Avi Avital, Australian Brandenburg: Haunting Art of Mandolin

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avital-bestFull of Baroque exuberance and beyond magic, the sheer brilliance of the five star performance by mandolinist Avi Avital and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO) in the acoustically superb Elisabeth Murdoch Recital Hall in Melbourne on Saturday night November 5, 2016 will remain indelibly etched in many minds.

Combining verve with action, Avi Avital is a charismatic much in demand rock star mandolinist, who is electrifying to watch in concert as he coaxes his especially crafted Mandolin to reveal its beautiful tone colours and inspirational distinctive sound.

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Paul Dyer on Harpsichord and Avi Avital on Mandolin, Elizabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre, Saturday November 5, 2016 photo by Steven Godbee

Showcasing his sweet sensitivity, dexterity and dazzling virtuosity through deft and faultless fingering, Avi Avital completely mesmerized us all with the magic of his playing.

Paul Dyer introducing guest of honour mandolinist Avi Avital, Elizabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre, Saturday November 5, 2016 photo by Steven Godbee

Paul Dyer introducing guest of honour mandolinist Avi Avital, Elizabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre, Saturday November 5, 2016 photo by Steven Godbee

Addictively wonderful, Israeli born Berlin based musician Avi Avital returned ‘on demand’ to be guest soloist for the second time with the ABO led by its artistic director Paul Dyer AO. 

He introduced his special guest to those who hadn’t seen his first performances with the Brandenburg in 2014 when Avi Avital and the ABO together first took us on a Bach Baroque rocket ship ride.

abo-15As Dyer predicted once again, Avi Avital together with the ABO ‘catapulted us all into a completely different stratosphere’ in 2016, by bridging the gap between the classical bright Baroque music by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) with some extraordinarily rare compositions as well as the earthy, lusty tones of folk music.

It takes a special musician to inspire their colleagues so succinctly and it was wonderful to watch as ABO musicians brought their considerable expertise to bear, lending support unconditionally to a young man they clearly all admire.

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The ABO in ensemble mode; Elizabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre, Saturday November 5, on Violin Matt Bruce, Ben Dollman, Rafael Font,  Matt Greco, on Viola Monique O’Dea, Cello Jamie Hey and Rob Nairn on Double Bass. 2016, photo by Steven Godbee

For this concert the ABO was in intimate salon mode with Paul Dyer on Harpsichord leading an ensemble of eight string musicians; on Violin Matt Bruce, Catherine Shugg, Ben Dollman, Matthew Greco and Rafael Font, on Viola Monique O’Dea, Cello Jamie Hey and Rob Nairn on Double Bass.

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On Viola Monique O’Dea, Rob Nairn on Double Bass and Jamie Hey on cello. 2016, photo by Steven Godbee

The setting on stage was a delightful surprise; reminiscent of a Moroccan Lounge, created by a diverse group of lanterns overhead, a misty atmosphere and twinkling floor lights, produced by Rob Dyball and Shannon O’Hara, with lighting designer Peter Rubie, it ensured a delightful ambiance for the program to come.

First up the ABO musicians performed the Concerto for Strings in C major, RV 110 by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) and it was a decisive first strike.

From the outset Assistant Concertmaster Matt Bruce leading the strings was on the tip of his toes and form, as indeed were all of his companions.

They vigorously delivered the energetic first Allegro in stunning style, with the Largo creating a quiet reflective bridge to the second stirring Allegro, which ended crisply and resolutely.

Avi Avital arrived on stage looking a picture of sartorial elegance with a superbly cut suit that suited his lithe body superbly, plus my companion’s favourite, his highly polished patent leather shoes. Sitting on his stool elevated at the front of the stage, he performed all night long without music, a phenomenal feat in itself.

Avi Avital on stage with musicians of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, photo by Steven Godbee

Avi Avital on stage in Melbourne Recital Centre with musicians of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, photo by Steven Godbee

Responding with his whole body to both the beauty and energy of the works, he charmed, emoted and entertained us all as he first performed the Concerto in A minor, RV 356 from a collection of twelve works L’estro Armonico (Harmonic Inspiration) composed in 1711 by Vivaldi, which he had arranged for Mandolin.

The Largo, the second movement was truly exquisite; subtle, and with a refinement that was quite simply breathtaking.

