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Full house thrills to the Bach family reunion

Richard Tognetti and Helena Rathbone. Photo: Julian Kingma

Music / The Australian Chamber Orchestra, “A Bach Family Reunion”, Llewellyn Hall, June 27. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

EXTENDED artistic families such as the Australian Boyd dynasty, the Heysens and Namatjira family of artists have an amazing legacy, but few have revolutionised their art form the way the Bach family of composers have.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra played works by the Bach’s in its concert titled “A Bach Family Reunion”.

The artists, Richard Tognetti, director and violin; Anna Dowsley, mezzo-soprano; Helena Rathbone, violin; Timo-Veikko Valve, cello; Erin Helyard, harpsichord and fortepiano, with the ACO, opened with the “Suite in G Major: Overture”, by Johann Ludwig Bach.

The two cellists sat prominently in the centre of the stage, while not holding the lead, they maintained the centre of attention. The music blended into itself and spoke of what was to come, as any good overture should. But, with theatrics and individuality from Tognetti’s spoken impressions and foot stomping, it became a bit confusing.

Mezzo-soprano, Anna Dowsley with the ACO. Photo: Julian Kingma.

Mezzo-soprano, Anna Dowsley, performed two arias by Johann Christian Bach, “Meine Freundin, du bist schön: Ciaconna” and “Mein Freund ist Mein”. Satu Vänskä, playing violin, stood next to the singer and the two bounced off one another in a symmetry that expressed a unison of open musicality. The other players produced a stable accompaniment, and with Helyard on harpsichord, the music came alive.

With an evenly paced driving bass progression, the Johann Sebastian Bach, Cantata “Widerstehe doch der Sünde” BWV54, and then the “Widerstehe doch der Sünde”, set up a driving work that almost sounded contemporary. Perhaps these works could have even been suitable for a modern re-telling of a period theatrical work.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s, “Concerto for Two Violins in D minor”, BWV1043, where Helena Rathbone got to lead so beautifully, is a perfect piece that could state the whole baroque period in one work. The largo movement is a combination of the perfect sound, perfectly written. To round the work off, the final allegro movement grabbed attention and maintained it.

After the interval, things got dramatic with Sofia Gubaidulina’s, “Reflections on the theme of Bach”, arranged for strings. The lighting, the mood and the music took on a noir theme, almost Hitchcockian. Tognetti, leading with his bow, where the music just rose and rose, then dramatically fell to a grinding, quivering cello note, which set the orchestra on fire. Amazing stuff.

Then Johann Sebastian Bach’s, “Cantata Ich habe genug”, BWV82, and “Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen”. These gentle works followed beautifully from the previous piece. Also fitting perfectly, the gentle voice of Dowsley.

Moving forward to Mozart’s (after JC Bach), “Piano Concerto No.12 in A Major”, K.414: II. With Helyard performing centre stage, the subdued sound of the fortepiano fitted the composition perfectly. The style worked a charm in this interlude between this Bach family reunion.

With such talent among their ranks, the ACO can pull top-flight players from the orchestra to perform soloist roles at any time. As was the case with Timo-Veikko Valve on cello, who finished the concert with the “Cello Concerto in A Major”, Wq.172, by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

This vigorous, substantial music has an unrelenting dynamic in the way it pushes itself forward. The sublime manner that the cellist played the largo movement like it was a part of his make up, showed the feeling he has for high-quality musical expression.

With audience numbers at just on capacity not seen since pre covid times, the ACO finished this concert with an exhilarating flourish where the audience could not contain themselves for a second longer after the final note.


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