Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Music: ACO Underground ★★½

Australian Chamber Orchestra members Richard Tognetti, Satu Vänskä, Julian Thompson and Nicole Divall, with Brian Ritchie and Jim Moginie   
Astor Theatre 23 February

I’m loath to weigh down a review of an ACO concert with the seating arrangements, but they set the tone for a very perplexing evening.
For some reason I can’t begin to fathom, there were five rows of tables and chairs set almost obscene distances apart in front of the Astor Theatre stage. There didn’t appear to be any reason for them – no food or drink service, or any other discernable “VIP” advantage at all – and all it did was force the bulk of the audience back and more at the mercy of the Astor’s sometimes-dubious acoustics.
That was an issue, because the core of the programme was songs – often by Richard Tognetti, but also by Nick Drake and Nine Inch Nails – performed by the ACO violinist and deputy leader Satu Vänskä. Her voice has the same Mitteleuropean quality as, say, Nico, but it simply didn’t cut through the muddy sound mix with clarity and strength.
The music, too, had its disappointments. The ACO had enlisted The Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchile and Oils guitarist Jim Moginie for some rock heft, but they were parked to one side and hardly appeared above the battlements.
The string quartet playing, by Tognetti, Satu Vänskä, Julian Thompson (cello) and Nicole Divall (viola) was exemplary, as we expect from the ACO, but it was in the service of a diversion from their modus operandi that was fitful, unexciting, and not a little indulgent.
Still, hey, the ACO have stored away plenty of brownie points in the larders of music lovers here, there and everywhere, and they’re entitled to spend a few of them every now and then.

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