The Australian Chamber Orchestra Celebrates The Genius of Bach


The Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) celebrates the enduring genius of Johann Sebastian Bach this autumn with a national tour perorming the violin concertos of Bach.

Artistic Director Richard Tognetti leads the performances for which he is joined by Principal Violinists Helena Rathbone and Satu Vänskä, showcasing Bach’s works for solo violin, violin and orchestra, two violins and orchestra, and three violins and orchestra. The tour follows the ongoing success of Tognetti’s recordings of Bach, which earned him three consecutive ARIA awards for Best Classical Album.

Rounding out the program is the Sarabande, the centrepiece of Bach’s Fourth Cello Suite, performed by ACO Principal Cello, Timo-Veikko Valve, along with two glorious symphonies from the “Father of the Symphony”, Franz Joseph Haydn, who wrote more than one hundred of them.

For these performances, the ACO will play on gut strings with period bows. Richard Tognetti explains “We like the rawness, roughness and soft hue of the sound these strings produce. We have little to no idea what Bach or Haydn intended their music to sound like, so we will offer one notion of how it could sound today.”

Tognetti adds that the instruments play a vital role in bringing the past into the present. Many of the players, including the soloists, play instruments crafted around Bach’s era. Tognetti performs on a 1743 Guarneri del Gesù violin, Rathbone a 1759 Guadagnini violin, Vänskä a 1728/29 Stradivarius violin, and Valve a 1729 Guarneri filius Andreæ cello. Tognetti’s violin may even have been owned and lost in gambling by Paganini, the greatest violinist of all time. The three violins were made by leading Italian craftsman who represent the triumvirate of revered instrument makers of that time. Like Bach and Haydn, they revolutionised their craft and would go on to influence musicians for generations to follow.

Tognetti grew up listening to the pioneers of the early music movement at a time when Karajan was the Emperor. He soaked up performances by Dutch, English and Austro-German pioneers. “Anner Bylsma the first cellist to convincingly record the Bach Suites on period instruments; the great Frans Brüggen, who conducted my first performances of Mozart’s last symphonies with the ACO; and Christopher Hogwood who I worked a great deal with and who forged a strong relationship with the ACO – he was the pioneer of the early music movement. Hogwood once said, ‘You can play things stylishly on the wrong instruments or unstylishly on the right instruments’. So although much of the early music movement was based on dogma (spurious at that), there was also something liberating about it: we had the gate open to an earlier age, whilst forging a new and exciting path.”

Tognetti says to this day, he continues to meet people who define Bach’s genius in terms of mathematic precision and technical mastery, but for him Bach’s timeless appeal lies in the sheer aesthetic beauty of his sound world. “When I was a kid, I gave my mum a recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos with Karl Richter and the Münchener Bach Orchestra (very old fashioned and stodgy) as a birthday present. This was the first recording I heard of Bach’s Brandenburgs – incidentally, Nick Drake was listening to the Brandenburgs the night before he died! Around the same time, my father took me to see Tarkovsky’s Solaris which features the Chorale Prelude ‘Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ’. Its sense of other worldliness and suggestion of the numinous has never left me.”

The programme:

BACH (arr. Richard Tognetti) Preludio from Violin Partita No.3 in E major / Violin Concerto No.2 in E major/ HAYDN Symphony No.27 in G major /BACH Concerto for Two Violins in D minor

BACH Concerto for Three Violins in D major / Sarabande from Cello Suite No.4 in E-flat major / HAYDN Symphony No.22 in E-flat major “The Philosopher”

The performers: Richard Tognetti Director & Violin/ Helena Rathbone Violin/ Satu Vänskä Violin /Timo-Veikko Valve Cello


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