Review: Australian Chamber Orchestra at Milton Court, London

Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra together tore a satisfying strip through otherwise familiar concert experiences in London, with their fierce energy, raw expression, and enviable stamina.

The band was it’s most electric when they were most pared back. Here the ensemble demonstrated terrifying precision. Extreme dynamic contrasts – sometimes within the bar – made good use of the generous acoustic, raising the heart rate in the process. 

Tognetti’s inventive arrangement of the Ricecare from Bach’s Musical Offering had mystical touches and unexpected moments of whimsy. CPE Bach’s B minor Sinfonia was fierce but maintained the attention to stark dynamic contrast demonstrated at the opening of the concert.

Michael Atkinson’s arrangement of Sufjan Stevens’ Run Rabbit Run suite was an exhilarating tour de force under the fingers of the ACO who let rip in a high octane, sometimes even frenetic, rendition. Newcomers to the live classical scene should start with their journey listening to the ACO playing this work, then go on sit quietly in dark room to recover. This was a blistering performance.

There were momentary slips in the ensemble during Beethoven’s ‘Ah! perfido‘, though soprano Nicole Carr’s bright tone touched the heart and tickled the tear ducts. Similarly, the swelled ranks of the ACO brought challenges to the ensemble during the second half Verdi excerpts. It didn’t detract from the wonder especially, it just that expectations had been set rather high during the first half. 

On the Milton Court stage the increased numbers of players did make the band look like the impatient passengers on Lewisham High Street waiting for the delayed 181 bus home, but the pay off was worth it. Bartok’s Divertimento was an intense beast, with an all-enveloping hug throughout from a rich meaty bass section, and relentless sometimes venmous attack from the upper strings. There were moments when things almost things teetered on the edge of oblivion. Delicious.

Amid all of this it would have been understandable if the selected Guildhall School musicians were left behind in a cloud of dust. They weren’t by any means, making this performance all the more incredible.

Special nod to the principal clarinet in the Beethoven whose tone and legato was ravishing. I admire your accomplishment. I’m also seething with jealousy. 

The Austrlian Chamber Orchestra return for the second year of their Barbican residency next year. 

Listen to Richard Tognetti in a Thoroughly Good Podcast recorded at the Barbican in October 2018.

Pictures: Nic Walker / Australian Chamber Orchestra

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