Australian Chamber Orchestra – Rapture

Concerto Grosso in C, Op.6/10
Concerto in C for recorder, strings and basso continuo
Folk Song [World premiere performances during this tour]
Whistles and Whispers from Uluru [world premiere performances during this tour]
String Quartet in E minor [arr. for string orchestra]

Genevieve Lacey (recorders)

Australian Chamber Orchestra
Richard Tognetti (violin)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 7 November, 2007
Venue: Perth Concert Hall, Western Australia

Composer James Ledger. Photograph: Bridget ElliotIn this concert, part of the ACO’s latest Australian tour, another inventive piece of programming saw two (and-a-half if you count the Vivaldi excerpts – of which more anon) Baroque concertos compete with two brand-new works and a Romantic string quartet by an opera composer. The outer works were for strings; the inner three highlighted the considerable virtuosity of Australian recorder player Genevieve Lacey. Composers Australian James Ledger and Estonian Erkki-Sven Tüür were present to take their bows following the performance of their respective pieces; also in the audience was Dr Peter R. Dawson, who commissioned both works.

Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in C comes from his famous and enormously influential Opus 6 set of 12 concerti grossi. The six movements are largely in the dance forms typical of the concerto da camera. Georg Philipp Telemann wrote prolifically for the Baroque recorder; his C major concerto is typical, with a four-movement slow-fast-slow-fast layout after the manner of the concerto da chiesa. Dr Dawson commissioned Tüür’s Whistles and Whispers from Uluru and Ledger’s Folk Song especially for Genevieve Lacey and the ACO. The former work is inspired by both the Nordic and Australian landscape, and makes use of sopranino, treble, alto and bass recorders; the latter is scored for recorder, violin and double-bass, and is especially notable for its use of a contrabass recorder. Giuseppe Verdi’s String Quartet, composed in Naples in 1873, appears to have supplied the composer a pleasant diversion from working on opera. Although adhering to the classical format, this instrumental work is full of typically operatic, or at least dramatic, melodies and gestures.

The Corelli found the ACO (here, as in the Telemann, joined by harpsichordist Christopher Berensen) on superb form, characteristically stylish in phrasing and ornamentation but with a rich string tone that seemed far from our usual modern-day conception of a Baroque sound. It was a compelling combination. As a bonus, Tognetti decided to tack on a movement from Vivaldi’s A minor concerto for two violins. To do this really made no sense – but nobody cared given the thrilling execution. The Telemann was equally exciting and rich in nuance, Lacey’s recorder not only providing a welcome change of colour but also a dazzling display of profound technical facility utterly at the service of the music. The rapid passages in which Telemann gives the illusion of more than one line were particularly successful.

Genevieve Lacey. Photograph: genevievelavey.comLacey again shone in the work which ended the first half of the concert, Whistles and Whispers from Uluru. Her journey through the “soundclouds”, as Tüür defines the increasingly dense orchestral layers, is also a journey through the various members of the recorder family; the result is a spectacular evocation of birdsong and landscape, strange and yet strangely familiar. In contrast, Ledger’s pared-back ensemble in Folk Song presented more obviously structured harmonic and melodic material coloured by drones, pizzicato and string-slapping. The mellow sound of the curious-looking contrabass recorder strangely brought to mind the old jug-bands of American folk. The performance seemed ideal in the way that the Corelli was: stylistic elements (in this case, folk) integrated into a thoroughly modern classical mechanism.

Another contrast followed with a full-blooded reading of Verdi’s String Quartet. Here, the ACO pulled out all the stops – though without relinquishing its trademark finesse. The result was like hearing a Mendelssohn quartet on speed.

Four (!) encores followed: Elgar’s Salut d’amour” (arranged by ACO violinist Aiko Goto), a Largo in D minor from another of Vivaldi’s concertos, an arrangement (by whom was not revealed) of Paganini’s 24th Caprice and a folk-tune, apparently originating from a Finnish village, replete with foot-stomping.

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