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ACO presents Haydn and Italian Cello

Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) present HAYDN and ITALIAN CELLO in the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) led by Richard Tognetti with Giovanni Sollima, as the guest cellist and composer, presented a generous concert of music.

The concert began with Ancient Airs and dances: Suite No.3 by Ottorino Respighi (1932). The four short works that make up this Suite are based on works from the 16th and 17th century, but re-interpreted, through Respighi, “a child of the Romantic age” and, so, although none of the melodies are altered and all the harmonies are authentic, “the textures,colour, dynamics and articulation are all his own.” In my musical ignorance, I know the composer only through the Roman influenced works of the Pines, Fountains and Festivals. It was a special and arresting delight to hear this work.

To follow, were two works which featured the cello. The guest artist for this program of music was the Italian cellist and composer, Giovanni Sollima. Firstly, the Cello Concerto No.3 in Gmajor, G.480. composed by Luigi Boccherini(1770), a work that requires a virtuosic courage. Mr Sollima ,seemed to play at a ‘demonic’ possession: the speed, the accuracy and the passion looked as if he had been ‘touched by fire’ – a craftsman of extraordinary skill availability, combined with an artistic sensibility that provoked marvelling.

And, as marvellous as that performance was it was surpassed with the rendition of his own composition: L.B. Files (2007). It is written in four movements. Mr Sollima has composed a work dedicated to Luigi Boccherini:

“… I chose a simple narrative form, almost a micro-dramatisation for a film or a story. The life of Boccherini, an Italian from Luca who emigrated to Spain and ended his days in absolute poverty; I like his unrestrained curiosity and his ability to adopt and mix shapes, techniques and contrasting styles (from the Flamenco to the Zarzuela, from the Fandango to the harsh sounds ‘sul ponte’ to imitations of birds, etc). …”

In the first movement, Mr Sollima, stood and carried his cello around the stage, whilst continuing to play, a kind of ‘dance’, the sound projecting out into the auditorium from a moving, changing dimension, that created a dis-orienting, but, mesmerising tension with the orchestra and the audience’s reception of the music. The third movement used pre-recorded spoken text from the diary of Giacomo Casanova about the nature of the fandango, whilst the last movement quoted a melody sung by the late African musician, Gilbert Diop Abdourahmane. Mr Sollima continued the phenomenal commitment to the virtuosities of his inspired playing: it was undoubtedly a contemporary and thrilling work and performance. Unforgettable, really. Inspiring, for me.

After the interval, Mr Sollima and the ACO gave the Cello Concerto in C major, Hob.VIIb:1 (composed 1761-65) by Franz Joseph Haydn. In the program notes by James Cuddeford we are told:

“The exact number of the concertos that Haydn composed during his long career (b.1732-d.1809) … is not certain. Many are now lost, though we know of their existence due to the composer noting them in his own catalogue of works. The Cello Concerto in C major was also presumed lost until the parts were discovered in the Prague National Museum as recently as 1961. … (Haydn’s) thorough knowledge of the cello’s capabilities and range of expression is clearly evident throughout the C major Concerto. The famous finale contains extended periods of brilliant upper-register passagework that emphasise the physical and virtuosic nature of the cellist’s performance. Contrastingly, the central slow movement has the character of an Italian operatic aria, complete with a sustained introductory note from the soloist that traditionally displays vocal, or in this case, bow, control.”

Mr Sollima continued the impression of his passion and skill. Oddly, after the first half of the concert, this work, and the String Quartet in F minor by Giuseppe Verdi (Composed 1873), which concluded the program, were in the concert experience for me, anti-climatic in affect. The order of playing seemed, uncharacteristically to the general expertise of the ACO programming, mistaken, in its aural build and reward.

Still, a concert of note. I was grateful to have Mr Tognetti back on stage. With due respect to the other leaders of the orchestra, I noted a disciplined thrill from his leadership of this combination of ACO musicians, that is not always, otherwise present, without him. Bravo.