REVIEW ACO and Richard Egarr by William Yeoman

A Review of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Richard Egarr
by William Yeoman
On the 19th June 2015
this review originally appeared in the West Australian

Richard Egarr is a consummate performer, equally at home cracking jokes about composers dying of chocolate poisoning as he is delivering seriously thrilling performances of baroque masterpieces.

His work as conductor of crack English period instrument band Academy of Ancient Music is well known to Perth audiences but this Wednesday night concert found him taking over from that “other” Richard (Tognetti) as director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

The results were nothing short of spectacular.

Conducting from both harpsichord and fortepiano, Egarr attacked this program of music from baroque England and Germany and classical Vienna with his usual gusto, punctuating proceedings with amiable anecdotes about the composers, their music and their instruments.

The orchestral suite from Henry Purcell’s semi-opera The Fairy Queen was as colourful, dramatic and downright jazzy as you could have wished.

Soldier and composer William Lawes’ fantasy from a six-part work originally for viol consort — here realised by two opposing groups of three string players apiece with harpsichord accompaniment — provided a suitably belligerent and strangely intellectual contrast while only marginally evoking the dark, piquant sound world of the viol consort itself.

The ACO’s leader on this occasion, Satu Vanska, then took centre stage for J.S. Bach’s sublime Violin Concerto in A minor. Here the outer dance-like movements benefited most from Vanska and Egarr’s ebullient approach, the central slow movement perhaps a little soupy and anachronistic for some listeners’ tastes.

The best was saved for last when, following the interval, Egarr took up position behind his lightly constructed fortepiano for a sparkling, rhetorically alert account of Haydn’s Keyboard Concerto in D major — pity the improvised cadenzas were so short — and a powerful performance of the same composer’s stormy Symphony No. 44 in E minor.

Not quite “the most modern music you’ll hear all year” as Egarr insisted in a witty preamble, this was, however, orchestral playing of the highest order, crackling with fierce energy and sheer fun. A little light Mozart as an encore was the icing on the cake.