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East, West, Old and New

Hamer Hall
02/22/2015 -  & February 9 (Brisbane), 10, 11, 13 (Sydney), 14 (Canberra), 15, 17 (Sydney), 18 (Wollongong), 19 (Newcastle), 21 (Sydney), 23 (Melbourne), December 1 (Adelaide), 2 (Perth), 7 (Sydney), 9 (Melbourne), 2015
Giovanni Gabrieli: Sonata XXI ‘con tre violini’ –
Joseph Tawadros: Kindred – Sleight of Hand – Eye of the Beholder – Permission to Evaporate – Give or Take – Point of Departure – Constantinople (orch. Tognetti)
Antonio Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, Opus 8 – Concerto per la solennità di s. Lorenzo, RV 562: II. Grave – Concerto for Violin in A minor, Opus 3, No. 6, RV 356: III. Presto
Benedetto Marcello: Sinfonia from ‘Il pianto e il riso delle quattro stagioni’: II. Andante

Joseph Tawadros (Oud), James Tawadros (Percussion)
The Australian Chamber Orchestra, Richard Tognetti (Director & Lead Violin)

J. Tawadros (© Imtiaz Almaz)

Billed as “The Four Seasons”, this opening concert of the 40th Anniversary season for the Australian Chamber Orchestra might have appeared at first glance to be a ‘crowd pleaser’ but as always with the ACO, the programming is edgy and thought-provoking. While the centre piece(s) of the concert is indeed the hugely popular Vivaldi four-part suite, this partnership with award-winning composer and oud virtuoso Joseph Tawadros pointed us towards an analysis of the influence of Arabic music on the Venetian Baroque period.

Expecting the interspersed pieces by Tawadros to be offered as a commentary upon the western Baroque items was another misconception gradually and skilfully put to rest. From the opening piece by Gabrieli, it was immediately obvious that the melodic strains of Arabic were there to be heard. The rhythms, harmonies and key-shifts spoke softly but clearly of the winds from the exotic world beyond the shores of the Mediterranean. At this time in the concert, neither of the two guest performers had joined the orchestra on stage. Yet, we had heard whispers of their musical heritage.

The first appearance of the fabled eastern oud allowed immediately visual comparison with its much larger cousin the theorbo, on this occasion played by Tommie Andersson. There is no mistaking the family resemblance, in fact surrounded by the sounds of the orchestra, the oud straight away settled into a perfect niche of sound as well as appearance.

The pieces by Joseph Tawadros have all been orchestrated by Richard Tognetti and increasingly throughout the program, come to resemble their Baroque counterparts. As much as any other program from this band over recent times, this one points out the brilliance of Richard Tognetti beyond his established realm of dazzling violin virtuoso and into that of composer/arranger. Every item in the concert was an essential piece of the argument, each contributing more to our understanding of the cross-pollination of musical influences.

The shorter Baroque pieces allowed a gradual introduction of the eastern instruments into the performance. Gentle strums of the oud or tapping of the hand-held drum/tambourine the riq’ would join the strings to suggest a hint of Arabia and the exotic. Dividing the Vivaldi four part suite into separate performance pieces enabled the gradual and subtle incorporation of these sounds into works which we thought we knew well but in which we found new colours and textures. This must surely have been the programming intent: to challenge and extend our notion of the popular and celebrated while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of the comfort zone.

The playing of the Tawadros brothers is revelatory. Endlessly variable and subtle, these instruments offered a glimpse into the Arabic world and a sense of a musical bridge from there into the west. Born in Egypt but Australian for most of his life, Joseph is recognised as an outstanding performer and composer in the classical tradition. His many award-winning recordings caused this reviewer to join hundreds of audience members clambering to purchase his CDs after the performance. The oud has a luscious and ethereal sound. It can hover above or below the strings or take a decisive lead in strong, rich tones. Of the several percussion instruments played by James Tawadros, the tiny riq’ was the most fascinating. How many sounds can emanate from a tambourine? Endless variety! Tognetti even had minuscule drum join the Vivaldi ensemble to especially clever effect during the “Winter” concerto.

Fittingly, this program relies greatly upon the flair of the lead violinist. Celebrating 25 years as leader of this orchestra, Richard Tognetti gave a dazzling performance. His absolute mastery of his instrument is breath-taking and one sensed that in this performance, he risked everything. We were taken beyond the luminosity of his playing into a realm of danger and hazard. It seemed that at any second, catastrophe threatened and we were balanced on the razor’s edge; but he pressed on – relentlessly energetic and physical, pushing himself beyond his limits, gambling all and producing brilliance. The closing movement of the “Winter” concerto brought repeated gasps from the audience at the aptitude of his playing and the risk and gamble he took.

This concert was thrilling throughout: its concept, its clear musical argument and the astounding virtuosity of the playing. It prompts this reviewer to look forward to hearing the ACO’s newly-released recording of The Four Seasons and to reading the critical reaction to their USA tour later in 2015.

Gregory Pritchard



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