Giovanni Sollima is something of superstar; the Italian cellist/composer premiered his double cello concerto with none other than Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in January. When Sollima arrived onstage with the Australian Chamber Orchestra [Wed 16th April] sparks were soon flying.


The charismatic performer featured first in a classily understated version of Boccherini’s Cello Concerto No 3 in G. Sollima’s light fingerwork and his transparent emotions made the work sparkle. The orchestral accompaniment was lithe and crisp, ornaments had bite. The long stretched lines of the central adagio movement were exquisitely soft.


From here Sollima leapt straight into L.B. Files, his own composition based on Boccherini’s life. During the opening bars he prowled the stage bowing rapid arpeggios with cello gripped between ear and shoulder. The work began as a Baroque-styled concerto with acerbic harmonies and became increasingly more modern with snatches of syncopation and a cadenza that sounded like an electric guitar solo. The fascinating composition moved seamlessly between genres, referencing Boccherini’s interest in fandangos, flamencos, bird sounds and his alleged meeting with Casanova. In the final movement the orchestra played finger percussion on their instruments to accompany a recording of an African singer while Sollima chanted along and bowed a harmony on his cello. The only awkward moment in all the genre-jumping was the use of pre-recorded text at the opening of the third movement which jarred with the very lyrical preceding movement.


The tireless Sollima returned to the stage for Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C, making bold contrast between the light, energised outer movements and the intensely melancholic middle movement. The orchestra was less satisfying, too loud in sections and the first violins less cohesive than usual.


The Italian-themed program was rounded out with Verdi’s String Quartet in E minor where the orchestra brought a denseness to the darker melodies and dramatic texture. Resphigi’s Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No 3 was a curious mix: Renaissance melodies played with Romantic rubato; galante mixed with grunt. This was another fascinating program from the ACO and an unforgettable soloist.
This review copyright The West Australian 2014.