ACO: Mostly Mendelssohn

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Published: 4th June, 2015


The Australian Chamber Orchestra Is to be congratulated for its recent program Mostly Mendelssohn, with due thought given to the “mostly” aspect of the concert.  The violin was very much to the fore with the orchestra’s own Satu Vanska as Lead Violin and visiting soloist Stephan Jackiw.

Seventeen string players were sufficient for the opening work, Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No.9 in C major “la Suisse”. The Grave tempo made for a fine start in which the interplay of parts could be observed before the Allegro, which was more relaxed and quite Mozartian in its influence. Precision and synchronicity were a delight, best observed in the scales and changing dynamics – and more of a challenge than might appear, as the tempo was fast. The ending of this movement was so emphatic that the audience may have been tempted to clap (But thankfully all resisted the temptation!). This allowed for an uninterrupted move into the Andante, which, while lacking intensity, was soft and enduringly sweet. The depth of the cellos and basses brought more to the sound while the violas satisfied as the upper strings for much of this movement, with a warmth that set the pattern for the tutti.

The third movement, Scherzo, required and was given synchronicity. At a presto pace this demonstrated the ACO in top form, making the most also of the trio which recalled yodeling. The precision, attack, and ability to change tempo almost instantaneously were all characteristics of the fourth movement, and of the performers themselves. The first violins sounded like a bigger cohort then they actually were – but then, so did the orchestra as a whole. The musicians smiled through the challenge of the fugal passage and sudden acceleration that brought the work to a showy, brilliant end.

Next, the concerto for double bass and violin didn’t appear on the face of it to match two instruments well. Certainly the violin claimed pyrotechnics from the outset, but even the role of the double bass was more showy than usual, and it was proved a sympathetic partner to the violin. Soloist was the ACO’s Maxime Bibeau displaying the superiority of his instrument, a late-16th century Gasparo da Salo bass. When the orchestra took a strong role in the lyrical second subject both violin and then bass benefited. But a duet between the violin playing the tune and the bass (displaying dexterity in techniques rarely seen for that instrument) left no doubt that this was intended to be a showpiece. The audience loved it and greeted its conclusion with the roar of applause.

Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade brought things back to a more usual concert item, although it was like the previous work in its lightness and ease for the listener. The musicians appeared to enjoy themselves as they moved through a work that ended it as unfussily as it started but pleased the audience nevertheless.

It was back to serious work again again with the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto arranged by Richard Tognetti. A couple of bars in and the soloist Stefan Jackiw delivered the famous E minor theme, with lyricism soon overtaken by virtuosic display. The second subject had yearning arpeggios, then simply yearning … the soloist still standing out, even with very fine players supporting him especially in the dramatic dialogue of the first movement and cadenza-like section. Following the exposition came the actual cadenza that gathered speed, excitement and brilliance as it moved to an end.

In the second movement the soloist showed another side to his performance, moving straight into the beautiful and sweet melody of the Andante, with its shifts from major to minor keys. Certainly his instrument must have helped, but only true feeling can achieve such a sound. Similarly the trill was a bonus but not core to the heart of this movement. With a sympathetic performance from the ACO Jackiw led a seamless move to the final movement whose light dance quality suited the soloist who again demonstrated why he deserved to be on centre stage. The concluding Allegro molto vivace was simply thrilling.