Five call-backs, two encores and a hall nearly full of cheering music-lovers: that was the triumph Israeli mandolin player Avi Avital shared with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and artistic director and conductor Paul Dyer at their recent concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre.
As Classic Melbourne has noted several times, this is not an unusual response to an ABO concert, whether they are the sole focus or playing with a carefully chosen soloist. Avital is a welcome return visitor whose superior skills as a mandolinist are matched by his personality and (it must be said) his youthful good looks. These were all the more evident for the ABO’s bringing only an “elite squad” of nine (Dyer’s words), rather than the full orchestra.
This was sufficient to more than do justice to the program, a thoughtful mix of the familiar and the “new” (except to aficiandos of the instrument).
Vivaldi Concerto for Strings in C major, RV 110
Vivaldi Concerto in A minor, RV 356
Valentini Concerto Grosso In A Minor, Op. 7, No. 11
Tsintsadze Six Miniatures for Mandolin and Strings
Paisiello Mandolin Concerto in E-Flat Major
Vivaldi Mandolin Concerto in C major, RV 425
Vivaldi Concerto in G minor, RV 315, Summer
The Vivaldi concertos were a worthy selection of that composer’s great oeuvre, (with just one part of the Four Seasons sufficient!) and were of the period of the less familiar Valentini, Tsintsadze and Paisiello, the latter two being showpieces for the mandolin.
The opening Vivaldi Concerto for Strings in C major, RV 110, pared down as it seemed, had the characteristic Brandenburg sound: clean, pure, fast, allowing Dyer’s keyboard a cadenza-type passage and finishing in a burst of harmony and polyphony. It was short but a good choice for a curtain raiser; however, there was excitement as Avital unexpectedly came on stage to join the ABO for the A minor Vivaldi concerto.
The mandolin had a demanding solo part, very fast (as were the strings) and with Avital hardly lifting his hands off the instrument for the entire first movement. The second, slower movement had Avital picking out the sonorous melody in a concerto originally written for a violin soloist, but the third, Presto, saw his fingers flying and earned both gasps and applause from the audience. No one was surprised that there was a great tuning of instruments before continuing!
There followed a rich program of music, most of it new to the audience. (Unfortunately, the attempt to dim the lights to suggest a Moroccan-type moodiness made it difficult for this reviewer to take notes – or at least to read them later!). Each item was, however, worthy of comment. The ABO presented an unfamiliar but very beautiful Concerto by Valentini before Avital again became the focus in Tsintsadze’s Six Miniatures – with a Georgian inspiration and more challenges of tempo, well-met. After returning to Vivaldi after interval, Avital found his voice, to introduce us to the Paisiello concerto, an example of the “quite different” music that emanated from Naples. Being of the Romantic period, the piece also allowed Avital (and the Brandenburgs) to show other dimensions of their playing: resonance, drama, and lovely sweetness in the slow movement.
After a worthy rendition of the Vivaldi Mandolin Concerto, the ensemble presented Avital’s arrangement of “Summer” from The Four Seasons. Both the arrangement and the performance gave a freshness to music that can sometimes sound a little tired. It was a brave choice that paid off. Avital however had the last word, as it were, with two encores; the first showed the delicacy and charm of the solo mandolin, the second was a technically brilliant showpiece.
Mr Dyer, please, when will the Brandenburgs bring Avi Avital back to Melbourne?