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Australian Chamber Orchestra: Danielle De Niese

by Suzanne Yanko

The Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) named this concert after the soloist, but established its own credentials at a number of points. First was an elegant rendition of Mozart’s Symphony in D, K196/121 (La finta giarinera), in which 15 or so string players were supplemented by two brass and three winds. This was a welcome start to a Sunday afternoon concert on a chilly Melbourne afternoon, as the audience settled in to enjoy tried-and-true ACO fare. The symphony began with a crisp arpeggio and an awareness of phrasing that lifted this early symphony from more than a teenager’s efforts (and its opera buffo origins). The second movement, slow and sweet, allowed the ACO’s seriously good collection of instruments to be heard to advantage, while the ensemble’s romp through the third movement brought this rather slight piece to a satisfactory ending. Then came the challenges, each of them from the pens of Australian composers. Carl Vine’s The Tree of Man also boasted another national icon, featuring text from Patrick White’s famous novel of the same name. The work also introduced Danielle de Niese to the stage (and to many in the audience). A becoming sight in her green designer dress, de Niese was welcomed as “one of us” (being Australian-born, although she was raised in the USA). From the moment she began to sing, however, the welcome stretched to include pleasure in her beautiful voice, as she clearly articulated the words while infusing them with feeling. This was not one of Vine’s more immediately appealing compositions, but the performers made it worthy of attention. De Niese’s second item, which closed the first half of the concert, was the well-known Exultate by Mozart. This was clearly going to be enjoyable with performers of such calibre – and it was. De Niese’s voice soared easily through the high notes while also showing a command of the lower register. More, she appeared to be thoroughly enjoying the performance as much as the audience clearly did. The ACO must take some credit, as it was called on to do far more than just accompany the singer. There are a number of sustained orchestral interludes, with the andante sections again showing the orchestra’s ability to draw a sweetness even from Mozart’s earliest compositions. Between the Vine and the Mozart the ACO played Richard Meale’s Cantilena Pacifica. It was a wise choice as director Richard Tognetti, on centre stage for the first time in this concert, let his violin sing the clearly articulated melody. Although he faced the audience, Tognetti’s own performance (and the occasional lifting of his bow) was enough for the rest of the orchestra to follow suit and produce a beautifully synchronised piece. The melody was matched with an almost swaying accompaniment producing a nearly hypnotic effect, with a series of slow, descending arpeggios at the end of the piece. Aside from Danielle de Niese’s performance, Cantilena Pacifica was for many, the highlight of the concert. However, after interval came Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, arranged by Tognetti. In a smooth segue (a musical device often favoured by the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, for example) the audience first heard the song of that name (D531) and then the String Quartet No14 in D minor (D810), which also carries the title ‘Death and the Maiden’. De Niese returned to the stage, suitably dressed in black, and immediately commanded it. There were echoes of the Vine (particularly in the morbid subject matter) but the harmony of the accompaniment sat more easily with de Niese’s voice, and the richer tones of her middle and lower register. All too soon, however, de Niese quietly left the stage to the ACO for its full-blooded rendition of one of Schubert’s better-known quartets. (There can be argument about whether employing nearly four times as many players as intended by the composer works against the delicate interplay of the original. My view is that Tognetti’s arrangement was intended simply to increase the repertoire for chamber orchestras, and it does this respectfully and well). The audience, in any case, loved this warm and respectful performance (and many were moved to applaud at the end of the sonorous Andante. Having showed its capacity for warmth and sensitivity the ACO then turned to virtuosity for the faster concluding movements: Scherzo and Tarantella (meeting the challenge of playing unison passages at speed!). Tognetti’s coda not only showed the ACO leader at his brilliant best, but was a fitting end to a concert of many moods, all of them to be savoured. Rating: 5 stars out of 5 ACO: Danielle de Niese Melbourne Town Hall June 17

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