Words and photography by Darren Tynan
Commemorating the ANZAC Day centenary, ACO2, the Australian Chamber Orchestra's 'precocious little sister', displayed their musical prowess last night, and there were times when I felt the hairs on my neck bristling from the performances.
Director and Lead Violinist, Helena Rathbone, wove intricate melodies alongside the talented ensemble of ACO2 Emerging Artists. Featuring a rich and thoughtful Program, harmonic territory spanned Peter Sculthorpe's Port Essington - a work of six sections telling the story of the attempted settlement of the port, in Australia's northern coast, to Elegy for String Orchestra, composed originally for cello and piano and subsequently adapted to string quartet by American composer Elliot Carter.
The pensive passages that rang out across the theatre were potent and beautiful. I loved the opening piece, the emotive Port Essington. Composer Sculthorpe characterises the Australian bush and the settlement of the port in a tension-filled dialogue between string sections. The solitary pluck of a bass provided dramatic contrast, as if an uncanny imposition that represented the inability for soldiers of the garrison to adapt to the 'peculiar condition of the land' during the first abandoned attempt of the port's settlement in 1824. At one point, the building tension of violins (the quintessential sound of suspense and horror) seemed almost unbearable, and the way in which the ensemble played through the themes always kept me poised and interested, and were well dramatised through peculiar and interesting motifs.
Fredrick Septimus Kelly's Elegy for Strings 'In Memoriam Rupert Brooke' was also played with specific commemorative interest to the World War I. Sydney-born Kelly wrote the elegy as a poignant testament to his close friendship with poet Rupert Brook, who served in the Royal Navy Division and died of a blood infection in April 1915 before reaching Gallipoli. The shifting musical landscape had a phantasmal and eerie quality as characterized by Brooke's poem, I strayed about the deck, an hour tonight: "Perishing things and strange ghosts--soon to die To other ghosts--this one, or that, or I".
ACO2 also treated us to Johann Bach's Violin Concerto in A Minor - the Venetian-style concerto provided plenty of virtuosic wiggle room for Ms Rathbone and her gorgeous 1759 Guadagnini violin. One can appreciate the intricacy of solo violin melodies that playfully communicate with the orchestra during the lively opening Allegro, and the beautifully circular ritornello-style close, wherein melodic passages repeat return, but with different keys.
Considering the theme of the program, the ensemble reflected emotions which ran parallel. I just love the soulfulness and expressive capacity of violin, juxtaposed with the untouchable warmth of the cello's baritone range. Rapid arpeggio bursts expressed drama and chaos while soft trills brought a sense of melodic unity and sweetness to the stage. Seeing ACO2 was definitely a worthwhile experience - I left the theatre contemplating these morphing landscapes that stirred to life from stillness, cacophonies of war cries contrasted with a glow of hope and redemption, the raging struggle and triumphant continuity of the human experience.