Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Town Hall. 31 Mar 2023
The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s signature Symphony Series exploded out of the blocks with an emotion charged program that was like a caged beast desperate for release. After what has become the ASO’s traditional musical Acknowledgement of Country, Pudnanthi Padninthi (The Coming and the Going) – a haunting and prescient musical presage specially commissioned and composed by Jack Buckskin – we heard the first performance by the ASO of seldom-heard French romantic composer Louise Farrenc’s Overture No.2 in E flat, Op.24, followed by Grieg’s iconic Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16, featuring audience-favourite Konstantin Shamray at the piano. The concert finished with Elgar’s expansive Symphony No.1 in A flat, Op.55. Watching carefully over and nurturing the proceedings were ASO Conductor Laureate Nicholas Braithwaite and newly installed concertmaster Kate Suther. Both had big nights!
Everything about the program was big, imposing and oh-so-impressive.
In her day, Farrenc was better known as a pianist than as a composer, but her Overture No.2 – a concert overture as distinct from one that precedes and introduces a major stage work such as an opera – has the hallmarks of someone who knows exactly how to corral the assembled forces of a symphony orchestra. This reviewer had not heard Overture No.2 before and was struck by the rush of musical ideas in it, especially in the violas, cellos, and basses. Melodies, however, were transitory and the piece begs to be listened to again to fully appreciate it.
When the overture was concluded, Shamray briskly took to the stage, gave his customary brief and no-nonsense bow to the audience, and sat down at the Steinway. With no delay, Braithwaite summoned the timpani into action and Grieg’s famous concerto was under way. Seconds later, Shamray summoned the familiar and crashing A-minor chords from the upper register of the piano with enormous strength and uninhibited passion. From then on, it was clear this was going to be no ordinary reading of one of the most popular and well-known piano concertos ever written. It’s risky for a musician to stray too far from what is ‘expected’ from a composition, but Shamray is all class and the sustained strength and pace with which he performed the concerto seemed, by the end, the norm. Braithwaite was of course ‘in on it’, and the ASO was equally robust. The woodwinds in the final movement had some difficulty in being heard clearly, however, and some of the more delicate melodies were overshadowed.
Elgar’s first symphony is a monumental piece, coming in at around fifty minutes. The sizeable first movement unfolds at a languid pace and radiates both strength and graciousness. The main theme becomes an ear worm and is heard often right until the end of the symphony. The nobility of the first movement segues into what almost seems a mélange of forms, but Braithwaite holds a firm line with pace and dynamics, and it makes sense. The third movement is sublime, with superb playing from the strings, and the final movement restates the main theme to round it all out. It is almost exhausting taking it all in – it's big – but the panoramic pomp and circumstance is deeply satisfying!
When: 31 Mar
Where: Adelaide Town Hall