Branford Marsalis. Australian Chamber Orchestra.
City Recital Hall
The ACO’s program with saxophonist Branford Marsalis, directed by Satu Vanska, explored music mixing European influences with the energy of rural and urban vernacular traditions, particularly those from South America.
By way of a prelude, Marsalis gave a wild playful rendition of the third of Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet, a wittily over-sophisticated take on ragtime, before moving on to the Fantasia for Soprano Saxophone and Orchestra (arranged here for strings) by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.
Marsalis played the first movement with beguiling suavity, opening out to an expansive rich tone for the second movement lullaby and closing with a finale of lively energy.
Branford Marsalis joined Satu Vanska and the ACO on a joyful musical journey.Credit:Roger Thomas
Leonid Desyatnikov’s arrangement for violin and strings of Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires emphasises the connection with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with distorted quotations both screeching and serene.
Violinist Satu Vanska led with a sultry opening followed by increasingly fiery strutting rhythms, the piece proceeding as an alternation of languorous sensuality and incendiary energy. Villa-Lobos’s series Bachianas Brasileiras are a classic of European and South American fusion, combining textures and forms from Bach’s suites with folk idioms from Brazil.
The first movement, Aria, of Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (originally for soprano and cello orchestra and arranged here for saxophone and strings) combined Marsalis’ radiant melodic playing with haunting mellowness from cellist Melissa Barnard, before a discreetly energised Danca.
By contrast, Movido from Osvaldo Golijov’s Last Round (a tribute to Piazzolla) was full of scalding, sharply swerving melodies.
We then left Latin swagger for a while for Under the Wing of the Rock, the second saxophone concerto by British composer Sally Beamish.
Marsalis began this haunting beautiful work – based on a Celtic lullaby which, according to legend, was sung by a mother fleeing the 1692 Glencoe massacre, causing a soldier to take pity on her and her child – with a slow solo of deep thoughtfulness and intensity, cherishing the silence between phrases as much as the rests.
After moments of quirky energy and calm passages recalling fleeting birds, the work returns to a more comforted version of its opening mood. There followed a return dash across the Atlantic for Piazzolla’s Libertango to close.
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