Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Town Hall. 23 Jun 2023
Styled Skyward, the third concert in the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s flagship Symphony Series was in every respect a soaring achievement of surprise, programming, and performance.
‘Don Juan’ Symphonic Poem, Op.20, is one of by Richard Strauss’ most enduring works. Scored for a large orchestra, its thematic material allows almost every instrument to reach skyward and have its moment in the sun. The piece parallels the life journey as depicted in Nikolaus Lenau’s epic poem Don Juans Ende of the infamous sexual libertine Dion Juan as he strives for but never finds what he would consider to be true love. His journey is characterised by great anticipation and excitement followed by crushing disappointment, to be repeated again and again. The arc of the music follows these highs and lows, and guest conductor Tarmo Peltokoski plumbs it for every dramatic effect possible. His gesturing is generous, with wide sweeping arcs of his arms, but is studied and razor sharp with intent and meaning. The orchestra plays with animation and overt excitement with the strings almost (but not quite) consuming everything in their path and the woodwinds and horns sounding as good as they ever have.
The Strauss almost saps one’s energy, but Li-Wei Qin’s performance of Haydn’s Cello Concerto No.1 in C Hob.VIIb:1 catches and refreshes us with his exquisite phrasing and dynamic control of the simple but luxurious melodies. Scored for a much smaller orchestra than the Strauss, the concerto can sound merely sweet and gentle. It is those things, but it also has a vigorous beating heart not too far below the surface, and Li-Wei Qin found it. He attacks the downbeat in the moderato first movement almost as strongly as the great Jacqueline du Pre does in her legendary recordings of the Dvořák cello concerto. Li-Wei Qin’s playing is quite eye-opening, and the audience brought him back for no fewer than three curtain calls when it was over. Peltokoski was less effusive in conducting the Haydn, but the communication between he and Li-Wei Qin was palpable. Indeed, Li-Wei Qin at times conducted with his bow hand!
The second half of the program is full of surprise. It begins with a performance of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s Ciel d’hiver (Winter Sky). Like the Don Juan, it is a single continuous movement, and although it doesn’t illustrate a poem, it could easily do so as it traverses bleak but mysterious themes redolent with melodic fragments and layers . Then as it finishes, with barely a pause, Peltokoski immediately segues into Symphony No.7 in C, Op.105, by Sibelius.
The ASO has the distinction of having recorded all the Sibelius symphonies under conductor Arvo Volmer in 2007 in the Adelaide Town Hall, and although the personnel of the orchestra have significantly changed since then, the spirit of Sibelius looms large. Symphony No.7 is also a one movement composition, and like Ciel d’hiver it evokes primary life-forces. It has been described as being “like a great planet in orbit”, and noting that Ciel d’hiver began its life as a movement from a larger piece titled Orion, it was apt, but surprising, that Peltokoski should ‘link’ the two compositions as if they were part of the one work. Again, he extracted the very best from the brass and horns, and in many respects the evening belonged to the brass and woodwind. At only 22 years of age, he demonstrates a deep understanding of the music that might usually be expected from someone with many more years of experience. Peltokoski is a wunderkind.
This concert was something out of the proverbial hat. The large audience left riding high on emotion and with great appreciation.
When: 23 Jun
Where: Adelaide Town Hall