Masters 8. Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Festival Theatre. 10 Oct 2014
Benjamin Northey, guest conductor, and Piers Lane, piano, headed the billing for the ASO’s homage to Spanish music, but it was a mostly French affair with the music of Ravel dominating the program and his iconic and much loved Boléro stealing the lion’s share of the applause from a otherwise restrained audience. Sure, the audience enjoyed the evening but I think many of them wanted a more substantial program.
Chabrier’s ‘España’ is probably his best known work, and once the first theme on muted trumpets establishes itself one senses that an old friend has come to visit and the toe tapping in the audience is almost audible.
Resplendent in his formal attire, shock of curly hair, and red and green socks, Piers Lane joined the orchestra as a first amongst equals in what is really an impressionistic score of three independent pieces that evoke the drama of nature. Piers played with just enough flashiness while Northey kept the dance rhythms fresh and lively and didn’t allow the clatter of a dropped bow, courtesy of one of the violists, to distract.
And then the rest of the evening belonged to Ravel. The ‘Alborada del gracioso’ and the ‘Rhapsodie espagnole’ evoke the very pulse of the life of Spain. The polished musicianship and skill of the orchestra was laid bare for all to see in the fast sections: crisp, rhythmic and dance-like.
The ‘Pavane pour une infant défunte’ aroused sighs of serenity from members of the audience but Northey did not plumb the depths of pathos that the composition should yield up. The dynamics at times overshadowed the woodwinds which should exemplify the deep piece’s intense introspection.
But the highlight of the evening for the audience was Ravel’s ‘Boléro’. Folklore has it that Ravel once said of the ‘Boléro’ that “it contains no music." As we all know it is a continuous repetition of two melodies with a persistent underlying pattern on the snare drum. Instruments are gently added one by one in waves, starting with the woodwinds, and it slowly builds towards a climax that shifts and builds into something expected but also surprising. The final and tremendous tutti chews you up and spits you out! It’s exhilarating and the audience roared with pleasure.
Where: Adelaide Festival Theatre