Spot the odd one out: Haydn, Mozart, Johnny Greenwood, Tchaikovsky. No prizes for guessing rock band Radiohead guitarist, Johnny Greenwood. Such a choice encapsulates something of the spirit of this young, dynamic Australian Chamber Orchestra: the hip alongside the traditional; the conventional laced with the spirit of adventure. It was reflected in their programming, it was to be seen in their dress and it permeated their music-making. Tonight, they were joined by the consummate musician, Scottish pianist Stephen Osborne.

Steven Osborne © Benjamin Ealovega
Steven Osborne
© Benjamin Ealovega

Reversing the standard format of introductory modern piece, followed by concerto and ending with second-half symphony, the chronological trajectory made for a satisfying programme. The pairing of Haydn and Mozart allowed us to attune our ears to this genre, while the choice of Greenwood directly after the break showed a good understanding of psychology: audiences, particularly after such an entertaining first half, tend to be in a more receptive mood post-interval and therefore the ideal time to launch a world premiere. The glorious melodies and bravura inherent in Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence was always going to bring the concert to a rousing close.

Two things stood out for me in the performance of Haydn's Symphony no. 83 in G minor (La Poule): first, the energy of the ACO was palpable from the dramatic opening right to the rustic bravura of the Finale: and secondly, the attention to detail was most impressive. The ensemble phrased as one and the dynamics, while a shade theatrical in some of the fortissimo explosions, were most effective. The keen sense of urgency of the opening gave way to the humour of the 'clucking' hen sounds on the oboe and violins. The second movement was most expressively played, featuring some touching dialogue between flute and violin. The ACO is directed by their mercurial lead violinist, Richard Tognetti who, when not busy with his own score, conducts with his bow. The Finale possessed all the exuberance necessary bringing this symphony to a rollicking close.

For Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 27 in B flat major, soloist Stephen Osborne elected to have the piano perpendicular to the audience with the keyboard inwards. The ACO grouped themselves around Osborne facilitating easy communication between pianist and ensemble and thereby creating a wonderfully intimate effect. This was Mozart at its best: poetic, elegant, profound; graceful restraint juxtaposed with glistening pianism. There was a simplicity and nobility in Osborne's tone from the start and as the music flitted through the various keys in the development section I marvelled at the unity between soloist and orchestra, both in artistic vision and emotional response to the music. Osborne imbued the Larghetto with poetry and subtlety of sound, unfurling with great delicacy the tendrils of melody. This serenity was replaced immediately by the buoyancy and sparkling passage work of the hunt finaleI was struck that all the orchestra were riveted on Osborne's playing during the virtuosic cadenza: frequently, I have observed musicians zoning out at such moments. It highlights the fascination of Osborne's pianism and reflects on the intensity of the ACO's music-making.

Never having listened to any of Radiohead's music before I was curious as to what their lead guitarist, Greenwood, might offer in his new composition Water. Expecting at least a guitar or a constant beat throughout, I was surprised to find that it was an evocative piece, programmatic in parts and using complex compositional devices to imaginative effect. Scored for piano, keyboard, two flutes, strings and two tanpuras (Indian drone instruments) it is tripartite in structure. The first section was the most effective for me, with the ripples of water being suggested by wonderful overlapping ostinati. The second section was based on a two-part, dissonant idea growing in intensity and dynamics. The excessively repetitive nature coupled by the constant dissonance made this somewhat difficult to digest. The third section was based on cluster chords swelling and receding and conjured up the ineluctable motion of the sea.

The passion and enthusiasm of the ACO so clearly witnessed in all of tonight's concert found visible effect in Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence. Half way through the Allegro con spirirto one of the violinists beside the director suddendly left the stage, entering again at the end of this movement. Director Tognetti, in his enthusiasm, broke a string and swiftly handed it to the violinist beside him to change it. The ACO played the sublime melody of the Adagio cantabile e con moto with great fervour and while the improbable pppp section was more fulsome than Tchaikovsky might have requested, it was nonetheless most saisfyingly done. The last movment was eletrifying and the bravura of the final flourish brought the concert to a close and the audience to its feet.