We’re less than half way through the tour with Danielle de Niese and already critics from The Australian, Limelight Magazine and others have been publishing some great reviews. Links to all media reviews are available here.
We also had members of our Sydney audience review the concerts, here are their thoughts:
Review by Barry Walmsley
Full of wondrous surprises, the Australian Chamber Orchestra never fails to impress. Its programming choices along with guest artists keeps audiences enthralled. No less was Saturday’s performance by the ACO, with the Australian-born Danielle de Niese whose soprano voice was without flaw.
Ms de Niese’s interpretation of Carl Vine’s The Tree of Man (set to words from Patrick White’s award-winning novel by the same name), captured the lyricism of the words in each arching phrase. Vine’s writing for strings had the orchestra provide slowly pulsating tones, whilst mid-way the pizzicato enabled the pace to move (in line with the reference to “trains”).
Prior to hearing this world-premiere performance was the Symphony in D, K196/121 (La finta giardiniera) by Mozart. It was arresting for its brisk and bright commitment by the orchestra, coupled with a supreme clarity of line.
Mozart’s Exsultate jubilate, K 165 gave Ms de Niese the opportunity to display her considerable vocal agility, made more stunning by a very energetic pace. Hers is a voice with depth in the lower register and strong, but bell-like tones in the upper.
Cantilena Pacifica, composed by Richard Meale in 1979 was taken from the string quartet genre to enable Tognetti to be soloist with the orchestra. In this fresh setting, the strings’ subdued and languid quality gave scope for Tognetti achingly beautiful violin work throughout.
Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, K 531 and the String Quartet in D minor, D 810 (both arranged for orchestra by Tognetti) concluded the concert. Ms de Niese’s sense of foreboding was evident in the art song, whilst the orchestra took the quartet arrangement to new heights with poignancy contrasting with dramatic flair.
Review by Rebecca Tzigankova
In their latest concert, a collaboration showcasing soprano Danielle de Niese, the ACO proffers a mixed bag of works rather like a handful of shiny jewels: the black onyx of Carl Vine, the dusky amethyst of Richard Meale, the twinkling sapphire of Mozart, and finally the deep blood-red garnet of tragic Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden”.
Opening with Mozart’s rousing Symphony in D Major, La finta giardiniera, the orchestra polished off the number with finesse and requisite simplicity of style before descending into the darker-edged “The Tree of Man”, a new work by Carl Vine set to text by Patrick White. Like an enchantress, Danielle de Niese glided onto stage in a silvery gown, standing luminescent amongst the deeply dissonant and plaintive workings of the black-clad ACO. Her voice, set high in stark contrast to the ensemble, like a moon overhanging the darkened surroundings, seemed at times disconnected; though perhaps this was partially Vine’s design to highlight the eerie atmosphere of the text. Vine lets the text drive the music, infusing it with lush word painting to create his musical poem.
Next was the turn of director Richard Tognetti to take centre stage in Richard Meale’s hauntingly beautiful Cantilena Pacifica. Here the harmony remains in flux like some organically evolving substance, moulded by the wanderings of the solo violin in the ether. It is fascinating to just watch the orchestra moving, as though Tognetti is gently tugging on invisible strings attached to each player. The musicianship of the entire ensemble is superb.
Concluding the first half was Mozart’s Exsultate jubilate, a work that shines with showmanship and energy. De Niese’s effortless vocal gymnastics succeeded in not overpowering the ensemble and her bright voice emphasized the youthfulness of the work, which Mozart wrote in his teens. It was great to see an artist so clearly enjoying being on stage, much to the appreciation of the audience.
The second half of the program was devoted entirely to Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, with the performance of the art song followed by the like-nicknamed string quartet. De Niese made a return to the stage in a somber black gown to perform the lament before the orchestra launched into Tognetti’s arrangement of the quartet, an ensemble showpiece. The work benefits hugely from this arrangement, with the fuller forces of the ACO considerably upping the dramatic stakes already inherent in the music. Much darker than the Mozart, the music is at times frenzied and raw and with less of an air of artifice. Throughout the players were perfectly attuned as an ensemble. Tognetti (himself a film composer) led the group like an old-fashioned silent-film conductor; the music gathering stormy pace with flashes of exquisite solo passages, pushing through each movement before hurtling to a powerful finish.
