There was excitement mixed with a little trepidation in the decision to review this concert. The question was, could there be anything new to hear in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, or was the Australian Chamber Orchestra somewhat lazily building a program around music that consistently turns up in “Top Ten” charts of classical favourites?
Sinfini’s Andrew Mellor believes that what sets Vivaldi’s Four Seasons apart from other works by that composer or his contemporaries and, indeed, anything that went before the Baroque, is the “musical description” throughout the four concertos – from birdsong to sliding on the ice. If so, then the logic of the ACO’s recent partnering with the composer and oud player, Joseph Tawadros, becomes apparent. More than that, the result was inspired, delivering a concert that showed the best of (Middle) East meets West. The program is worth studying for its juxtaposition of the Vivaldi concertos that comprise the whole of the Four Seasons, with other Baroque pieces and the evocatively named Tawadros pieces.
GABRIELI Sonata XXI ‘con tre violini’
VIVALDI Spring (from The Four Seasons), Op.8, No.1
TAWADROS Sleight of Hand
VIVALDI Summer (from The Four Seasons), Op.8, No.2
TAWADROS Eye of the Beholder
VIVALDI Concerto per la solennità di s. Lorenzo, RV562: II. Grave
VIVALDI Concerto for Violin in A minor, RV356, Op.3, No.6: III. Presto
TAWADROS Permission to Evaporate
TAWADROS Give or Take
VIVALDI Autumn (from The Four Seasons), Op.8, No.3
MARCELLO Sinfonia (from Il pianto e il riso delle quattro stagioni): II. Andante
TAWADROS Point of Departure
VIVALDI Winter (from The Four Seasons), Op.8, No.4
Violinist Richard Tognetti directed the ACO which was joined by Joseph Tawadros and his brother James Tawadros playing percussion – specifically Egyptian tambourine (req) and frame drum (bendir). Harpsichordist Neal Peres Da Costa and master of the theorbo, Tommie Andersson, complemented the ensemble throughout the program, with the theorbo often in tandem with the oud. This, and the integration of the req into the rhythm of the baroque works, made the unselfconscious point that music of different cultures and times can be interrelated, a point well made in Tognetti’s program notes.
As for the sound: simply a delight, from the spare, gentle Gabrieli that opened the program to the showpiece, Constantinople, that ended it. Beginning with an exciting, fast oud solo from Tawadros this work grew to embrace all players, evoking the rush and sounds of a bustling city. In an inspired piece of programming it followed Vivaldi’s “Winter”, its almost discordant, scratchy string sound interspersed with brilliant playing by Tognetti, and encompassing req, oud and theorbo in the famous bursts of sound that characterise all four of the Seasons concertos.
Among the many highlights of the night were Marcello’s Andante, unexpectedly with celeste effects from the organ – and a showpiece for theorbo and oud with a dextrous solo from Joseph Tawadros against a soft strings sound. James Tawadros had earlier dazzled in Permission, at speed and drawing a range of sounds from the req. The rhythmic intensity was worthy of Vivaldi, the hypnotic effect reminiscent of Steve Reich!
Sleight of Hand began with a bass solo, inevitably raising expectations of jazz. The piece quickly gathered momentum, however, with strings, oud and req all playing apace. The oud deservedly became the focus of the piece as the string sound swirled about it, and the req stressed the rhythm. Audience and players alike appeared to relish the middle-eastern inspiration of the piece, right up to its bravura finish.
Joseph Tawadros immediately had to change focus as Vivaldi’s “Summer” saw him given a solo role in the first movement, the theorbo and req also complementing the ACO strings and showing how even the very familiar can become excitingly new. Having said that, it’s true that the concerto was equally notable for Tognetti’s lyrical violin in the second movement and those shimmering tutti passages that do much for the continued popularity of Vivaldi’s work. In the final movement, the oud at times directly echoed the lead violin – and both were enhanced.
There are many ways to write about this concert. Of course, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was at its heart, and one could simply applaud the imaginative programming that separated the four concertos and the East-meets-West focus. In the prevailing political climate, it is almost irresistible to comment (as Tognetti reminds us) on the ties that bind cultures, rather than separating them.
More conventionally (albeit importantly) one could concentrate on the instrumentation of the works and how beautifully and aptly the “exotic” instruments complemented those in this fine chamber orchestra. The quality of the performances was a given.
So I will simply thank Richard Tognetti, Joseph Tawadros and all involved in giving us such a wonderful concert. Classic Melbourne does not “rate” performances but if we did, this would have to be five stars. And then some.