REVIEW: Australian Chamber Orchestra – Finn and friends excel with quintets – by Neville Cohn

Review of the Australian Chamber Orchestra – Piano Quintets

Reviewed by Neville Cohn
on the 24th July 2014
in the West Australian
4.5 stars
LUTOSLAWSKI Subito//SHOSTAKOVICH Piano Quintet//DVORÁK Piano Quintet in A, Op.81
Violin Satu Vänskä//Violin Rebecca Chan//Viola Christopher Moore//Cello Timo-Veikko Valve//Piano Paavali Jumppanen
Perth Concert Hall

A fine Finn – Paavali Jumppanen – at the piano together with four of the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s most persuasive string players, brought piano quintets by Dvorak and Shostakovich to vibrant, pulsing life.

This was a peerless demonstration of the ability of five high-grade solo musicians to set aside their individuality in favour of a powerful corporate music persona.

Shostakovich’s rarely encountered Quintet can, in less than skilled hands, so easily sound interminable and dust dry. But on Wednesday, we were taken on an unforgettable journey into the mind of the Russian genius, so much so that its half-hour duration seemed mere minutes.

In turn brooding, passionate, serene and – in its brief scherzo – deliciously vulgar, pianist and string players did the composer proud. I particularly admired the skill with which the fugue was essayed, its quiet early measures in particular unfolding with unassailable musical logic.

This astonishingly fine musicianship was no less apparent in Dvorak’s much loved Piano Quintet No 2 which came across as a kaleidoscope of dazzling tone colours, emphatic rhythms and unforgettable melodies. This was the most satisfying performance of chamber music at the Concert Hall so far this year – and will not be easily surpassed.

I hope these performances are released on CD. They deserve to.

As curtain raiser, we listened to Satu Vanska and Jumppanen in Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski’s excruciatingly difficult Subito. Written as a test piece for an international violin competition, this is ferociously demanding music, a closed book for any but violinists of the highest accomplishment. Vanska certainly falls into that favoured company, essaying its cruel measures with often-sizzling, grainy-toned virtuosity on a Stradivarius fiddle. Later, there was an unexpected bonus: Christopher Moore on a 1610-vintage viola with Jumppanen at the piano in a movement from a Brahms sonata.