ACO: Slimmed-down ensemble offers lean, crystalline sound

Stefan Jackiw
The Australian

During his tenure at the helm of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Richard Tognetti has shown considerable talent as an arranger. His new arrangement of Mendelssohn’s evergreen Violin Concerto in E minor is one of his finest. Replacing the original orchestration with a slimmed-down, 10-person string ensemble (five violins, two violas, two cellos and double bass), Tognetti’s chamber version is comparable in inventiveness and brilliance to the teenage Mendelssohn’s string octet.

True, in some of the fortissimo climaxes one missed the depth and complexity of sound of a symphony orchestra. But, for the most part, Tognetti ingeniously deployed a range of muted colours and soft-grained textures.

Violas and cellos, for example, were regularly substituted for the woodwind figures and a solo viola convincingly replaced the bassoon’s famous transition into the second movement Andante.

The performers were superb: their swift speeds, sensitive phrasing and astute contrasts in mood, tempo and dynamics captured the concerto’s balance of energy, drama and lyricism.

Sustaining a pure, focused tone and crystalline articulation, violinist Stefan Jackiw was an outstanding soloist. His fluid line and flowing bow strokes penetrated right to the heart of the concerto’s cantabile soul and he met the work’s technical challenges brilliantly.

Jackiw exhibited similar virtues in Bottesini’s Gran Duo Concertante, in which he shared the solo spotlight with the ACO’s principal double bass, Maxime Bibeau.

Here, Jackiw’s timbre was slightly richer and his virtuosic flair was more prominently displayed. Bibeau seamlessly executed his intricate passagework, and both impressed in their extended high-harmonic duets.

The other two works in the concert saw the ACO proudly exhibit one of its greatest and most consistent qualities: a remarkably cohesive, well-integrated ensemble sound.

Written at the tender age of 14, Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No 9 is a prodigious compositional feat. The group’s brisk tempos, alert rhythms and emphatic attack resulted in lithe, energetic readings of the three faster movements. By contrast, its expressive phrasing and clearly defined textures gave the slow movement stately elegance.

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