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On Violin Matt Bruce, Catherine Shugg, Ben Dollman, Matt Greco with Paul Dyer on Harpsichord, Melbourne Recital Centre November 5, 2016, photo by Steven Godbee

The Concerto Grosso in A Minor, Op 7, No 11, by Giuseppe Valentini (1681-1753) a notable poet and keyboard specialist, was a premiere piece for the ABO.

A perfectly played scintillating symphony of silhouette, colour, and texture, this was a truly bravura performance with the final two movements presenting four of the violins as a passionate fresco of dramatic contrasts.

They passed the harmonious tune from one to the other as a piece of lyrical poetry of sound in the serious Grave movement, and with unrestrained glamour in the lively, final, fiery fast Allegro.

The final piece on the first half was something very special.

Avi Avital arrived back on stage to present Six Miniatures on Georgian Folk Themes for Mandolin and Strings composed by Sulkhan Tsintsadze (1925-1991) one of Georgia’s foremost composers of the twentieth century.

This wonderful compilation of very different pieces was an exotic rarity of great clarity and heartfelt sounds, the captivating folksongs reminding us all of what is good about life. A completely different mindset for the ABO musicians who would have loved the challenge I am sure. Such stunning works.

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Sulkhan Tsintsadze was himself a cellist, and here Australia’s pre-eminent period cellist Jamie Hey shone brightly, especially in the Sachidao, a movement inspired by ‘wrestling’.

He and Avital perfectly complimented each other as they sparred together. The essentially Baroque audience loved every minute of this highlight, and were uplifting and full of praise through their applause.

Avi Avital with his youthful eloquence is at that point in musical history where he has brought the head, hand and heart back to the fore with his haunting art of mandolin.

abo-2In the foyer at interval the buzz was audible, as everyone expressed they’re view on what had already gone down. “Is the best yet to come”, one woman behind me asked as we took the escalators back upstairs for round two?

Everyone was indeed animated on their return to the auditorium and it took a few minutes to settle before Avi Avital once more confidently arrived centre stage, where he would stay for the whole second half bringing much warmth and mandolin wizardry into the equation.

The first was Vivaldi’s Mandolin Concerto in C Major RV 425 often played in the composer’s lifetime as a prelude to his famous ‘Four Seasons’ as it was here when the ABO presented Avital’s sublime arrangement of Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor RV 315, Summer

abo-8Full of clearly etched textures, imaginative phrasing and dynamic harmonies and with its great stormy climax, it radiated warmth much needed here in Victoria, where the hint of its presence in Spring is eluding us so far.

In between them both was the marvellous Mandolin Concerto in E flat Major composed by Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816), which was all delight.

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Before he started playing Avital stepped out to engage us all by giving us a humorous lowdown on the difference between the aesthetics of music as enjoyed by the Venetians and Neopolitans, which are poles apart.

Throughout the evening Avital’s love of glorious music shone through with this stunning concert with the ABO which catered for his different musical style preferences.

It is easy to see that each for all sorts of reasons has very deep meaning for the young man, who started playing the Mandolin when he was eight years old three decades ago.

abo-3But there was more. Two encores, including the one those who had attended his first ABO concert in 2014 wanted to hear again; the Bulgarian traditional tune ‘Bucimis’.

This extraordinary piece of music which builds in continuing momentum to a Dervish like fever pitch, providing an endorphin rush if ever there was one, showcasing his complete mastery of the mandolin with soul searching sounds of great beauty and intensity.

abo-4The audience stood as one to show their acclamation and in the foyer afterwards there he was, happily signing CD’s having selfie’s and photos with overwhelmed fans.

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Avi Avital may be like a big kid with his enthusiasm, however he is a pure professional in his magical mastery of music for the Mandolin. With his generous giving nature he clearly ups the ante wherever he plays, no wonder orchestras all around the world are clamouring to have him as their special guest.

Having downloaded three of his albums, Avi Avital, Avi Avital Plays Bach and Avi Avital Between Worlds as I stand here listening to them while writing this review, I have discovered that they each share a distinguishing feature; they present singly as the most perfect pearl held closest to his heart.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

Images of Melbourne Concert: Courtesy Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, photos by Steven Godbee

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016

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