The Australian Chamber Orchestra arrived Saturday night at El Camino College's Marsee Auditorium with an ambitious, even daring, program. This was not your usual touring fare. The ensemble should get extra credit.
The concert opened with a Handel concerto grosso (Opus 6, No. 1) and proceeded, with two intermissions, through Haydn's C-major Cello Concerto (Steven Isserlis as soloist) and arrangements of Satie's "Choses vues a droit et a gauche (sans lunettes)," Szymanowski's Second String Quartet and George Crumb's "Black Angels." From start to finish, conductor and concertmaster Richard Tognetti led performances notable for ensemble cohesion and stylistic acumen.
There probably isn't much that was cutting-edge in 1970 that doesn't seem dated now, and Crumb's "Black Angels" (1970) was cutting-edge. Its flower-child mysticism and spacey, psychedelic sounds--created by, among other things, a wine glass choir, vocalized exhortations and electric string quartet (bucked up to chamber orchestra size here)--have little shock value today and are certainly slim on substance.
Still, these young Australians dug into the challenge in all seriousness, resulting in entertaining, if not intense, theater.
Satie's "Choses" (originally for violin and piano) proved a typically silly, anti-musical thing, complete with bicyclist and hecklers for its soloist. The performance might have been a little too polished for the music's blunt humor.
Period instrument practice informed the crisp, sonorous account of the Handel, and Szymanowski's quartet benefited from the extra players, its colors filled in.
Isserlis was an irresistible protagonist in the Haydn, capable of grandly flourished statements.