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Haydn and Italian Cello

Hamer Hall
05/04/2014 -  & April 12 (Canberra), 13 (Sydney), 14 (Brisbane), 16 (Perth), 28 (Newcastle), 29, 30, May, 2, 3 (Sydney), 5 (Melbourne), 6 (Adelaide), 2014
Ottorino Respighi: Ancient Airs and Dances: Suite 3
Luigi Boccherini: Cello Concerto in G major, G.480
Giovanni Sollima: L.B. Files (Australian Premiere)
Josef Haydn: Cello Concerto in C major, Hob.VIIb/1
Giuseppe Verdi: String Quartet in E Minor (arr. for string orchestra)

Giovanni Sollima (Cello)
The Australian Chamber Orchestra, Richard Tognetti (Director & Lead Violin)

G. Sollima (© Gian Maria Musarra)

The magnitude, quality and precision of sound made by only fifteen players of the Australian Chamber Orchestra in this concert program is inspirational. Fresh from an unusual tour of North America which included residency in Banff, performances in New York and workshops in Chicago, the ACO lead by Director Richard Tognetti again present an eclectic program this time featuring the Australian debut performances of Italian cellist Giovanni Sollima.

Italy provides us with not only the soloist but the inspiration for the opening and final works in this program as well as the Australian premiere of Sollima’s L.B. Files. The vision is soon widened however to take in Spain during Boccherini’s residence in Madrid and Haydn at Eisenstadt with the cello remaining the focus throughout.

Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances: Suite 3 opened the program. Drawn from the composer’s early studies and reflective of his research into Italy’s forgotten ancient music, this selection from 1932 is gently lyrical and evocates a romantic interpretation of the early works. With much of the source music drawn from the 16th and 17th centuries, these pieces speak of Respighi’s interest to reincarnate the melodies in his own lyrical and harmonious manner. The performance was elegant and smooth. Tognetti’s lead gave way to each of the other string sections stating the melody and rejoining to a harmonious and graceful denouement.

Boccherini’s delicate Cello Concerto No.3 was a brilliant introduction to the skills of Giovanni Sollima. It gave insight into not only his style and technique but also to his totally infectious passion for the music. The gentleness of the opening movement allowed glimpses of Mr Sollima’s enthusiasm but the glorious second slow movement enabled us to hear and see his love for his instrument, the whole ensemble and the art of performance. He keeps constant eye contact with the orchestra (who stand in the trade mark style of the ACO), smiling and gesturing, and frequently during rests, hugging his instrument. These gestures warmed the audience to his performance and then there is the genuinely virtuosic manner of his playing. Rich complex passages are articulated with total clarity, soaring upper register notes rise above the ensemble and throughout, a sense of the sunniness and brilliance of the writing pervades. The cadenzas in this piece and the later Haydn are gorgeous: brief insights into Mr Sollima’s style and sensitivity to the text.

Having been introduced to the romantic Respighi and then seduced by Boccherini’s Baroque and Classical references, the inclusion of Mr Sollima’s 2005 seemed incongruous. Titled L.B. Files it was first played at a festival celebrating Boccherini’s work. In Solima’s words, it is a story: “The life of Boccherini, an Italian from Lucca who emigrated to Spain and ended his days in the most absolute poverty.”

This piece is a conscious drive to explore the extent of the cello’s capabilities; every possible variation on sound is employed to see just how far this instrument can go as the solo voice articulating the story. There are references to birdsong, the sounds of a city, quietly reflective countryside and frenetic dancing and singing. Electronic sound is incorporated into two of the sections when we hear first a female voice introducing us to the Fandango and then a quote from African musician Gilbert Diop Abdourahmane. Mr Sollima even walks about carrying and playing his cello simultaneously. His lightning-fast playing, wild enthusiasm and vocal interjections captivated and enthralled the audience. Far from being an incongruity, this piece was the star of the show and was met with wild acclamation.

Returning from interval and with the cheering, stamping and whistling of applause for the first half of the program still ringing in the hall, Mr Sollima and the ACO played the Haydn Concerto in C. If the Boccherini piece was light and beautiful, this piece was elegant and refined but both were exquisitely detailed and fragile. Haydn’s knowledge of the possibilities for this instrument is evident in the writing. The tutti of the opening movement calls for precision and restraint from the ensemble and in the second Adagio movement we hear the sustained notes and the considered, intellectualised appreciation of the solo instrument. The cadenzas were soaring declarations of reverence for the style and understanding Haydn had for this instrument. The final movement was breath-taking for the rapid-fire virtuosic passages, the dazzling upper register playing and the elegant incorporation of the solo instrument into the ensemble in the finale. Again, the audience reaction verged on hysteria and Mr. Sollima responded very warmly to a rapturous reception.

To be left without the soloist who had been so hugely embraced was a wrench for the audience, but the concert concluded with an evocative reading of an arrangement of Verdi’s only work for string quartet. The four part piece showed again the quality of sound, the contrasts of light and shade and the widely ranging repertoire of this orchestra.

This concert was a thrilling experience. A much loved ensemble, a dazzling soloist and an intriguing program.

Gregory Pritchard



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