fri 22/09/2017

Tognetti, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Cadogan Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Tognetti, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Cadogan Hall

Tognetti, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Cadogan Hall

The Australian Chamber Orchestra give the concert of the summer

Richard Tognetti: Intelligent musicianship par excellencePaul Henderson Kelly

Australia has many fine exports – wine, women, gap year anecdotes – but increasingly it is her orchestras that are setting the standard. With a magnificent Proms performance from the Australian Youth Orchestra still fresh in the ears (as well as a significantly reinvigorated Sydney Symphony courtesy of Ashkenazy), last night it was the turn of the smaller and still-deadlier Australian Chamber Orchestra to fly the national flag, in what may well prove to be the finest concert of the summer.

Peteris Vasks is hardly the name on everyone’s lips, but the music of this contemporary Latvian composer sits squarely at the junction of Arvo Pärt and John Tavener – a meditative, non-threatening wash of textural shades and bittersweet diatonic harmony. Opening with the UK premiere of his fey “fantasy for violin and [string] orchestra” Vox Amoris (note the avoidance of the term “concerto”) was bold. Known for their attack and power of ensemble tone, the ACO had to carve into the pre-concert semi-silence with only the most fragile of tremolos, growing with tentative poise into a sustained texture. Vasks’ hallmark glissandos provided primordial melodic stirrings, punctuated by the hollow knock of a plucked finish.

Spread above this texture was Richard Tognetti’s solo violin part, the “vox amoris” itself, swooning with strangely chaste lyricism. A sort of secular take on Tavener’s The Protecting Veil, Vox Amoris places its soloist in the same relation to the supporting orchestra, setting its fluid cantilena high above, in an almost transcendent meditation – and later frenzy – of emotion.

Tognetti’s great strength as a violinist is his intelligence, bringing absolute musical commitment at the expense of self-regard. What could have been just a lovely and indulgent line became something rather more unsettled under his fingers; exposing the music’s deliberate discontinuities and half-finished thoughts, he offered them up to the audience unpolished. By the time we reached the vulnerable close – a dying flutter of ever-rising harmonics – the lyricism had its context: not a resolution, but a hope perpetually unfulfilled. Vasks’ is not a substantial piece, but Tognetti and the ACO made much of its gossamer, melt-in-the-ear beauty.

Thence to Beethoven and his Fourth Piano Concerto – a shift of personnel, several centuries and a world of technique. Joined by the oozingly charismatic Dejan Lazić at the piano the orchestra launched into the playful opening, role-playing gleefully as the various characters Beethoven offers up with the first few orchestral bars, mocking the seriousness of the soloist’s own music. Here was the ACO whose stylish energy took me so completely by surprise back when I first heard them live. Conductorless, driven by Tognetti’s lunging, dipping form, the orchestra (who play standing – surely the source of the “classical rockstars” description that has been so frequently bandied about) sway as one, and the chief pleasure of their live performance is watching this communication pass from smiling eye to eye among the band.

Liquid and improvisatorily fluent in his runs, Lazić tended towards a slightly heavy-handed approach in the opening movement, perhaps misjudging the warmth of the ACO’s sound for blunt power. Both his cadenzas however – in which we fleetingly abandoned Beethoven and slipped into Chopin – were a guilty delight, and the third movement offered an unexpected trip to a Viennese salon, deliciously light-footed and complete with pizzicato air kisses from the strings. Its closing section brought yet another tone to proceedings however, suddenly amping up the intensity and moving from the witty matter-of-factness of an Austen ballroom to the seething angst of a George Eliot parlour.

It took very little persuasion for Lazić to return and dispatch the impossibly silken Chopin waltz that his fingers had been itching for all evening.

Had the concert finished here honour would have been served, but the account of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony that followed the interval was another creature altogether. Swift, intelligent and vividly nuanced – the first 20 bars were a microcosm of what was to come. Linking the first subject to its development and response and making sense of a motif so often heard in isolation, the orchestra produced the most glitteringly polished account of the symphony; each phrase was understood and balanced, each wind interjection or string echo given loving attention, and all at a speed that, if it never rushed, never paused or hesitated either. We romped with controlled abandon to the last movement where the brass and long-awaited contra-bassoon grounded the exhilarating sense of arrival in the strings.

All this, and the closing movement of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony by way of encore. On several occasions this Proms season an ill-chosen encore has sabotaged an otherwise strong concert, but the decidedly non-novelty choice of Mozart, with its ever so slight emotional easing-off from the Beethoven was perfection. I’m still not sure why this concert took place in the comparatively intimate Cadogan Hall rather then the Barbican, Royal Festival Hall or even the Royal Albert Hall, but am selfishly delighted that it did. There can have been few among the small – but capacity – crowd last night who did not leave intending to return. The ACO are not rockstars; they are the real deal.

Comments

I was at the concert last night and have watched the ACO for years, back home, and now in London. I challenge anyone to watch one of their concerts and not be completely enthralled with classical music. It is obvious that the players are having a fantastic time- that Beethoven looked fun to play! The ACO play with such vigour and energy and it was indeed special to watch them in such a smaller venue- I completely agree: a completely superior concert compared to many proms.....Makes me a poud Aussie.

Hang on, you'd have had to have heard all the great Proms so far to make that statement about the best concert of the summer - so inevitably it must go with a 'best concert I've experienced this summer' kind of caution. Nevertheless you make me wish I'd been there.

British Orchestras could learn so much from this group. I've lost count of the times when the concert just seemed like a necessary chore for the musicians. This concert was simply phenomenal.

Being an Australian I'm very proud of our ACO. They played last night (04Sep) at the Maribor Festival in Slovenia. The complete Mozart #41 which was spectacular ! I spoke with Dejan Lazić after the Piano Concerto in London - I think the cadenzas were his...

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