With such a well-executed program as this, the ACO truly succeeds in dispelling the notion that “classical” music is “stuffy”; taking the stereotype and ripping it to shreds before batting the shreds out of the concert-hall with well-aimed bows. Touché!
Review by Simon Thomsen
As a writer, music was an essential part of Patrick White’s life. He collaborated with Peter Sculthorpe on an opera that never came to fruition, straining their friendship in the process, yet music inspired White – he wrote several songs – and his works are infused with a lyrically melodic quality.
In return, he inspired Australian musicians from Richard Meale to Moya Henderson and Carl Vine.
To mark the centenary of the Nobel Laureate’s birth, Richard Tognetti’s latest concert is an elegant mediation on both precocious talent and mortality, anchored by the Australian debut rising opera diva Danielle de Niese.
The ACO commissioned Carl Vine to set extracts from the final chapter of White’s The Tree of Man to music in a world premiere written specifically for and dedicated to Melbourne-born de Niese. It’s a remarkable homecoming: brooding, nostalgic, plaintive that demonstrates de Niese’s versatility and strengths. She’s a captivating performer, entrancing the orchestra as much as the audience. Vine’s score has a shimmering cinematic quality that’s just as entrancing.
The concert’s youthful tone begins with Mozart’s Symphony in D Major, k.196/121, based on a comic opera he wrote as a teenager. It’s a jaunty, short work ideally suited to the ACO’s adroit style. The White debut follows – it’s worth noting that both Vine and de Neise also enjoyed childhood success, the latter at age nine, as the youngest winner of Young Talent Time – before the tone darkens with Richard Meale’s Cantilena Pacifica, a hauntingly beautiful eulogy for a friend. It rolls with emotions like a gentle dawn swell as Tognetti’s solo violin skims, soars, then plunges, like a lone bird, over the orchestra’s pianissimo ebb and flow. For a composer who spent a significant portion of his career exploring atonalism, Cantilena Pacifica’s sweeping lyrical beauty should see it regarded as one of Australia’s finest classical works.
Youth and joy return to end the first half with Mozart’s Exsultate jubilate, a work de Niese has sung since her teens. Like the composer, 17 when he wrote it, she brings a vivacious, skipping joy to this delightful motet, offering plenty of tonal shade between the two arias and recitativo.
While de Niese is undoubtedly the program’s star, Tognetti’s arrangement of Schubert’s String Quartet in D Minor, Death and the Maiden, is another highlight, bristling with emotional resonance as the orchestra shifts between ethereal pianissimo and forte lament of a composer envisioning his own demise. It’s preceded by de Neise singing K.531, a short, futile appeal for clemency by the young maiden. It seems surprisingly suppressed compared with her earlier delivery. It matters not as the ACO leaves us all to meditate on our inevitable fate with this haunting lament, so that in the end, there is an end indeed.
Denys Gillespie Review
Last night’s ACO concert featuring Danielle de Niese was an absolute cracker. Richard and the ACO were in scintillating form as was the guest artist.
Right from the first note you knew this was going to be a wonderful night. The Carl Vine was very musical, with a good line and outstanding vocal part. Danielle de Niese definitely did it justice so it’s little wonder Carl looked so pleased on stage at the end of the work.
I had not heard the Meale before and was blown away by it. Richard’s first few bars were almost unbelievable, so controlled, quiet, precise, you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium.
Then the Mozart!
I think the total performance, ACO/Danielle de Niese, was better than the Kathleen Battle/CSO recording we have. Stunning dynamics.
De Niese obviously immensely enjoys what she is doing, engages the entire audience, looks radiant, sounds fantastic and finishes off with that look of extreme confidence.
To finish, albeit with the small contribution of Danielle de Niese, Richard and the slightly revised ACO line up, literally blew everyone away with Death and the Maiden. This was one of the most exciting performances you could hear anywhere at anytime. Schubert must have been smiling from ear to ear, we certainly were.
The audience response was wonderful and there was an almost 100% full house to boot, even the gods were full.
