Australian Chamber Orchestra
City Recital Hall
September 1, 2017
Some composers have a voice that is instantly recognisable, and Ross Edwards is one such. The tumbling gestures, the lilt and jolt of his uneven metres, the sunny thirds… It’s tempting to sit back and nod as you listen to a new work. Ah yes… there’s a restless dance figure. Oh look, there’s a minor second… It’s easy to assume.
Easy but wrong. The world premiere of a new work, Entwinings, commissioned for the Australian Chamber Orchestra with the assistance of Rob and Nancy Pallin, begins predictably enough, with shiny fragments and enticing drones gradually building a soundscape. It’s brilliant stuff, fascinating and transparent, with Edwards’ acute ear — for both natural and manmade sounds — transforming the orchestra into sun-slashed scrub. The music flows — it’s almost like taking dictation from nature. Until, that is, the elements which seem so delicate, begin to grow, to jostle, shaking the natural order and tipping the music into chaos. Natural order? Let’s not kid ourselves. Nature is complicated, and Entwinings embodies this complexity. Not the formative complexity of High Modernism – no, as the program note suggests, Edwards has been there, done that, moved on. No, the complex texture of Entwinings feels more like a tense and sometimes dangerous play with chaos, especially in the climax to the first movement.
The second movement takes us back from the edge, as patterns become phrases become melodies become variations. The returning theme glows and comforts, but it also changes constantly. Like humankind, like nature, like the music of Ross Edwards. It grows.
Before the internet, before social media, trolls were the mystical natural spirits of Scandinavia. They roamed the dense forests and icy caves of Norway, capturing princesses, haunting burial sites, generally making life a little bit spooky. And while you probably wouldn’t want to meet one on a dark night, they dance through the music of Edvard Grieg with a delicious, malicious lurch. Especially when played by the Australian Chamber Orchestra led by Norweigan violinist and Guest Director Henning Kraggerud.
The opening work, Nordic Melody, ‘In Folk Style’, felt a little underdone, but the ensemble found much trollish drama and delight in Grieg’s String Quartet in G Minor (in an arrangement for string ensemble Richard Tognetti). Likewise, their performance of the Violin Concerto No. 3 in C Minor Op. 45 (an arrangement by Henning Kraggerud and Bernt Simen Lund of Grieg’s third violin sonata), was full of lush textures and captivating detail. Kraggerud makes a slightly awkward frontman, speaking in heavily accented English, but he plays the violin like a dream, with an intense, clear sound which projects across the orchestral texture without feeling in any way forced, and sashaying through the trollish folk melodies with great beauty. That concerto – it’s a keeper.
Completing the program is Kraggerud’s own composition, Topelius-Variations (From Topelius’ Time). Just as Grieg’s Holberg Suite is a shameless homage to the Baroque, Topelius-Variations is a shameless homage to the Norweigan romantic tradition, epitomised by the poetry of nineteenth-century author Zachris Topelius and, of course, the music of Edvard Grieg. It’s a very convincing, deeply idiomatic work for strings which sits brilliantly well alongside the Grieg.
You can still hear the trollfest in Melbourne (10 & 11 September), Adelaide (12 September) and Canberra (tomorrow) if you book quickly.