Bravo: director and violinist Richard Tognetti AO, revealed his great wisdom by choosing a trio of master works by eighteenth century Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) for his 25-year celebration as artistic director with the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) and 40 years from when it was founded.
Since Tognetti’s arrival the ACO has burned brightly on both the national and international firmament. His endless energy, ingenuity and innovative never resting on his laurels approach, as well as his considerable style has reaped many rewards, not only for audiences around the world privileged to hear them play, but also for the man himself for whom music is integral to life.
The ACO is made up of solo musicians who while able to stand alone when the music demands it, blend together with indestructibly beautiful harmony and grace, ensuring it is as thrilling for the audience to watch them, as it is to listen to their exquisite playing.
Following a performance heard in the United Kingdom in 2011 Andrew Clements, musical reporter for The Guardian said of the ACO ‘If there’s a better chamber orchestra in the world today, I haven’t heard it’. Indeed.
At the time Clements had just enjoyed a program with one of the last three stunning Symphonies, composed by Mozart, that I enjoyed for the celebratory afternoon concert at Hamer Hall in the arts precinct of Melbourne on Sunday October 4, 2015.
The concert provided all the animated people around me with a pure, exhilarating feeling of joy. Mozart’s Symphony No.39 in E-Flat Major, K.543, followed by the Symphony No.40 in G Minor, K.550 and then after interval, the Symphony No.41 in C, K.551 titled celestially ‘Jupiter’, were originally part of the program the year Richard Tognetti was appointed leader
Collectively they reflect Mozart truly was a creative genius, one who immersed in music all day ever day was powerfully proactive, always moving relentlessly forward towards a brighter future punctuated by beautiful sounds.
For him composition was an expression of a life well lived and in the last three symphonies composed he reaches a pinnacle of achievement, producing undoubtedly the richest music expression of his optimism, exuberance and contrapuntal mastery;
Mozart’s works have always had a stylistic unity to admire, and in this trio his poetic thought is converted into a sublime musical experience by Richard Tognetti leading the ACO.
He does not have a solo in any of these works, he’s one of the ensemble. While his nervous energy may be more in control now than 25 years ago, what is still evident from the moment he arrives on stage is his star quality; it glows like a golden radiance from within.
Resonating superbly with tonal strength, in the ACO’s hands and under Tognetti’s leadership, the symphonies provided an opportunity for a powerhouse performance that was sensitively rendered, exquisitely played and all in all pure magic; mere words fail.
Tognetti leads the playing with empathetic emotive power, ensuring the ACO give a transcendent masterful star studded performance. They made it easy to understand why composer and influential music critic Robert Schumann believed Mozart had secured an eternal position within the realm of the masters, especially with the ‘Jupiter’.
This trio of works chosen by Tognetti encompassed a wide range of sentiments, while being non-conformist, with festive flourishes; they are punctuated by radiant optimism. The audience packing the three tiered Hamer Hall at Melbourne, which holds over 2,400+ people, who were indeed all very appreciative; providing a standing ovation and thunderous applause.
The works are also an enigma; scholars undecided on why these three were written in only six weeks June to August 1788 without a commission being recorded. Today this trio is considered at the pinnacle of Mozartean chamber music.
Commencing with pure drama, the Symphony No 39 in E Flat Major is a work that is both happy and proud. With an exalted slow beginning that is very intense, it then flows over into very calm, beautiful, quite breathtaking moments in the Andante second movement, which makes your heart stand still.
Tremendous blocks of emotion in the Menuetto and Trio Allegretto follow with an attractive dialogue going on between the strings and woodwind, which is entirely mesmerizing. Mozart ensured his work and his player’s creativity shine through in an Allegro finale full of pathos.
Passionate and plaintive, the Symphony No 40 is one of Mozart’s most recognisable. Full of passion and drama, discordant, wild and wonderful all at the same time, no wonder many call it Mozart’s perfect musical work.
Playing this Tognetti was like a musician at the coalface; fiercely fabulous as he plugged into the haunting beauty Mozart instilled in this work with the very fine interplay between cello, flute and horns.
It was all so extremely elegant it made you ache with the beauty of it all.
Broad and rich, vigorous and lively, the musically complex finale Mozart’s Jupiter named for the chief God in the Roman Pantheon, was superbly rendered, its ‘fugal coda’, the hallmark of the piece, dazzling us all with its ingenuity showcased by the player’s virtuosity.
Equilibrium, crystalline transparency and profound harmonies are the hallmarks of this magical trio of Mozart compositions. The 40 is packed full of good humour and while both exuberant and energetic, it is also on a grand scale much like the style known as Baroque style before this classic; of renowned excellence.
Seriously superb, from its commanding opening, the lyrical mixture of themes captivate, the slow movement surely one of his most sensual. It is at the high water mark of eighteenth century instrumental music and its different moods and aspirations.
Richard Tognetti has the right to feel pleased with his achievements. He truly is a ‘first among equals’ leader and completely in tune with the composers whose work he interprets whether period or contemporary.
His leadership is youthfully abundant, defined by a touching humility. Totally in tune with his fellow players with whom he has complete empathy, he is always focusing on the listener’s experience.
His vitality and ability to keep the whole group flexible and open to suggestions over his 25 year with the ACO has allowed everyone involved in this organisation from patrons to sponsors, from administrators to production people, players and participants enjoy the ride right along with him.
For those who have witnessed the ACO’s performances, they know when encountering Tognetti they have been in the presence of a spirit whose blazing natural talent marks him as an imaginative musician of exceptional skill; highly original, a one off!
In the news packed brochure the ACO thankfully distribute to those who purchase tickets to their concerts gratis, there is an interview with Richard Tognetti that makes delightful reading as he looks back on his 25 years with Mozart’s Last Symphonies.
He comments ‘…one thing you get with Mozart, and no other Composer comes close, is dancing on your own joy’.
He must have been tap dancing furiously afterwards.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015
Images courtesy Australian Chamber Orchestra – ACO