Victoria Watson and Deen Hamaker Review
There is a striking theme in the works presented in this fine concert featuring the Australian Chamber Orchestra with soloist soprano Danielle De Niese. It is the juxtaposition of the surprising genius of youth and the chillingly tragic arrival of death. Connecting the works are these two opposite forces – youth and death.
Mozart was still a teenager when he composed the opening symphony with its fresh youthful textures and theatrical atmosphere. He would compose the much loved motet Exultate Jubilate only two years later especially for a brilliant young castrato who was a lead singer in his opera “Lucio Silla’. It seems most appropriate then that the latter work was performed by a young soprano from a young country. Danielle De Niese, born in Melbourne with Sri Lankan ancestry later adopted America as home, and debuted at the Metropolitan Opera, New York at the precocious age of 19- almost the same age as Mozart was when he composed the joyous motet. Linked to this is the youthful vigour associated with the Australian Chamber Orchestra under its Peter Pan mentor and leader – virtuoso violinist Richard Tognetti.
This combination of factors created a vivacious and lively mood for the Mozart works performed in the first half of the concert programme. In stark contrast was the funereal atmosphere of the instrumental work by Australian composer Richard Meale, noted composer of the opera “Voss” based on Patrick White’s sweeping novel. Where Mozart’s works bubble with the newly minted optimism of youth, Meale’s work meanders through shifting metres with an elegiac sadness coloured by sadness and grief.
The central work of the first half is perfectly placed – a world premiere from composer Carl Vine (Musica Viva’s artistic director) of a setting of prose from Patrick White’s “Tree of man”. A truly beautiful work, it evokes the cyclic nature of life in the mythic Australian landscape, expansive and yet sombre. The text set explores the searching of the young man for the ultimate poetic vision of life. Never far away though is the sense of the inevitability of life’s demise. Vine dedicates the work to De Niese and Patrick White in his centenary year. While the choice of text fits De Niese’s youthful warmth and lively personality, the gravitas of the content would benefit from a deeper reading of the subtext and more use of expressive tone colours. De Niese is described by the popular media as the world’s “coolest” soprano, and appeals outside classical music devotion. She has a personal following for her “hip’ dressing and media friendly charisma as much as for her musical gifts. Her voice has a lovely timbre and technical surety in coloratura passages, but not the palette of colours that might mark a great recitalist like Susan Graham or Barbara Bonney. While her popularity will hopefully swell the audiences for this concert tour, I found De Niese lacking a fully convincing maturity and depth for the demands of the Vine-White work. In the Mozart motet- which is so well known and widely recorded – to fully impress, a bold and inspired artist needs to bring something new to an interpretation rather than simply an attractive voice and persona. The orchestra, however, explore the rhythmic vivacity of the Mozart and the subtle moving harmonies of the Vine with their signature energy and superbly coordinated and balanced ensemble.
The artistic highlight of the concert firmly resides in the second half. The soprano, perhaps disappointingly for her fans – is on stage in a more somber black evening gown for only a couple of minutes. Her brief song sets the tone for the subsequent explosion of genius from Franz Schubert via Richard Tognetti’s artful arrangement of the “Death and the Maiden” string quartet.
Youth and death are lovers locked in battle in this extraordinarily powerful work. The preceding song, while an example of Schubert’s mastery of the refined genre of lieder, only touches on the themes that are developed so masterfully in his later and much more expansive work.
Schubert’s short life and astonishingly inspired output encapsulates the themes of the genius of youth and the tragic intervention of death. This is also the subject matter of his quartet. The orchestra is at their very best in the final work with its breathtaking intensity and variety. Tognetti’s solo sections and the sections where he brings the work back to its original four voices are beautifully placed and performed, while the rhythmic punch of the tutti explosions are terrifying and magnificent suggesting death’s hold on the youthful maiden. This is world class music making of the highest order. The orchestra breathes as one being and creates an intricate melodic and harmonic synthesis through their exacting ensemble work. This leads to a highly Romantic and theatrical reading of Schubert’s brilliant musical invention that is deeply moving and uplifting.
For this work alone the concert provides a high point in Australia’s cultural landscape and confirms the Australian Chamber Orchestra as a premier force of nature in the classical music scene internationally.