This well-constructed program of mostly Mozart presented the audience with a wonderful exploration of the “Sturm und Drang” style, while also allowing the Australian Chamber Orchestra to play to its considerable strengths in the works of the classical era. Scored for horns and oboes (and occasionally bassoons) these works luxuriate in a burnished, dark mahogany sound world that has ready appeal.
Bookending the concert were symphonies in the “storm and stress” idiom. Haydn’s Symphony No 39 in G Minor nicknamed “Tempesta di mare” (Sea Storm) opened proceedings while Mozart’s Symphony No 25, K. 183 in the same key gave the concert a dramatic finale.
Haydn’s symphony is a study in contrasts, a point not lost on the orchestra, particularly in the outer movements. Spiky rhythms and sudden dynamic contrasts brought the tempestuous musical scene to life in the first movement, even if there were occasional moments during the symphony that were seasoned with inconsistent intonation in the first violins. The ensuing Andante and Menuet and Trio again brought further well-judged contrasts of mood before the orchestra launched a surprise attack on the finale from the Trio of the third movement. The ACO’s trademark driving energy took no prisoners in the work’s final pages.
Dejan Lazić. Photo © Susie Knoll
Croatian pianist and composer, Dejan Lazić then joined the orchestra for two works, the first of which was his own concertante arrangement of the third movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in B Flat Major, K. 333. In its original guise this movement is somewhat unusual, for it contains a cadenza, a feature normally reserved only to concertos. Lazić’s reimagining of how the movement would work in a concertante setting is entirely sympathetic and beautifully balanced between the orchestra and the solo instrument.
Lazić is clearly a natural in Mozart, bringing admirable clarity to his playing. His spiderlike fingers roam over the keys with great precision, producing a warm but never overstated tone. After this Rondo Concertante came Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 14 in E Flat Major, K. 449. The ACO was a model of accompanimental decorum, providing plenty of propulsion and drama in the outer movements, and unobtrusively supporting the piano’s expansive, aria-like utterances in the central Andantino. Lazić was never less than elegant throughout. His first-movement cadenza was stylish and stylistic and he brought plenty of poised bravura to the finale, vividly characterising its various episodes.
Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Photo © Nic Walker
After interval, Artistic Director Richard Tognetti featured as soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 3 in G Major, K. 183. This is clearly a work that Tognetti knows and loves well – and it showed. The initial Allegro impressed with its bucolic swagger and brio, which was enforced by Tognetti pacing the stage at first to make sure his players got the message. The upbeat mood was maintained through the second thematic subject group, the soloist adopting a straightforward approach to this material. A harmonically interesting cadenza with some impressive double trills brought the first movement to a satisfying close.
One of the composer’s classic “swoon” pieces, the central Adagio was given suitably languorous treatment, although Tognetti brought some interesting touches to his delivery, tending to eschew vibrato but still allowing himself the occasional old-fashioned sliding portamento. His soft playing here was exemplary. There was plenty of energy and joy in the rustic finale where all the various episodes of the Rondeau were given colourful treatment. Both Tognetti and the audience were pleased with the result.
Coming full circle, the program returned to the opening key of G minor for Mozart’s Symphony No 25, which had been inspired by the Haydn symphony heard at the beginning. Tognetti and his players quickly settled down to work, giving a no-nonsense account of the opening Allegro con brio. The gentle alternation of strings with bassoons in the second movement was beguiling, and the wind choir in the Trio of the third movement displayed the same commendable qualities they had demonstrated throughout the concert: unanimity in tuning, beautifully lyrical tone and well-considered ensemble. A final burst of drama featuring the horns brought the symphony to an emphatic end, all too soon.
This well-conceived and executed program speaks eloquently of the ACO’s core strengths.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Celebrating Mozart tours nationally until September 17