The third and last concert in the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s latest Barbican residency carried the banner Indies and Idols. It continued their association with the Guildhall school too, with 19 student string players joining the ensemble for the first half of the concert, which was directed as always by Richard Tognetti.
The indie composers of the title were evidently Bryce Dessner and Jonny Greenwood, their idols, Lutosławski and Penderecki; works by Wojciech Kilar and Szymanowski continued the Polish theme of the programme. If the didactic intention was to trace lines of influence between generations, it failed dismally. Whatever Dessner and Greenwood might say about their admiration for their Polish models, represented in the programme by the prologue from Lutosławski’s Musique Funèbre and Penderecki’s String Quartet No 1 (in Tognetti’s string-orchestra arrangement), their own pieces hardly betrayed it. Dessner’s Réponse Lutosławski is a meandering series of featureless short movements, with titles that proved more interesting than the music itself. Greenwood’s score for Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, meanwhile, loses much of its potency when transplanted from screen to concert hall.
It all made for a bitty programme lacking in focus, an absence that only seemed to be emphasised by the predictable excellence of the performances. The ACO is still a remarkable band, quite unlike any other, and Tognetti’s determination to take its programming into areas that other chamber orchestras wouldn’t think of colonising has been so successful that perhaps they are allowed the occasional misstep.
As it was, there were just a couple of items here to provide reminders of their innate brilliance and verve: the stampeding fury of Kilar’s Orawa, a miracle of precise ensemble, and Tognetti’s string-orchestra expansion of Szymanowski’s Second Quartet, its diaphanous textures spun like silk, its folk-music references seamlessly touched in.