With a world of ear splitting amplification and all night dance parties you often forget that the origin of all rock and roll behaviour was in the classical music halls of Europe. And the Australia Chamber Orchestra, led by Richard Tognetti, with Steven Isserlis performing as soloist for Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, played in the same program as Brahms’ 4th Symphony, is no exception. The ACO is well known for its vibrant and eye-popping performances, and this was definitely the kind of concert that you most certainly do not experience with your eyes closed.
Renowned British cellist Steven Isserlis is attracted to orchestras that use period instruments, using gut strings on his cello himself, and the instrument nerdery was in full swing with on this evening, with much of the orchestra, especially the wind section, using pieces from Brahms’ time. The acoustics of Hamer Hall complemented these instruments, with the sound warm and lifting.
The Dvořák was what most of the audience was there for, and Isserlis’ performance seemed to be done with such passion and ease – the piece was written to, in parts, reflect a certain level of improvisation, without actual improvisation taking place. This made parts of the piece seem more free-flowing, with ample room given for the virtuoso to show his stuff. Isserlis worked great in tandem (and seemingly with great affection) for Richard Tognetti, who is known himself for his rock star approach to classical chamber music, building the ACO to be known as one of the world’s best chamber orchestras.
Brahms’ 4th Symphony acted as part of the Melbourne Festival’s theme concentrating on the ‘War of the Romantics’, when manifestos and cat calls went back in forth in Germany between the more conservative Brahms and Clara Schumann, and the uppity, more progressive Liszt and Wagner. Enough time has passed for the politics of composition from that time to be put aside for a greater appreciation of Brahms’ technical brilliance. Also Brahms’ 4th was lush and summery, coloured by melancholy, and again had the audience transfixed by the ACO’s masterful and seductive playing style.
BY SAM WILSON