Franckophilia!

Debussy arr. Tognetti
Preludes, Book I: La fille aux cheveux de lin & La sérénade interrompue
Franck
Sonata in A for violin and piano [arr. Tognetti for cello and orchestra]
Haydn
Symphony No.59 in A (Fire)
Rameau
Dardanus – Suite

Pieter Wispelwey (cello)

Australian Chamber Orchestra
Richard Tognetti (violin)


Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 23 November, 2005
Venue: Perth Concert Hall, Western Australia

This concert, though not entirely successful, nevertheless proved an ideal showcase both for the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s exciting mix of precision and ‘Aussie’ brashness and Pieter Wispelwey’s broad expressive capability.

The opening Debussy Preludes, in this arrangement for string orchestra (augmented with a bassoon and cor anglais) by Tognetti, worked very well; the texture of the harmonies was brought out and Tognetti’s own playing showed sensitivity towards the keyboard originals, particularly in his harmonics towards the end of ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’. In ‘La sérénade interrompue’ the bassoon took a more prominent role, any risk of a slightly comic effect outweighed by the gain in colour.

After this, the lilting rhythms in the first movement of Franck’s Violin Sonata (again arranged by Tognetti for string orchestra with bassoon reinforcing the bass line) immediately recalled ‘Les Danseuses de Delphe’. However, Franck’s idiomatic piano part, and the required clarity, particularly in the canon of the final movement, defies an arrangement of this kind, and a good performance (superlative in the case of Pieter Wispelwey) could not save the work from sounding dull.

Following the interval, the ACO, with two horns, two oboes, bassoon and harpsichord, gave a crisp performance of Haydn’s Symphony No.59, which is included in the “Sturm und Drang” collection. Everything that the Franck lacked was here: clarity of parts (aided by using little or no vibrato) and a real sense of excitement. Nowadays one is used to hearing Haydn with ensembles of a similar size but on ‘period’ instruments, and it was good to hear how stylish a modern but historically-informed band can still sound.

The final item was also the most successful: a suite from Rameau’s 1739 opera “Dardanus” (revised 1744 and 1760). Rhythmic incisiveness, beautiful phrasing and a real sense of theatre in the way the dynamics were handled saw Tognetti lead his band through the overture, various airs and minuets, and finish in a galloping blaze.

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