Australian Chamber Orchestra
Alina Ibragimova, Guest Director & Violin
Sunday 18 March 2018
My mate Ian had heard Seraphim Trio.
“Do they have other jobs?” he asked.
“Well,” I expertly replied, “take my mate Tim. He plays rank-and-file with the Sydney Symphony, he teaches at Sydney Con, he plays with the Sydney Soloists and Sonus Quartet. Seraphim takes up a lot of time when they are on tour up and down Eastern Australia. As well, he gets an occasional call from the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The present ACO tour involves him playing Newcastle-Canberra-Melbourne-Sydney-Melbourne-Sydney for a couple of weeks. Somewhere in all that there’s a concert-standard viola-playing wife and a couple of nippers.”
The call from ACO meant he had to be absolutely note-perfect – ie know the program more or less from memory – before the first rehearsal: Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in C minor, (which was new to him and, presumably, the rest of the gang) Arvo Pärt’s Silouan’s Song and Franz Schubert’s String Quartet in D minor ‘Death and the Maiden’ arranged for string orchestra.
Tim might be able to hide in the ten cellos of the SSO but in the Seraphim Trio any cello problems are down to him. Alone. On Sunday afternoon he was one of three ACO cellos in a total of 17 strings so a mistake of any sort – note, timing, dynamics – shows. He was totally focussed and played superbly. In that respect Tim was typical of the ACO gang on the stage of Hamer Hall.
Their playing was meticulous: the phrase entries and exits (without a bloke in a bow tie up front) were precise but warm – except in Hartmann’s concerto. It was clear that each player had the arch of each phrase in their head before their bow touched the string. Each player had the same vision but the vision was organic – far from mechanical – and capable of evolution as the first chairs responded to the leader, Alina Ibragimova.
I’d gone to hear Tim play ‘the Maiden’ and discovered Herr Hartmann. His was a stunning concerto written in 1939 and revised in 1959. The music overflows with the intellectual and spiritual hopelessness of the period but the chorales of the outer movements were written as expressions of hope. So the piece demands huge understanding and high energy. It got it from the soloist, Alina Ibragimova, and the other 16 players. They gave it a whole body approach that made the listening disturbing, exhilarating and, sometimes, exultant. It was not easy to listen to – it demanded concentration – but it gave me a ‘Wow!’ and ‘I want to hear it again’.
|Alina Ibragimova demonstrating it is possible to play a classical (or period) violin without black dress.|
Part II: I hadn’t re-read the program so it took me a while to realise what I was listening to. I’m not a big Arvo Pärt fan but when ‘the Maiden’ began, the programming made excellent sense. The harsh, sometimes anharmonic Hartmann concerto gave way to Pärt then Schubert and my Prussian-ish genes were massaged; they approved.
‘Death and the Maiden’ was the real danger territory for this gang. Most of the audience knew it, some very well. It was a scaled up from string quartet version and its playing needed to retain the delicacy and transparency of the original quartet. The ACO did just that with delicacy, lightness of touch and incredible knife-edge-accuracy. They played with a high musicality that put Schubert in the centre of the performance: his pathos, his anguish and his little specks of joy. Tognetti’s arrangement reverted to quartet at times and the full orchestra re-appearances were gentle and seamless every time. Occasional vibrato-less playing simply heightened the tension the music created. For my ears the brilliant, absolutely precise Presto movement was an absolute stand-out. So often orchestral strings in this city go to mush when they play very fast. When did you last hear the Allegro con brio movement of Beethoven 7 played with absolute clarity?
|Play it faster, boys. Bugger the clarity.|
Thankfully, there was no encore.
But I wondered … was the lone double bass (who was magnificent) rank and file or first chair? Did he get the first chair fee? Never upset the tympani; never upset the bass. They can bugger the tempo at will and there’s not a hell of a lot the conductor can do about it. In this performance he was but one of a collection of stunning musicians.
This concert/recital was among the best I’ve ever heard – world-wide.
Even in rehearsal, Bloody brilliant![Tim cello at 0:29]