the preceding rampage.

Tognetti then announced, “I’d like to acknowledge the presence of His Excellency Jean-Pierre Thébault, Ambassador of France!”

Uproarious laughter ensued from the packed house - even the balcony was full.

I hope he took it in good grace. Maybe he just wanted the earth to open up and swallow him.

Tune-up followed and the ACO commenced the program with Australian composer Caroline Shaw’s “Entr’acte, for string orchestra”.

Delivering a beautifully rich and full bodied sound, the ACO continued with lustrous playing before dissolving into double pianissimo sounds of faint oblique harmonies, rubbing the strings rather than actually bowing.

Tognetti, playing the “Carrodus” violin. Photo: Nic Walker

Tognetti, who plays the “Carrodus” violin made by Guarneri in 1743, then commenced playing a beautiful solo passage, accompanied by pizzicato motifs from the ACO.

A lively section, almost like an American Hoe-down followed. Other orchestral effects included moaning sounds, perhaps even of distress, before returning to full bodied glorious and rich harmonies from the entire orchestra.

The piece finished with a solo cello pizzicato motif from section leader Timo-Veikko Valve, who plays an Amati made in 1616.

Bartok’s “String Quartet No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 22” followed.

Arranged for the entire ACO ensemble, numbering 17 players, by Tognetti himself, the piece was full of drama and a sense of urgency, combined with playing of intensity and fury in double forte.

Gentle passages followed, Tognetti exchanging melodic phrases with viola players.

A brilliant arrangement, the music was very programatic, evoking a myriad of images in the mind of the listener. It could almost have been a film score.

Of note was the immense amount of bottom end “weight” supporting the orchestra by just three cellos and a single double bass, such was their projection.

Intonation was superb, as you would expect from an orchestra of this calibre - one of the top chamber orchestras in the world today.

Lasting a total of thirty minutes, in five movements, there was plenty of musical colour, but I eventually found the repetitive nature of the piece with so many sections designed to shock the listener, plus endless high register sounds from the violins, tiresome.

By shear coincidence, we were seated next to my psychiatrist, Dr John Saboisky and his wife Margaret, John to my left, my mother Audrey to my right.

Audrey leaned over and exclaimed to Dr Saboisky “They must all be very exhausted after such tumultuous playing”.

John replied, “Yes, the girls really put in a stunning effort and I agree, must be exhausted.”

Audrey: “Dr Saboisky, I think we’re at cross-purposes. I’m talking about the orchestra”.

Saboisky: “Oh sorry Audrey, I was talking about the Matildas!”

After interval, the ACO commenced with “Meditation on the Old Bohemian Chorale ‘St Wenceslas’, Op. 35” by Josef Suk.

Lasting just seven minutes, the orchestra delivered serene playing of exquisite beauty - a combination of their world-class abilities and the superb score by Suk.

Full of colour and imagery, the piece was also very programatic and the listener was easily transported to the Bohemian countryside. I noticed stylistic hints of composers Ralph Vaughan Williams and Max Reger along the way.

Further expanding into majestic and lustrous orchestral washes of sound, it was sumptuous playing of sumptuous music, which ravished the ear.

Antonin Dvořák composed his “Serenade for Strings in E major, Op. 22” in 1875, premiering in Prague the following year.

Still young at just 34, Dvořák was gaining momentum and recognition as a composer of great talent and this Serenade helped in catapulting him to further heights of greatness. It coincides with the composition of his fifth symphony.

It has now settled back into being acclaimed as one of his greatest works.

In five movements, the ACO opened with the “Moderato” with superb, lush playing, gently tempered at a relaxed tempo.

The “Tempo di Valse and Trio” bounced along beautifully, with exquisite ensemble work, wonderful dynamic range and incredibly expressive playing.

As always the orchestra’s intonation was flawless.

The closing “Finale, Allegro Vivace” delivered a vibrant opening. It was music of great happiness and joy with delightful melodies and phrases and was an exhilarating close to this stunning, if not at first amusing, concert.

First published in an edited format at Canberra City News, August 13, 2023