Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Festival Theatre. 13 Feb 2016
At the end of the Beethoven Violin Concerto I asked the young lad who was sitting alongside of me with his mother what he thought of the performance. He smiled widely and exclaimed that it was “fantastic”. At the end of the performance of Act 1 of Wagner’s Die Walküre, I hesitated to ask him again – Wagner is not everyone’s cup of tea, and this young lad’s preferred tipple was probably chocolate milk – but to my very great surprise he whispered that it was “beautiful”.
He of course was correct on both counts.
Beethoven’s Violin Concerto is one of the best known and most loved in the repertoire, and Canadian violinist James Ehnes gives a masterful reading. As one of the world’s leading violinists, Ehnes, as you would expect, has superb technique and polished musicality. With the expert collaboration of maestro Nicholas Carter, Ehnes gently balances the dynamics and suitably privileges the final movement to allow the playfulness and majesty to fully play out.
Carter ensures the first two movements are not overplayed and even the very softest notes from Ehnes’ 1715 Stradivarius are clearly heard. Carter’s placement of the orchestra assists the acoustic balancing in the cavernous Festival theatre auditorium. The cadenzas are a highlight and demonstrate Ehnes’ flair and musical imagination. The performance is beautifully articulated; a feature of the Wagner as well. Ehnes is rapturously applauded by the huge audience, and he rewards them with a breathtaking encore of the third movement from Bach’s 1st Violin Sonata.
The Beethoven alone is worth the price of the admission ticket, but the Wagner is something else. The vast stage is full to overflowing with extra instruments: a full complement of brass, including Wagner tubas, and bass and contra instruments; two harps and two timpanists. Every section seems augmented. Wagner’s music is expansive if nothing else. And so begins sixty minutes of intense musical drama. The roles of Siegmund, Sieglinde and Hunding are sung by Simon O’Neill, Michelle DeYoung and Shane Lawrence. They are all world class soloists and they have the music at their mercy. O’Neill in particular is dominant. His precise articulation and sheer vocal power to be able to rise above the might of the orchestra and be clearly heard and understood is simply awesome. DeYoung is equally imposing and her formidable mezzo voice handles, with comparative ease, the difficult tessitura presented by the role. O’Neill and DeYoung are both fine actors, and the absence of scenery and properties in what is a concert performance is of no consequence. Carter again commands the forces of the orchestra with great care and demonstrates a deep understanding of the orchestra as an additional character.
This is Carter’s first concert with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra as its new Principal Conductor, and he has clearly established a rapport and understanding with the players.
A fine performance all round.
Where: Festival Theatre