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ACO – Barefoot Fiddler

by Suzanne Yanko

The Australian Chamber Orchestra has a practice of featuring guest artists as director, and so it was with Patricia Kopatchinskaja, a violinist with a string of credits to her name. So distinguished is this performer that one wonders why she felt the need to be (literally) barefoot throughout the concert. On a cold night, it seemed an affectation – especially as the music was from the mainstream repertoire, and not gypsy melodies as the concert title may have suggested. Lifting one’s attention to Kopatchinskaja’s hands, however, there was no cause for complaint as she performed brilliantly in a program that encompassed four major periods of composition: Classical, Baroque, Romantic and Modern – in that order after a late program tweak. First was Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in C Minor for Strings, K546, a sombre piece whose minor key and counterpoint was reminiscent of the Requiem.   The ACO is famous for its attack, whoever might be leading, and the orchestra did not disappoint. However, the music was subdued to the point of being almost expressionless in the softer passages, and the lower strings needed more precision in the fugue. I believe that the visiting soloist’s skill as a leader did not match her superiority as a player, and that the musicians were looking for greater direction than they were given. (This is hardly surprising, given the long, close association the ensemble has with its artistic director Richard Tognetti, who has led the ensemble for 20 years. He’s a hard act to follow!). This slight confusion about whose lead to follow became evident in the next work: Bach’s Concerto for Three Violins in D major BWV1064, when Kopatchinskaja was joined by soloists drawn from the ACO, Helena Rathbone and Rebecca Chan. The three soloists, all worthy, made an interesting study in performance styles, as Chan seemed almost impassive, Kopatchinskaja shook her hair and showed an array of facial expressions and Helena Rathbone stood tall between them concentrating intently on her violin. But Bach’s music sprang to life from the orchestra’s first notes and, although there was little sense of leadership, all players seemed in touch with each other’s tempo and dynamics – and passion for the music – making this a very popular item in the concert. Also popular, immediately after interval, was ‘meeting’ the oldest instrument in the orchestra – Maxime Bibeau’s precious charge in the form of a late-16th century double bass, made by Gasparo da Salo in Brescia, Italy. A beautiful, warm performance of Come, live with me led almost seamlessly into the third major work on the program: Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in D minor. With Kopatchinskaja the undisputed soloist in the work (and Rathbone apparently directing) her prowess was allowed to shine. There were some liberties with tempo and rubato, acceptable in a Romantic piece, and a fine displaying of fast fingering and bowing. This was also true for the performance of ACO musicians that mirrored the solo part. The ensemble set the mood for the second movement, with its harmonic, hymn-like subject. Kopatchinskaja is at her best when challenged as in the final allegro (more like a presto) with the ensemble accenting the dance-like rhythm until a virtuosic cadenza saw the soloist in dialogue with a number of the players. Like the Mendelssohn, the Ginastera Concerto for Strings, Op33 was to showcase individual talent within the orchestra as well as giving the soloist plenty to work with. Kopatchinskaja introduced the slow, though challenging, music of the opening theme, with the spare accompaniment of the cello. Before long, there was exciting, percussive music featuring variations in which individual instruments shone (ideal for the ACO), with the whole group contributed to a thrilling series of runs in perfect synch. Albeit with some slower passages, this was demanding, fiery music and it was almost as exciting to observe the performance as to hear it. It was no surprise that strings were broken! One last trill from Kopatchinskaja was set against a last burst of energy to end the finale furioso. And then the encore everyone had hoped for – by Piazolla. This was indeed another fine performance in the ACO style proving that the ensemble stands on its own merits, even when Richard Tognetti is away. Barefoot Fiddler Australian Chamber Orchestra Patricia Kopatchinskaja: Guest Director & Violin Helena Rathbone: Violin Rebecca Chan: Violin     MOZART Adagio and Fugue BACH Concerto for three violins, BWV1064  GINASTERA Concerto for strings MENDELSSOHN Concerto in D Minor Melbourne Recital Centre 22 July ADDITIONAL DATES: Adelaide: Adelaide Town Hall, 23 July Perth: Perth Concert Hall, 24 July Canberra: Canberra Llewellyn Hall, 27 July Sydney: Sydney Opera House, 28 July Brisbane: QPAC Concert Hall, 29 July Sydney: City Recital Hall Angel Place, 30 July – 3 August

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