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Canberra Today 8°/10° | Monday, July 4, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

‘Clever’ concert brackets an unlikely couple of composers

ACO principal viola Stefanie Farrands.

Music / “Mozart & Britten”, Australian Chamber Orchestra. At Llewellyn Hall, May 14. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD

THE Australian Chamber Orchestra returned to Canberra for the third of seven concert programs around Australia this year. 

This tour focused on the music of WA Mozart and Benjamin Britten, with the rationale that both were recognised for their musical skill at a young age and that Britten felt a spiritual affinity with Mozart’s music his entire life. The ACO for this concert was 10 violins, three violas, three cellos and bass with Richard Tognetti directing from first violin.

The concert opened with a very early work of Britten’s “Elegy for Strings”, written when he was 15. It was never performed in public in Britten’s lifetime and this tour is the first time it has been performed in this country. It is a pleasant, if unremarkable, piece of music with the feeling that it could have been written by any number of early 20th century English composers.

ACO’s Richard-Tognetti. Photo: Daniel Boud

The next work was Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major, K.364” for violin, viola and string orchestra. This was programmed as a showpiece for the ACO’s recently appointed principal viola Stefanie Farrands. Tognetti played the solo violin part while also directing and there seemed to be a joyous spirit amongst the players.

Following the interval, the concert continued with another, earlier Mozart work, the “Divertimento in D major K.136”, written at the same age as Britten’s “Elergy”. The orchestra was delightfully tight in the playing of this, as we have come to expect from the ACO.

The final work was Britten’s “Variations of a Theme of Frank Bridge” written when he was 24 for a music festival in Salzburg. Bridge was Britten’s composition teacher and this work, which launched Britten’s career, took a simple melodic theme and used it as the basis for 10 short pieces scored for 18 string players. These are pretty and attractive pieces of music, getting a little more experimental towards the end and presaging Britten’s musical development in the years to come.

This was a clever and well-considered concert program, combining two composers that might not automatically be bracketed together, using two works from each written at close to the same age, albeit 150 years or so apart. All very satisfying.

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