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Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra

by Suzanne Yanko

The first of two concerts given by the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra as part of the Melbourne International Festival presented as the more interesting option – and not just because the second featured the ubiquitous Four Seasons by Vivaldi. Both concerts benefitted from the admirable talents of the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, 20 or so consummate musicians with guest oboe and horn players (three from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra). Soloists violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and director/violist Maxim Rysanov – whose duets were among the highlights of the concert – were of course featured in both programs. So what made this one so special? Without question it was the music of Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova, firstly in her arrangement of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, and then her own composition, Suite in Old Style. The well-known Arpeggione, which opened the concert, is most often heard as a cello work, with piano accompaniment. Tabakova’s choice of viola as solo instrument was not revolutionary – but her arrangement of the work for chamber ensemble was. It allowed for greater exploration of the harmonic texture of the work while allowing Rysanov’s viola (a 1780 Guadagnini) to sing. In a skillful and sympathetic arrangement, the viola was never overpowered by the ensemble, and Rysanov needed to give the players only minimal direction. The slow pace of the second movement brought the sweetness of Schubert’s melodies to the fore, as did the allegretto that followed. The finale had a folk-dance rhythm to it (perhaps a contribution of the arranger), which gave the audience a new appreciation of the range of the viola – for example, with the rather cheeky little pizzicato arpeggio that ended the work. Tabakova’s arrangement of the Schubert encouraged confidence in her as a composer, and the Suite in Old Style did not disappoint. Far from it. The work began with a Renaissance-style dance with a strong beat, Rysanov displaying yet another skill as a percussionist! The addition of harpsichord and tambourine was reminiscent of the Australian Brandenburg’s take on period music in some of Paul Dyer’s arrangements. But not for long. Following a virtuosic piece for the viola there was a whimsical shift to a jazz-age waltz, with an air of mockery. Rysanov directed the ensemble in a complex, almost menacing build-up of sound – and soon faced the audience again to introduce a romantic, filmic variation on the theme. There followed a harpsichord introduction to a reflective interlude, unison playing giving way to a lovely extended slow passage – so beautiful that it moved my guest to tears. It was therefore a surprise when a brisk, quite classical movement took a mocking shift into dissonance, the harpsichordist crashing her hands down on the keys and eliciting shocked laughter from the audience. Finally, although the viola and the ensemble seemed to want to break free from the constraints of form and harmony, the work settled into a Dvorak-style dumka and was brought to a stirring finish. Tabakova is clearly a composer to watch. After interval, the audience settled in for the main work: Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra. Rysanov at first took up a conductor stance, facing the orchestra, but very soon joined violinist Sitkovetsky in the first of their duet passages. It was interesting to see the two stringed instruments side by side, the viola appearing much larger than the violin, and their sound being so different – as between a soprano and a mezzo. The performers executed a brilliant cadenza at the end of the first movement, in perfect synch while playing presto. Each of the three movements was rounded off in this way. The second movement seemed infused with Eastern European ‘soul’ and was also remarkable for the empathy between all players. In particular the dynamics were very well realised (considering that the leader was busy with his own part in the work). This was a well-rehearsed ensemble, showing the benefits of its long association with Rysanov. The closing movement was pure Mozart, the winds and brass contributing a light but complementary sound to the strings, all at the cracking pace of the presto. The final duet seemed like great fun, with the ensemble going along for the ride. It made for a great finish – and when an encore was demanded, they played the complete final movement again. Needless to say, the concert finished to rousing “bravos” for these very welcome visitors to the Melbourne Festival. Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra Viola: Maxim Rysanov Violin: Alexander Sitkovetsky Saul Lewis, Vicki Philipson and Michael Pisani perform courtesy of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Melbourne Recital Centre October 12, 2011 Melbourne Festival October 6 – 22

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