Tchaikovsky on Sunday

Adelaide Town Hall. 8 Sep 2012

Two sold out houses and an extra performance to satisfy the voracious public demand for an all Tchaikovsky program.  That is the pulling power of the giants of the repertoire, and Tchaikovsky’s name is right up there.  His Symphony No. 6 in B minor – the so-called ‘Pathétique’ – is surely one of the most loved and deeply moving symphonies ever written, and his Piano Concerto No. 2 is a provoking composition verily dripping with a surfeit of melodies.

So, if you missed out, you missed out, and you missed a most spectacular concert. 

Stephen Hough, polymath and international superstar of the keyboard, attacked the concerto with bravura, precision yet sensitivity, and the audience was excited by, and in awe of, his musicianship and technique.  The composition itself is a rather odd creature and doesn’t ever seem to settle itself into one thing or another; it is also nowhere near as famous or often played as Tchaikovsky’s iconic first piano concerto with its unmistakeable opening crashing chords. The andante middle movement is at times a concerto for piano and violin and cello, with the three featured instruments taking turns at developing the melody.  Concertmaster Natsuko Yoshimoto and principal cellist Janis Laurs also wowed the audience with their virtuosity.  Guest conductor Martyn Brabbins took the work at pace and accentuated the dynamics wherever possible.  The result was stirring if not always accurate.

And so to the main event; The Pathétique created a real stir at its debut performance.  It was simply not understood. Standing in stark contrast to many of Tchaikovsky’s melody-driven compositions it bordered on being violent and it broke musical conventions of the day; for example, finishing with a very slow movement.  But several weeks after its first performance, Tchaikovsky suddenly died and it was played at a memorial concert in his honour.  The audience developed a new appreciation for the piece and wondered whether it had a deeper meaning.  Tchaikovsky was homosexual and there was debate at the time whether he was encouraged to suicide to avoid scandal.  Such stories have since been debunked and what we are left with is one of the most soulful pieces of orchestral music ever written.  Brabbins again wrought every nuance from the piece’s dynamic range and this allowed individual instruments to be better appreciated, at least to this critic’s ear.  Principal clarinet Dean Newcomb and principal bassoon Mrk Gaydon were especially at the top of their game.

At the final downbeat and with the last fading agonised sound, Brabbins held the moment almost in suspended animation for a full ten seconds and allowed the gravitas to permeate the auditorium.  He then gave over to the capacity audience that erupted into heartfelt applause that lasted a full five minutes.

Kym Clayton

When: Closed
Where: Adelaide Town Hall
Bookings: Closed