22 June 2014

Llewellyn is a big chamber

Sally asked how large was a chamber orchestra. Fair question. The ACO was playing at Llewellyn and there were about 55 players on stage with three basses (I've seen non-chamber orchestras with two) and percussion and harp and the various brass and woodwinds. They even had a conductor for most of the time, with Richard Tognetti just picking up his Guanieri del Gesù for a few feature snippets in the Mahler. And Llewellyn is a very big chamber. Wikipedia suggests 50 or less for a chamber orchestra, so ACO was just pushing the envelope slightly. But they are an interesting outfit, nicely presented (read sexy, "players dressed by Akira Isogawa"), standing and active so presenting an image of churn on stage and fabulously dynamic and integrated. They started with a group of five players with a Sibelius Serenade for violin with Rebecca Chan showing off another expensive violin, a 1714 Guanieri. These instruments are part of the ACO mystique and it's nice to hear them (and they are good investments). It sounded like many violins on record, of course, and interestingly different from the sound of Tognetti's later in the night, but then these are different players, different bows and techniques and tunes and strings, too. Then Sibelius Symphony no.6 in D minor, Op.104, and a longer Mahler Symphony no.4 in G later. I was concentrating poorly but I did notice dynamics. They worked so well as a unit: swells were magically intense; parts moved and were perfectly defined, so the focus moved with precision between instruments. I also noticed players, when not playing, watching others. At least most strings were standing, so the view was of a churning busyness, but this openness to look around spoke to a communal purpose that you could hear in this playing. Towards the end of Mahler, guest soprano Kiera Duffy walked on as a path opened for her between violins (all the world like the parting of seas). I'd noticed her repertoire spanning Handel to Zorn and that interested me. I heard poorly from my distance, missing low notes and most detail, so little to observe here. But we left feeling we'd heard a major performance outfit. There's a urgency and commitment and togetherness here that's impressive and a musical expression that's authentic and unforced. They say they are Australian and international top-shelf and I certainly can't imagine much better. And they are sexy, too.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra was directed by Richard Tognetti (conductor, violin) playing Sibelius Symphony no.6 in D minor, Op.104, and Mahler Symphony no.4 in G. Kiera Duffy (soprano) sang in the Mahler. Rebecca Chan (violin) led an introductory Sibelius Serenade for violin.

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