The Revellers

Birthday Tango [World premiere]
Concerto in D minor for Violin and Piano
Suite for Strings – Presto
Serenade for Strings, Op.22

Polina Leschenko (piano)

Australian Chamber Orchestra
Richard Tognetti (violin)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 15 November, 2006
Venue: Perth Concert Hall, Western Australia

This was the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s 2006 National Concert Series finale, and was supplemented by three substantial encores. But more on those anon – suffice to say that they perfectly complemented the opening work, West Australian composer Roger Smalley’s Birthday Tango, written to celebrate the ACO’s 30th-anniversary (this year). Written in ternary form, the outer movements of Birthday Tango frame a central ‘Milonga’ (a specific type of tango). The ACO lavished its customary flair on a work which is, by turns, colourful, dramatic and reflective.

Following this ‘exotic’ opening flourish, the young Russian pianist Polina Leschenko joined Richard Tognetti in Mendelssohn’s Double Concerto (performed here in its original orchestration for strings only). This was a superb performance: Tognetti and Leschenko brought their own emotional counterpoint to the pseudo-Baroque writing while cutting loose in the more effusive writing; a sparing use of vibrato in the strings and lean, incisive playing captured Mendelssohn’s nascent romanticism to perfection.

Linking the Mendelssohn and the Dvořák was ‘Presto’ from Janáček’s Suite for Strings, the ABA form recalling the Smalley and the quick outer movements sounding positively Mendelssohnian under the fingers of the ACO. The Dvořák itself received a beautifully tight, coherent performance: no excess of sentiment and yet totally affective – even in the Larghetto, a sure sense of structure and absolute clarity of tone were given pride of place.

Maxime Bibeau’s double bass (and foot-tapping!) then launched the first of three encores, Piazzolla’s Contrabajissimo; in this, as in the following two encores, the traditional “Cuckold Come Out of the Amrey” (presumably arranged by Tognetti) and Piazzolla’s super-smooth Oblivion, the ACO really let its hair down – a perfect end to an excellent 2006 season.

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