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The convergent worlds of Bach and Haydn

Hamer Hall
04/02/2017 -  & April, 3 (Melbourne), 4 (Adelaide), 5 (Perth), 8, 9 (Sydney), 10 (Brisbane), 11, 12 (Sydney), 2017
Johann Sebastian Bach: Violin Partita No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006: Preludio (arr. Richard Tognetti) – Violin Concerto No. 2 in E major, BWV 1042 – Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043 – Concerto for Three Violins in D major, BWV 1064R – Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat major, BWV 1010: Sarabande
Joseph Haydn: Symphonies No. 27 in G major & No. 22 in E-flat major “Le Philosophe”, Hob.1:22 & Hob.1:27

Helena Rathbone (Violin), Satu Vänskä (Violin), Timo-Veikko Valve (Cello)
The Australian Chamber Orchestra, Richard Tognetti (Director & Violin)

R. Tognetti, H. Rathbone (© Zan Wimberley)

Any concert featuring Bach and Haydn given by the ACO will attract huge attention but add Richard Tognetti’s authoritative and inventive playing and it will be a sure-fire winner. This expansive collection of the violin concerti by Bach highlighted the masterful musicianship and leadership of Mr. Tognetti and gave the opportunity to hear from the amazing depth of virtuosity within the orchestra by featuring Violinists Helena Rathbone and Satu Vänska as well as Cellist Timo-Veikko Valve.

Many of the J.S. Bach elements of the programme originated from his period as Kapellmeister at Cöthen during which he composed many of his most beloved works. The latest piece, the triple concerto, exists in a semi-original form only, as a work for three harpsichords. What we hear today is a musicologist’s reconstruction of how the piece is believed to have sounded when originally written for violins. The two Haydn pieces, dating from 1757 and 1764 respectively, offer glimpses into the mind of that prolific giant of composition. His development of the Symphonic style along with his highly influential referencing of Vivaldi, Corelli and others, makes Haydn an inherent link in the growth of the classical style leading from Bach to Mozart and beyond. In many ways then, this concert is an educative process for the audience and an explorative one for the orchestra.

The first piece of the concert, the brief Preludio, serves as a tempting overture to the main body of works to be showcased in the performance. It is a sparkling feature piece for the main violin and as such drew lazer-like attention to the dazzling playing of Mr. Tognetti. Almost without pause, he led the orchestra into the first of the three Violin Concerti. The three movements, each deceptively complex within a comparatively simple framework, offer less opportunity for virtuoso solo playing than leadership of the orchestral accompaniment by the violin. The pace of the Allegro countered by the sombre Adagio with its pulsing bass notes is reflected in the brilliant vivacity of the closing Allegro assai. This is an understated work which benefits from the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s fundamental ability to focus audience attention upon every element within the playing group while producing a rounded and satisfying overall impression.

The first Haydn symphony of this program is the work of a young man who has recently found patronage and is finally free of the financial and artistic demands which faced him in Vienna. It is confident and sparkling; full of joyous life and inventiveness while pointing the way forward for this new musical form: the Classical Symphony. Richard Tognetti joined his fellow musicians in the body of the ensemble and set a scintillating pace for the opening movement, only to better that with the energy of the final Presto. It is in the central movement Andante: siciliano that we hear the charming and rich melodies which reflect the admiration felt for many of the earlier Italian composers by both Bach and Haydn. Beautiful playing drew enthusiastic applause from the huge audience.

Bach looked outward to the extended possibilities of the Concerto form when composing many of the pieces from this period of his life. Musicologists have referred to the possibility that he was falling in love with the woman who would become his second wife and therein find the intertwining of the two violins deeply symbolic of the growing relationship. Principal Violinist Helena Rathbone frequently features as soloist or alternate leader in the ACO and on this occasion, she and Richard Tognetti meld their talents superbly to produce a balanced and completely absorbing interpretation of this work. They captured the vivacity of interaction with the whole band in the opening movement; cast emphasis and depth of passion onto the intimate second movement and threw caution to the wind in the exuberant finale.

The first half of the concert ended with excited acclamation which saw soloists and the ensemble beaming their pleasure at the reception.

As if to advance the argument in favour of the virtuosic nature of this band, the triple concerto opening the second half drew upon another of the Principal Violinists Satu Vänska to join Richard Tognetti and Helena Rathbone. As a team, they tackled the complex interweaving lines for the soloists against an orchestral accompaniment which is frequently divided into divergent forces. The soloists play sometimes in unison, sometimes at variance and often in opposition to one another. The first and final movements are bright and complicated while the central Adagio has a drawn out, lyrical quality supported by the repetitious bass under-current of the orchestra.

Returning briefly to the vivacity of Bach’s more youthful period, the Sarabande for Cello was played by Principal Cellist Timo-Veikko Valve. Only beginning to emerge at the time as a solo instrument, the Cello was infrequently heard in recital. This glorious and delicate dance sequence gave a chance to see briefly into the world of J.S. Bach and to imagine the audiences for whom he wrote.

The four movements of Haydn’s strangely named “The Philosopher” Symphony No. 22 brought the concert to a close. All soloists returned to the body of the orchestra, numbering only 23 players in total, to produce a fabulous wall of high quality sound which filled the massive interior of Hamer Hall.

There is no surprise to hear of the enthusiastic acclaim for this orchestra on its recent UK tour. Richard Tognetti’s much lauded residency at London’s Barbican is but one more signpost along this ensemble’s pathway to international renown.

Gregory Pritchard



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