Back by popular demand – that of both Brandenburg fans and Orchestra members – Israeli mandolin superstar, Avi Avital lit up Sydney’s City Recital Hall stage on Wednesday night.
After a bracing Vivaldi Concerto for Strings in C Major performed by The Brandenburg, Avital bounded out and took centre stage. Tousle-haired and rock-star pretty, he crouched over his tiny tear-shaped instrument and bit into his own arrangement of the Vivaldi A minor Concerto (Opus 3). The smaller Orchestra – nine strings plus leader Paul Dyer‘s harpsichord – were the perfect balance for Avital’s rippling mandolin: lean and sharply sinewy on the energetic outer movements; fragile and luminous on the Largo.
As ever with the Brandenburg, balance was all – under Paul Dyer’s direction, the programme was smartly devised, with a few surprises to pepper it, and the Orchestra’s restricted size perfectly framed the small but clear sounds of the mandolin.
The Brandenburg sans Avital again: this time Valentini‘s Concerto Grosso in A minor (Opus 7). Paul Dyer seems to have an inexhaustible supply of inspired program pieces, always mixing The Hits with the more esoteric, thus expanding our ears and minds with ever performance.
Avital returned – this time to stay – and we were pulled forwards two centuries to a suite of Six Miniatures on Georgian Folk Themes by the composer Sulkhan Tsintsadze. These wonderful pieces, by turns tenderly or robustly expressed by Avital and the Orchestra, may have been written in the 20th Century but had the timeless quality of folksong with all its real-life dramas, joys and wracking sads. This was a highpoint of the night, in that one could not imagine any instrument expressing these pieces with a better tongue that the plectrum of a mandolin.
Interval and then two Mandolin Concerti: Vivaldi (C major – perfect pizzicato passages with the mandolin) and Paisello (E flat major – the orchestral writing leaving much space for the solo mandolin).
And then, another surprise – but in the form of a Greatest Hit: Vivaldi’s ‘Summer’ (Concerto in G minor) from the Four Seasons, this time arranged for and performed by mandolin with strings. The mandolin, despite its strings being double-course, has the same tuning as a violin so can easily adapt violin parts. However, the difference in attack and decay – the mandolin, a sharp attack and almost no decay, or sustain; and the violin, not as sharp an attack yet almost infinite sustain – can lead to some interesting metamorphoses. In this case the mandolin brought the percussive phrasing of Vivaldi’s violin writing to the fore and, when Avital resorted to tremolo to generate the violin bow’s sustain, added another dimension of texture to these well-known passages. And of course, we all wait for the Orchestra to boil over at the storming climax of ‘Summer’ and the Brandenburg, even reduced to ten, did not disappoint.
Avi Avital took leave of us that night with a gift: a solo rendition of a Bulgarian traditional tune, ‘Bucimis’. After a hypnotic single-note serenade the piece heated up, driven by chopped chords and heavily improvisational passages. Avi Avital was, for a moment, not the Grammy-nominated, globally lauded leader of his instrument – he was a boy with a toy, alight with joy.
Which is something he shares with all true virtuosos – all technical mastery, all finely-shaded incremental shadings of interpretation, all mastery of the music is nothing if it cannot convey – as Avi Avital did without pause – the pure joy of music, and through music, living.