Ravinia Festival, Chicago with ACO

2005-07-30 / Chicago Tribune / Michael Cameron

Visitors disrupt season’s languor
Australian players make Bach theirs

Classical music lovers adjust their listening in the summer. The process becomes casual, as outdoor events predominate and local orchestras make do with reduced rehearsal schedules. So, it falls on touring groups such as the Australian Chamber Orchestra to remind us of the vivid music that can happen when time is available to work out a detailed performance strategy.

Thursday’s varied program at Ravinia’s Martin Theater was notable for its high drama and its interpretative minutia, sometimes to a fault.

Bach’s works leave many details up to the performer, and the group’s director and lead violinist, Richard Tognetti, took full advantage of the opportunity. He put a personal stamp on the scores of the master’s two most beloved keyboard concertos.

The tempos didn’t deviate from the norm, and Tognetti and pianist Angela Hewitt did not stretch notes excessively. Rather, highly detailed phrasing was superimposed, as if Tognetti were determined that these familiar tunes would sound fresh, whatever the cost.

The running orchestral passages of the D Major Concerto undulated with exaggerated swells, distracting attention from Hewitt. Her reading was elegantly expressive, and flowed with more natural contours than the accompanying strings.

The Canadian pianist imbued the second movement with grace and delicacyIn the G Minor Concerto, the slow movement was again a delight, as subtle disparities in phrasing were a refreshing departure from the strict unanimity of ensemble elsewhere.

It takes a certain chutzpah to reorchestrate a work of perhaps the greatest orchestrator in Western music. Tognetti did just that with his arrangement for string orchestra of Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major. Tognetti’s version includes frequent passages for soloists, including the opening bars, which retain the original solo foursome.

In other spots, Ravel’s transparency is missed, and one can’t help wondering what magic the composer would have wrought had he tackled the assignment himself.

An arrangement of a late Brahms organ chorale prelude, O Gott, du frommer Gott,” was a curious hybrid, a solemn and pious chorale — often delivered by the strings in its original guise with a pure vibrato-less sonority — dressed up in surging, voluptuous Romantic garb.

A single movement from Australian composer Carl Vine’s “Smith’s Alchemy” sported the angularity and rustic pungency of Bartok but pumped up with high-octane percussive drive.”