Review / The ACO, clear and crisp and even

Music / Australian Chamber Orchestra. At Llewellyn Hall, June 23. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD

Steven Isserlis’ playing of the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No 1 in E flat major was mesmerising.

THE striking aspect of the Australian Chamber Orchestra is the clarity of the music. There is no blurriness in the articulation, no smearing of melody or rhythm, just a delightful crispness in the playing of the 22 strings.

This clarity was tested with a new work, “Moments (for us and them)”, commissioned by the ACO from young American composer Samuel Adams. This was a dense, complex work of drones and repetitive patterns with parts shifting around the orchestra and a lot of counting of bars when the musicians were not actually playing. It was not an immediately attractive piece of music but certainly interesting and it has a magnificent final chord.

Cellist Steven Isserlis’ playing of the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No 1 in E flat major was mesmerising. The performance used the original scoring of the composer with eight additional woodwinds, a single horn with a celesta and tympani in addition to the strings.

It is a much varied work with the horn and a clarinet setting quite strident melodic themes, the cello present yet oddly muted at times but still the centre of attention. The performance was greeted at the finish by hooting, hollering and foot-stamping from a younger section of the audience.

The second half was another new work, “A Knock One Night”, for the strings by the prolific Elena Kats-Chernin.

It was inspired by the story of a family escaping persecution and settling in a new country. It started and finished with a beautifully subtle fade-in and fade-out from the violas and cellos with a much edgier and disturbing centre section. At times there is gorgeously lush string writing, and a work that should stay in the repertoire.

The final work was Haydn’s Symphony No 104 (London) with the addition of 12 wind instruments and percussion. This was almost perfect with that wonderful clarity extending across the enlarged orchestra. Richard Tognetti was both playing and conducting, cuing the winds, setting a pulse and leading the orchestra through this delightful symphony.

Again this was received with more hooting and hollering, almost like a rock concert in enthusiasm, and a fitting way to finish the concert.

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