Review / Tognetti’s uplifting and inspiring Beethoven

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Richard Tognetti with the ACO,. Photo by Julian Kingma

IN some ways it is a little misleading to describe this concert as a performance by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Certainly the 18 permanent members of the ACO were on stage, but augmented by another 30 musicians to create an early 19th century-sized symphony orchestra. These musicians, another 12 string players, 17 winds and brass as well as a percussionist, were drawn from around the world to form Richard Tognetti’s Beethoven orchestra for this tour.

Tognetti ignores many of the usual expected behaviours of a symphony orchestra. The players are tuned up before coming on stage, and they all (except for the cellists) stand up throughout the performance. There is none of the formality around the arrival of the first violin as well as the conductor. Tognetti simply walks out, looks at the orchestra and they start.

The concert was just two works, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, op.61 and the ever popular Symphony No 5 in C minor, op.67. The violin concerto is Beethoven’s only excursion into that genre and there was a careful balance between the solo violin and the orchestra.

The winds and brass were all of the style of the early 19th century, valveless horns and trumpets, and minimally keyed woodwinds. The instruments of this period tend to be a little quieter than those of a century later and this added to the overall blend. Tognetti was allowed plenty of solo room, especially in the cadenza towards the end of the lengthy first movement. He acknowledges in the program notes that his is a blend of several of the better-known cadenzas notated for this concerto and everyone on stage seemed to enjoy the performance. It is a pity that classical audiences cannot respond as one might do in a jazz club to a notable solo.

The 5th was taken at a cracking pace, albeit following Beethoven’s own metronomic requirements. The strings demonstrated the most delightful precision, at one point a pizzicato note from all 30 strings sounded as one, four-octave sound and sections in the second and third movements where one could only marvel at their skill in working together. The final movement was a joy to hear and had many in the packed Llewellyn Hall on their feet at the end. The whole concert was simply uplifting and inspiring.

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