Australian Chamber Orchestra – Radiant

C.P.E. Bach
Symphony in B flat, Wq182/2
Rakastava – Suite for String Orchestra, Op.14
Piano Concerto No.11 in F, K413
Sonata for Strings

Olli Mustonen (piano)

Australian Chamber Orchestra
Richard Tognetti (violin)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 21 March, 2007
Venue: Perth Concert Hall, Western Australia

This was the first chance for Perth audiences to hear Australian Chamber Orchestra director Richard Tognetti on his 1743 Guarneri violin (the “Carrodus”), which had recently been given to the orchestra by an anonymous donor after being purchased for AUS$10 million. The ACO’s principal violin, Helena Rathbone, now plays the hand-me-down – a 1759 Guadagnini which is on semi-permanent loan to the orchestra from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

It’s also worth noting that Walton’s Sonata for Strings, with which this concert ended, was given its world premiere in Perth in 1972 by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

But to begin at the beginning. C.P.E. Bach’s three-movement Symphony (for strings) made a compelling opener, with just the right balance between Emfindsamkeit drama and Classical poise. The expressive weight given to the appoggiaturas and the frequent dynamic contrasts were particularly well judged. Sibelius’s Rakastava (originating in the composer’s original work for male choir) followed – its combination of charm and moodiness seeming to grow naturally out of the Bach. Again, some impressive playing, particularly in the second movement where the strings are required to play con sordino and with the point of the bow.

Olli Mustonen then joined the ACO, bringing to Mozart’s concerto a highly percussive and mannered approach that, judging from some audience comments, certainly seemed not to be to everyone’s taste. This reviewer found it perfectly apposite the style of the music, Mustonen’s variety of articulation and attack made coherent through the use of gestures of the arms and torso that seemed more related to dance than to conducting. The ACO amplified these gestures with sympathy and panache.

Following the interval, the ACO was again joined by Mustonen for a superb performance of his own Toccata (originally for piano, string quartet and double-bass), a swirling, inventive pastiche (in the best sense of the word) that generates considerable excitement as its passacaglia works towards a frenzied climax. It made an ideal introduction to the tense, often brooding world of Walton’s Sonata for Strings, which the composer had arranged from his String Quartet in A minor at the request of Neville Marriner. Here, Tognetti’s Guarneri could be heard in all its glory in the numerous sections where the Sonata reverts to the original instrumentation, the overall concertante feel echoing both the Bach and the Mozart heard earlier, as well as the opening of the Mustonen. Emotionally though, it led back to the Sibelius, with a performance of warmth and intensity.

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