by Suzanne Yanko

While I am not a fan of publicist-driven titles for concerts, I admit the ACO’s latest offering, Intense, lives up to its name. On this occasion the orchestra shared the credit with visiting cellist Steven Isserlis, who didn’t stop at being the soloist for the concerto but also performed in two other of the four works. And he was the driving force behind the inclusion of the Octet by Woldemar Bargiel, which the ACO is premiering in Australia. Despite being physically slight, like ACO Artistic Director and leader Richard Tognetti, Isserlis has a powerful stage presence. He boasts a crop of curls to rival that of local luminary, Michael Leunig – a comparison easily made, as the cartoonist was sitting directly in front of us. Leunig and Isserlis have each worked with the ACO in the past, and it is a lovable characteristic of the orchestra that its concerts are short on stuffiness, and long on goodwill, humour and musical camaraderie. This is not to say that there is a careless attitude to the music – far from it. The opening work, the Cello Concerto in A major, Wq 172 by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach transported the audience to the Classical period, the lyrical slow movement in particular showing Isserlis’ mastery of his instrument. Incidentally, there was some serious musical hardware on stage: notably Isserlis’s cello – the Feuermann Stradivarius of 1730 – and Tognetti’s “Carrodus” violin, a 1743 Guarneri. The two musicians dominated, but never overpowered, the Octet in C minor, Op.15a by Woldemar Bargiel (half-brother of Clara Schumann), a favourite work of Isserlis’ since he was 10. He described it as “great fun” and it was: not the most complex or satisfying chamber piece you’re likely to hear, but having enough melody and spirit to keep the players animated and the audience engaged. A different sort of intensity was called for in Ravel’s Two Hebraic Melodies. In his final appearance on stage, Isserlis led the way in the plaintive and simple but heart-stopping melody of the first part and gentle shifts in tonalities of the second. In a praise-worthy piece of programming the orchestra rounded off the concert with Bartok’s Divertimento for Strings, written in 1939 as Europe launched itself into a bitter war. It was a showpiece for the ACO, requiring both a confident attack and delicacy of touch in the recurring pizzicati. It was interesting that even this work gave the cellos greater prominence than they usually enjoy and gratifying to note that the orchestra’s own musicians were more than up for the challenge, even though Isserlis had left the building – or at least, the stage! FORTHCOMING PERFORMANCES: Tue 5 Aug, 8:00 PM Adelaide Town Hall, Adelaide Sat 9 Aug, 8:00 PM City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney Sun 10 Aug, 2:30 PM Sydney Opera House, Sydney Mon 11 Aug, 8:00 PM QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane Tue 12 Aug, 8:00 PM City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney Wed 13 Aug, 7:00 PM City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney www.aco.com.au

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