Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Adelaide Town Hall. 16 Sep 2017
This is surely one of the best, if not the best, performance of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra this season, and it is the night principal Conductor Nicholas Carter loses his Bruckner virginity! (He announced on social media sometime after the concert that it was his “… first Bruckner tonight”!)
Bruckner’s Symphony No.4 in E-flat, which he himself nicknamed the Romantic, was revised on a number of occasions and not always by the composer himself. Tonight’s concert is the so-called Nowak edition (after the esteemed musicologist and Bruckner authority Leopold Nowak). It is an epic work and plays for around seventy minutes, making it one of the longest symphonies ever composed (though not the longest – that honor goes to Havergal Brian’s 105 minutes long Symphony No 1. The Gothic!).
Bruckner’s 4th is heavy lifting, and the glistening sweat on Maestro Carter’s brow is evident during the rapturous bows when it is all over; the applause is richly deserved. The composition features much use of the horns and brass, and it is fitting that Carter first acknowledges Adrian Uren, section leader of the horns. When horns have such a dominant role, there is always an air of tension and anticipation just before its first note is played. Will the pitch be perfect? Will pesky overtones get in the way?
Happily, Uren nails it from the first horn call over the tremoring strings, and keeps nailing it. The majesty and solemnity of the composition is never in doubt.
Celia Craig is outstanding on the oboe, as always, and Julia Grenfell on flute is sweetness personified. Peter Whish-Wilson has a ball on tuba and gives depth to the sonority of the performance. David Phillips on double bass clearly ‘grooves’ Bruckner and is a joy to watch.
The orchestra features a number of new faces – at least new to this reviewer – and to a person they perform as if they are seasoned members of the ASO: Caleb Wright and Michael Robertson on viola, Louis Cann on double bass, Liam O’Malley on trombone, to name a few.
Carter places the second violins on his right which produces a rich antiphonal effect that greatly enhances the heady richness of the music. A similar arrangement is used for the performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 in G earlier in the evening. At the keyboard is French virtuoso Jean-Efflam Bavouzet who gives a relaxed but highly assured reading of the ever-popular concerto. Dressed in a comfortable black lounge suit with open-necked shirt, Bavouzet beguiles us and amply demonstrates his deep understanding and familiarity with Beethoven’s piano music. Bavouzet applies considerable forearm strength and gives a robust performance, but one which includes the grace, lightness of touch, and delicate phrasing - as well as humour - that is also demanded by this composition. The empathy between Carter and Bavouzet is evident.
As cheekily mentioned above, this was Carter’s first Bruckner, and one hopes it is not his last, especially with the Adelaide Symphony. Bruckner’s 7th is scheduled for next June under the baton of esteemed English conductor Mark Wigglesworth, so perhaps, just perhaps we may have the beginnings of a full Bruckner cycle to play out over the coming years; fingers crossed.
This concert, however was a one-off! So much effort invested into just one performance. I feel so lucky for having been there, and the feeling from the audience is unanimous – it was indeed a special evening.
When: 16 Sep 2017
Where: Adelaide Town Hall