Beyond Pictures

Beyond Pictures ASO Master Series 4Master Series 4. Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Town Hall. 23 Jun 2018


Sibelius, Rachmaninov, Pärt, and Mussorgsky, all in the hands of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, conductor Arvo Volmer, and pianist Stephen Hough.

Lethal combination.


Despite the obvious similarity in their names, The Swan of Tuonela by Sibelius and Swansong by Arvo Pärt could not be more different. The Sibelius has sweeping pastoral melodies liberally laced with melancholy, where the Pärt is, in typical style of the composer, textually more sparse (at least at the beginning) which then evolves into something broader and hymnal. Volmer exploits the similarities and differences between them and allows various principals in the orchestra to shine. Of particular note is Peter Duggan on Cor Anglais in the Sibelius. It should be noted this is the first performance of Swansong and it is highly likely it will feature again at some stage. It is quite delightful.


Although the concert finished with Volmer’s superb reading of the Ashkenazy orchestration of Mussorgsky’s celebrated Pictures at an Exhibition, the main event is Stephen Hough at the piano playing Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, Op.43.


Hough is one of the best pianists alive. Watching him perform is to witness a musician who is not only technically brilliant but who is also an accomplished interpreter and communicator of the fundamental essence of the music. Hough’s pianism in the famous eighteenth variation, which has been used (and abused!) in numerous films (such as Groundhog Day, Ronin and the TV series The Good Wife) is quite transcendent: something that can be quite mawkish is instead serenely poignant. Volmer ensures that the orchestra allow this to happen.


Mussorgsky’s Pictures was originally composed as a work on a grand scale for solo piano, but it is probably better known in its orchestrated form. It is scored for a large orchestra and runs the gamut of metres, tempos and dynamics. If not handled carefully it can at times become aural ‘mush’. Volmer extracts exquisite clarity from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and the fine balance inherent in the Ashkenazy orchestration is faithfully rendered.


The very large audience contentedly left the Town Hall humming and whistling a number of melodies. This is a warming and satisfying concert.


Kym Clayton


When: 23 Jun

Where: Adelaide Town Hall

Bookings: Closed

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