Master Series No 7. Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Festival Theatre. 28 Sep 2018
Expressions of tenderness and love through Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor, and the terror of war through Shostakovich’s Symphony No 8 in C minor. The two halves of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Master Series No 7 concert could not have been more different, and nor could they have evoked more diametrically opposed responses. The evening is a roller coaster ride of emotions, and it is almost a blessing to leave the emotion laden confines of the Adelaide Town Hall for the spring chills outside.
Benjamin Grosvenor gives a fine performance of the Chopin, but it seems safe. His prodigious talent and technical expertise tame the contrasting moods of the concerto’s three movements and the result is a deeply satisfying gestalt. The larghetto second movement is achingly beautiful and Grosvenor is able to expose its inner transcendent qualities.
Maestro Mark Wigglesworth’s reading of the Shostakovich is simply extraordinary. It is a long work –around sixty minutes long – and the central challenge is to lay bare but not fall prey to its grim and raw psychology. This particular symphony, like many others of Shostakovich, is best appreciated when one knows the context in which it was written. Symphony No 8 is not so much a response to the horrors of World War II but an indictment of Stalin’s subjugation of his own people. Through the music we experience the ugly reality and grind of the everyday life of the oppressed Russians. We bear witness to their physical and mental torture and their longing for deliverance into something better. We catch glimpses of their battered but ultimately inextinguishable spirit and pride. All of this is experienced over an unrelenting hour that feels like an eternity and also like seconds.
Wigglesworth controls the aural landscape with almost ruthless passion; the orchestra itself has never sounded finer. The whole visceral experience has one gripping the seat and clenching one’s jaw. It is almost too much, and at the end the audience is silent for a full fifteen seconds. Then the applause starts, and it builds and builds and builds and persists. It is almost inappropriate to clap, but we do. Despite the subject material, it is a masterful performance.
When: 28 Sep
Where: Festival Theatre