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Melbourne Town Hall
06/17/2012 -  & June 7 (Wollongong), 9, 12, 13 (Sydney), 18 (Melbourne), 20 (Adelaide), 24 (Sydney), 25 (Brisbane), 2012
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony “51” in D major, K. 196+121 – Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165
Carl Vine: The Tree of Man (World Premiere)
Richard Meale: Cantilena Pacifica
Franz Schubert: String Quartet No 14 in d minor, “Death and the Maiden”, D. 810 (Arr. Tognetti)

Danielle de Niese (Soprano)
The Australian Chamber Orchestra, Richard Tognetti (Artistic Director and Lead Violin)

R. Tognetti & D. de Niese (© Gregory Pritchard)

Australian-American soprano Danielle de Niese returned today to the city of her birth as soloist in a program with The Australian Chamber Orchestra under acclaimed violinist Richard Tognetti. To have assumed that such a feted vocalist would be the star of the performance was a mistake. The orchestra itself and the musicianship and brilliance of Richard Tognetti were as much stars in this performance as Ms. de Niese.

Beginning with Mozart’s symphony evolved from the overture to the opera after which it is named (La finta giardiniera), the orchestra stamped its signature sound – rich, nuanced and lyrical. Twenty-four players with Tognetti leading from the violin created a superbly rounded and solid wall of sound – no mean feat within the cavernous interior of the Melbourne Town Hall.

There was no doubt however when Danielle de Niese entered the stage that it was she the vast audience had come to hear. Melbourne, indeed Australia, is only now hearing de Niese live as an orchestral/vocal soloist on her debut tour. Born in Melbourne, she rose to local fame on a TV show Young Talent Time and shortly thereafter rose to greater celebrity in the US on TV, and in performances live and recorded. Recently, she has performed over much of Europe and the US from her base in the UK, appearing at major opera houses and concert venues to significant acclaim.

For her debut, de Niese and the ACO gave a new work commissioned to commemorate the centenary of Australian Nobel Literature laureate Patrick White. Carl Vine drew on text from White’s Tree of Man (1956) to create a moody, textured piece which relies largely on the ability of the vocalist to colour the various sections of the music while the orchestra provides a sometimes shimmering, sometimes threatening undercurrent. Danielle de Niese’s voice is a versatile instrument; intricate patterns emerge from her ability to modulate the volume of sound, all the time understating her potential to fill the great hall – an ability she demonstrated on several occasions during the piece. De Niese’s precise diction emphasised White’s evocative text and as in his novels, layers of meaning were created by setting the orchestra a simple and understated accompaniment and allowing the vocalist to paint the sometimes vivid, often lilting quality of the Australian landscape.

The work was vigorously received as an example of de Niese’s abilities as a singer and also as something of a home-coming gift to the many in the audience who clearly regard her as “ours”. Carl Vine dedicated the work to Danielle de Niese.

This work was followed by a rendition of the atmospheric and languorous Cantilena Pacifica (1979) by Australian composer Richard Meale. This melodic, meandering work for orchestra and solo violin painted glorious pictures of the sea, the land and the light of the Pacific. Tognetti’s solo turn in this piece was masterful. He held the audience on the edge of his finely balanced bow with faint tones and far-off phrases that lulled listeners into a trance-like state. His playing is exquisite and the performance drew an enthusiastic response.
Danielle de Niese concluded the first half of the program with Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate which we have heard from her frequently in recording. Confident, totally at ease and absolutely in control of every utterance, her performance was precision personified and the glamorous opera diva shone bright in this stellar piece of sacred music. Again, her diction was brilliant, crisp and refined and her modulation of the sound added shade and light to the text. De Niese’s coloratura is dazzling. She has such power at her control and such certainty in its use that it is hard not to be seduced by the smiles and gestures which make it look so easy.

The second half of the program was given to the orchestra with only the briefest and most tantalising appearance by de Niese. She appeared on the stage momentarily to deliver Richard Tognetti’s arrangement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. It was a beautiful and poignant rendition which made ample use of her ability to dramatise the text, creating a sense of panic and urgency to the undercurrent of threat and malice from the orchestra. Suddenly, with applause ringing through the hall, she had left the stage and those of us who imagined that she would return at least to deliver an encore were disappointed.

The orchestra completed the program with the second work by Schubert on this same theme: the String Quartet in d minor arranged for the strings of the ACO by Tognetti. The maiden’s panic from the earlier song, the hovering threat from the malevolent character of death and the frenzied finale all provided ample canvas for the ensemble to demonstrate their brilliance. Again, Tognetti’s violin was the stand out lead but the virtuosity of the other players became quickly apparent as they created the many textures and colours of the piece.

There was warmth of reception for the orchestra, its leader and Danielle de Niese which clearly spelled “Welcome Home” and despite the lack of encores, lasted well after the performers had left the stage.

Danielle de Niese
The Australian Chamber Orchestra

Gregory Pritchard



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