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Musical Renegades
Australian Chamber Orchestra
Richard Tognetti (violin, artistic director).
Picture Format 16:9 PAL Disc format DVD-5. Dolby Digital 2.0.
ABC CLASSICS 476 102-5 [52’00: extra features 53’00]

This is a sweet, heart-warming documentary that is certainly suitable for TV broadcast, where it would represent a very absorbing 50 minutes’ worth. Yet whether one really needs it for posterity as part of a DVD collection is another matter. One viewing was, to be honest, enough.

The film, from RB Productions, charts a year in the life of Richard Tognetti’s baby, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, taking in venues such as the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Wiesbaden (Germany), the Proms (London) and the Sydney Opera House. The ACO is conductorless, so ‘each and every musician is exposed’. Members of the orchestra relate why they entered the field of music and when they first played together.

Certainly the rehearsal sequences are illuminating. The music is dissected painstakingly, and sometimes only put together at the very last moment prior to performance (the piece in question is the Adagio of the Schubert String Quintet), although where they get their overview from is left rather open.

Some of the repertoire is interesting - Sandor Veress’ Transylvanian Dances, for example. Genevieve Lacey makes as good a case as it gets for Vivaldi’s delightful Recorder Concerto, RV445, contrasting interestingly with Ligeti’s Violin Concerto (with Tognetti himself as soloist. He plays a 1759 Guerneri, by the way). The Ligeti provokes many mystified faces amongst the musicians (here a guest conductor is hired, Roland Peelman).

Of the extra features, it is the performances that enable us to judge to some extent at least whether the claims of the documentary are true or false. An excerpt from the first movement of Schubert’s String Quintet is smooth and very together, and also includes some of the spirit of the dance. A performance of the first movement of the above-mentioned Vivaldi Recorder Concerto is sweet, but Tognetti playing unaccompanied Bach in an empty concert hall minus socks (a sound check) is strictly curiosity value only. A spoken introduction tells of the story of Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, and the ACO do, indeed, leave the stage when they play it. And some players from the orchestra relate a few tales.

The Times described the ACO as ‘the best chamber orchestra on earth’. There is a continued implication of its ‘unique’ status, but surely the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra operates similarly (and more successfully)?

Interesting, then, for a one-off. The ACO is a polished ensemble, of that there is no doubt. But the hyperbole the viewer is sometimes subjected to in essence confirms the true status of this DVD as effectively promotional material. For a fuller musical picture, the interested reader is directed to the ensemble’s recordings on Chandos, particularly their Sculthorpe disc (CHAN10063: Review ). There is an audio representation of much of the DVD’s content at CD Review , which includes a complete performance of the Schubert Quintet.

Colin Clarke

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