Adelaide Symphony Orchestra Season Opening Concert

Adelaide Town Hall. 3 Feb 2012

As wonderful as music recording technology is, it can never substitute for the live experience of the concert hall.  Music should not be a single sensory experience.  It should be heard as well as seen and felt, and it should be visceral.  The concert hall can provide all those things, and more, as did the opening concert of the ASO’s 2012 season.

Maestro Volmer’s programming intelligently showed the orchestra to its best advantage and in all its glory.  The program followed a ‘classical’ format: a stirring overture, then a concerto followed by a symphony to finish, but the selections had ‘wow’ factor!

The evening kicked off with the iconic Prelude to Act 1 of Wagner’s comic and ever popular opera The Mastersingers of Nuremberg.  It was exuberant, bold and brassy, but overpowered.  Fully, 70 plus musicians belted out the familiar melody - and arm chair conductors, throughout the gorgeous Town Hall, beat out the time with their fingers on their laps - but the subtleties of the piece struggled to come to the surface in the avalanche of sound.

Dressed in a drop-dead-gorgeous elegant blue gown, ASO Concertmaster Natsuko Yoshimoto then took the stage as soloist in the Sibelius Violin Concerto.  She is a world class musician and tackled the almost obscene technical difficulties of the piece with apparent ease, great sensitivity and musicality.  Volmer knew what he wanted from the soloist and orchestra, and got it.  He has an astute understanding of Sibelius – I fondly recall him conducting the full symphony cycle in the ASO’s Sibelius Festival in 2007, and the boxed set of ABC recordings still grace my shelves.

In celebration of Fritz Kreisler’s birthday – born almost to the day in 1875 – Yoshimoto led the orchestra from the violin in an encore of Kreisler’s Liebesleid und Liebesfreud, and to the audience’s delight Volmer, who had not returned to the podium after the final bows before the encore, re-emerged from the percussion section and played the final note on the triangle!

Hector Berlioz’s landmark Symphonie Fantastique capped off the program.  This symphony is big in every way:  it has expansive melodies which drive the piece rather than traditional forms dictating the musical ideas, and it needs a large, very large, orchestra including two tuba (very rare!) two harps, and ...wait for it...no less than four timpanists.  Did I say wow factor?  At its conclusion, the orchestra still had energy and enthusiasm for a final encore in the form of Berlioz’s ever popular Hungarian March from the Damnation of Faust.

This concert truly showed off the talents of the ASO and left the audience hungry for the beginning of the Master Series on 29th March, which will feature two icons of the repertoire:  Beethoven’s imperial Symphony No.3 and Tchaikovsky’s stunning piano Concerto No.1.  Yes, of course you’ve got them on CD but you shouldn’t miss them live!  And, between then and now is the Adelaide Festival, so hold on for a thrilling ride.  Ya gotta love Adelaide!

Kym Clayton