Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Town Hall. 11 Feb 2017
Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which is essentially a piano concerto, and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No.2 are perhaps strange bedfellows when presented on the same “great classics” programme, but together they worked a treat. There are some connections between them: the rhapsody includes ‘that’ famous clarinet glissando, and the third movement of the symphony also features a hauntingly beautiful clarinet solo. Both were brought to us by ASO principal clarinet Dean Newcomb who was at his best and greatly deserved his individual applause; and back in 1924, when the concerto had its debut performance, Rachmaninoff himself was in the audience.
The music of Gerswhin is quintessentially American. Its rhythms and melodies are idiosyncratic, it is jazz inflected, and it bears some of the impressionistic hallmarks of Ravel and Debussy. The famous Rhapsody is all those things, and from the opening clarinet gliss through to the final crashing chords on the piano, it is a roller coaster of invention, melody and toe-tapping good fun. Early in the piece, Carter threw out the challenge to pianist Simon Tedeschi and from then on it was an exciting conversation between soloist and orchestra that pushed the piece to its limits. At times the orchestra seemed overpowered, but Tedeschi always responded with something that shone thorough: at times it was his almost ruthless strength, and at other times it was his gentle and calming lyricism. The large audience lapped it up and didn’t let Tedeschi escape without an encore. He is an Australian treasure.
Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No.2 in E minor comes in at around sixty minutes. Whichever way you look at it, it is vast in its conception. Where the Gershwin announces it numerous melodies with little fuss, the Rachmaninoff takes its time – lots of it – but there is not a wasted moment. Every bar is needed and the result is full of light and shade, simplicity and complexity, brooding and cheerfulness. Whereas Carter threw himself onto the podium and into the first beat of the Gershwin, he approached the Rachmaninoff with considered care and thoughtfulness. The audience knows what to expect in the third movement, when the piece announces what is surely one of the finest Rachmaninoff tunes ever, but Carter also drew out the more subtle beauty of the first and second movements as well, before strapping us in for the bumpy ride of the finale.
This was the first major concert of the ASO’s 2017 calendar. What a ride, but there’s a lot more to come!
When: 11 Feb
Where: Adelaide Town Hall