Swedish virtuoso clarinettist Martin Frost, the guest of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Pic Matts Backer
Swedish virtuoso clarinettist Martin Frost, the guest of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Pic Matts Backer

This was a superb concert, the audience particularly going into raptures over the Mozart clarinet concerto, with an unusual, challenging program beforehand. A strong Nordic connection was emphasised by the ACO’s Assistant Leader Satu Vänskä leading the ensemble on this occasion, and also introducing the works. Swedish virtuoso clarinettist Martin Frost, guest star in this concert, has an international profile, and next year will be artistic director of the Winterfest in Sweden. Frost also holds the post of Artistic Director of the International Chamber Music Festival in Stavanger, Norway.

First was RAUTAVAARA‘s ‘A Finnish Myth’, with ominous undertones and possibly a hint of Britten?  The energetic playing of the Orchestra emphasised the sharp, spiky strings and discordant themes which were at certain points contrasted with more lyrical, evocative ones.  Thunderous cellos and violas created a disturbing atmosphere.

The Myth segued straight into the Denisov, a far gentler violin showcase for Vanska, quite dancelike, with fast, fiddly fingers demanded  in the Paganini style.

The most striking work of the program was the Australian premiere of Goran Frost’s’ Dtangled’, featuring his brother Martin on clarinet. ‘DTangled,’ we were informed, began with improvisation. The question was asked ‘Isn’t all music quotes?” “And, indeed, who are we? Wearing tap shoes and  a distinctive slinky black suit with white piping detail ,  Martin Frost is tall , elegant and blonde and conducted keeping time through stamping his feet , clicking his fingers and dancing.

The dancing was almost Michael Jackson in style , but also at times ‘Petrushka’  like with Frost as the  marionette. Sometimes it was semi robotic and included jumps and breakdancing. The clarinet was magnificently played to convey an eerie, spooky atmosphere while at other times it was spiky, sharp and percussive. For one section there was unusual use of bowing on the soundboard for the tumultuous cello. For this work in particular there was dramatic lighting.

The Mozart Symphony No 21 in A K 134 that followed had sumptuous, elegant playing and was given a brisk, pulsating performance. The first movement had a lush, rich, vibrant sound. The second movement saw a theme stated then taken and developed with emphasis on the flutes and horns. The third movement had a jaunty dance like opening but became lyrical and flowing with a use of pizzicato. The final fourth movement had surging violins, all of which are ‘typical’ of the ACO ‘house style’

After interval came Broadstocks’ shimmering, haunting ‘Never truly lost’, commissioned by the family of the late Paddy Pallin, swirling and spiky with a pulsating cello. In the composer’s own words, this is, “a journey through an imaginary landscape and (an) imaginary bushwalk”. Vanska’s violin playing was sparse yet exquisite, the finale having the feel of the creation of stars, with a sonar pulse sound.

At the end of this piece there was a stunned silence then tumultuous applause.

Then came the big finale that we had all been waiting for, the Mozart clarinet concerto. Frost’s playing on his Bassett clarinet was sublime, ravishing, in his extraordinary dialogue with the orchestra. The second movement was lyrical, with fluid virtuosic ripples from the clarinet. The third movement had a jaunty opening and Frost had great fun with the tricky, bright flourishes. Frost did not move about as for ‘DTangled’ but rather swayed a little and breathed the music. Sheer bliss and it was given a rapturous reception. The encore was a sizzling rendition of one of Brahm’s Hungarian dances that still left the audience wanting more.

Running time 2 hours (approx) including interval

Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Mozart Clarinet Concerto  concert was performed between the 14th and 24th November at two venues, the Angel Place Recital Hall and the Sydney Opera House.


RAUTAVAARA- A Finnish Myth
DENISOV- Paganini Caprice No.9
G FRÖST- DTangled (Australian Premiere)
MOZART– Symphony No.21 in A, K.134
BROADSTOCK- Never Truly Lost (World Premiere)*
MOZART- Clarinet Concerto in A, K.622