• Catherine Flutsch

The Australian Chamber Orchestra: Rapture & Revolution

Updated: Feb 22

★★★★★

Review: ACO StudioCast online concert, premiere on17 February then on demand until 31 December 2021. Tickets available here.

[Disclosure: The ACO provided me with a ticket to Rapture & Revolution for the purposes of this review.]

Both the Times and the Guardian have described the Australian Chamber Orchestra as the best chamber orchestra “on earth” and “in the world”, respectively! Australian music lovers are, rightly, extremely proud of the ACO - which has been at the cutting edge of beautiful music since Richard Tognetti took over as artistic director in 1990; all flowing gypsy blouses and tousled hair.


I remember when Tognetti was appointed as artistic director – it created huge excitement and was a motivational push to all young classical musicians across Australia. If someone could be appointed artistic director at 25, then anything in classical music might be possible. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that any senior Australian professional classical musician will remember, and have been inspired by, Tognetti’s appointment to the ACO. The appointment shaped a generation of musical aspiration.

Pic: Nic Walker


2021 marks Tognetti’s 31st year at the helm of the ACO and there doesn’t seem to be any diminution in the radiance of the ACO’s offering or the excitement and hunger of ACO’s audiences.

Pic: Nic Walker

Until now, music lovers outside of Australia have had to wait until an ACO tour to experience the clean vibrancy of their performances. This year, for the first time, the ACO is offering anybody with a device and an internet connection, the opportunity to access its concert season.

Screenshot of StudioCast

Collaborating with leading film makers, directors and sound engineers, the ACO has created eight 50-minute concerts, specifically produced for streaming, that will be released throughout the year. These online concerts, or as the ACO calls them, StudioCasts, will sit alongside its live concert season in Australia and be accessible until the end of 2021. Accessing the StudioCasts is via a season subscription or by buying access to individual concerts.

Pic: Nic Walker


The first concert, Rapture and Revolution premiered on 17 February and features a glorious programme of Schubert’s Quartettsatz in C minor, D.703, Vaughan-Williams’ The Lark Ascending, and Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat major and Grosse Fuge, Op. 133.

Screenshot of StudioCast


The first thing to say about Rapture & Revolution is that this is no ordinary recording. Everything has been done with meticulous attention to detail, from the unobtrusive placement of the microphones to the venue itself, Sydney’s glorious Centennial Hall. The soft beams of light steaming through the high windows, bathing the musicians in a golden glow added to the luxurious, rich layers of the opening Schubert.

Pic: Nic Walker


The sound quality of the recording is spacious and superb – with every floating bow stroke audible. The microphone placement and the cameras allowed me to appreciate different parts of the Schubert that I hadn’t ever focussed on before – I understood and loved the ethereal repetition of the viola part of the first time. The cameras glide through the musicians and while they do direct your attention to different areas of the orchestra, this direction doesn’t feel forced or unnatural.


Other than the cellos, the musicians stand rather than sit and I love the dynamism that this provides – we have the luxury of seeing the musicians full, unencumbered body language.

Screenshot of StudioCast


If I had to make a criticism of the filming, it would be that I would have liked to see a little more of the “back desks” – the musicians standing at the back who are not featured nearly as much as those at the front. Every single musician in the ACO contributes to the overall sound, so it would have enhanced my experience to be able to watch each one in detail.

Screenshot of StudioCast


The StudioCast really does capture the magical alchemy that happens when the ACO plays. The Lark Ascending was dreamlike with the light streaming through the windows turning from golden to white, spotlighting Tognetti’s solo. Tognetti has had a long relationship with this piece and its shows – clean, sacred and without ego – the Lark soars above the musicians and allows us, here in the UK, to breath the cool, clean air; a moment of respite from the prolonged grim realities. The final note of this piece shows just what a StudioCast can add to our understanding – we hear every single vibrato laden curve until the note dies away to nothing. This level of intimacy is not available in a live performance.

Screenshot of StudioCast


The ACO’s Rapture and Revolution StudioCast brings us something new. Despite being utterly faithful to the music and the intentions of the composers, the ACO has made it sound as though they were premiering four, new, recently written works.

Screenshot from StudioCast


I have never heard the Grosse Fuge as a contemporary piece, but listening to the ACO play it, it felt so new; as though Beethoven had just finished composing and had to rush to the score to the orchestra in time for the performance. The dramatic change in lighting and effects really did feel revolutionary and that combined with the ACO’s clean performance meant that I have never heard Beethoven sound so contemporary and alive.

Screenshot of StudioCast

Rapture and Revolution was beyond my comprehension – it left me filled with joy and true wonder. How can such beautiful music be possible in this world right now?


Housekeeping:

I watched Rapture and Revolution by projecting it onto a large screen through the projector I bought in 2020 when I realised that cinema visits would not be in my foreseeable future. The large screen, listening through my high quality noise cancellation headphones and turning off the lights enhanced my experience of the concert.

Do try and experience this on the biggest screen you’ve got, using the best headphones you have.

Featured Picture: Nic Walker

Square Stage