8 May 2014
Reviewer rating: Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
City Recital Hall, May 7
It takes a lot of charisma to outshine the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s artistic director. Last night, however, Paul Dyer’s usual radiance was a mere glow next to the blinding dazzle of Avi Avital. The Israeli-born mandolin player directs
the music, plays his instrument and inhabits the stage with such winning intensity that it is hard to take your eyes off him. Thankfully, he also sounds wonderful.
For his Australian debut Avital performed some baroque warhorses, including Vivaldi’s concerto for lute and Bach’s Concerto in A minor for violin. The fact that neither was written for mandolin was not a problem: Avital made the music very much his own, with minimal arrangement. Vivaldi’s spare scoring allowed the tang of the mandolin to shine through. Meanwhile, in the heart-squeezing andante of the Bach he represented the violin’s long notes with just one touch of the string, leaving nothing but a memory of a note hanging over the ensemble’s accompaniment. Indeed, what really set Avital apart is the way he gently shaped the line of each phrase, not with a crude rubato but with the most minute graduations of timing to let the music breath. It was restrained, poised, beautiful.
In the second half Avital took the orchestra well out of its usual territory, into the 20th century. The mandolin is thoroughly at home amongst the folk idioms of Bela Bartok’s Roumanian Folk Dances, and it allowed Avital to show a wider range of its timbres, including the sustained tremolo and the exhilarating power of a frenzied strum. The orchestra kept up well, and, in what is probably a first for this repertoire, the lirone, a 16th-century instrument used in court and also folk music, found a place in the line-up. The inevitable encores included the anarchic, finger-twisting Bulgarian dance Bucimis, and a scrambling folk tune from Georgia. By comparison, the orchestra’s mandolin-less performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto for four violins, while nicely led by concertmaster Matt Bruce, was interesting but pale.
This concert is repeated in Sydney on May 9, 10, 14 and 16 and in Melbourne on May 17 and 18.