The Australian Chamber Orchestra augmented its forces for its final concert of the year.
It roughly doubled the size of the strings and added wind, brass and percussion, and crowded the chamber-music sized stage of the City Recital Hall with 52 players, about three times its normal capacity, for Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 in G major, Opus 88.
The effect was thrilling but the bulking up was not primarily aimed at emulating a full symphony orchestra, which would have used 70 to 80 players and, in any case, has a different sound ideal which strives towards collective vigour and symphonic blend.
By contrast, the ACO aspires towards a leaner tone built from the energised engagement of each individual instrumentalist and this aesthetic ideal is present even when playing as a larger group.
Led by the soloists, violinist Richard Tognetti, cellist Timo-Veikko Valve and first violinist Helena Rathbone, the ACO began Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, Opus 102 with a tempo of weighty seriousness, and avoided indulgent tempo changes.
The expressive element instead focused on tone, shape and fidelity to idea. The second movement, Andante, had a welcome forward-moving quality, finding variety in tonal variation and melodic shape and the last movement was spurred by sinewy vitality.
Valve’s playing was warmly coloured, while Tognetti’s had astringent sweetness and clarity.
A highlight of Dvorak’s symphony after interval, conducted by Tognetti, was the distinctive colour of the woodwind playing, particularly in the second and last movement, with comely, rounded-edged flute tone (on wooden flute) from Sally Walker.
Dvorak’s finale begins with trumpet fanfare, a moment anticipated at the start of the concert with Andrew Ford’s Fanfare for Neverland for solo trumpet played with brilliant control by Visa Haarala.
Starting with short, initially tentative, rhythmic and pitch motives, the work opens out progressively into the instrument’s higher regions as though learning to fly.
Gran Turismo by American composer Andrew Norman, which followed without a break, was a frenetic tour de force of ensemble playing led by Satu Vanska, driven by video-game hyperactivity and frantic, motoric bowing constantly threatened by swerving textures and new meters that appeared from nowhere.