Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Elder Hall. 9 Aug 2023
This reviewer has previously remarked that the ASO’s matinée concerts are a classy musical oasis in a busy week. There is nothing taxing in the music presented. Just unfussed elegance – pure and simple. The third concert in the series is titled Carefree, and it’s a perfect description. It begins with Aaron Copland’s über tuneful Clarinet Concert performed by the ASO’s principal clarinet Darren Skelton, and is followed by Schubert’s Symphony No.3 in D, D.200, which was composed when he was only 18 years old.
The concert begins with what has become the ASO’s traditional musical Acknowledgment of Country – Pudnanthi Padninthi (The Coming and the Going) by Buckskin. Regular ASO concert goers will have heard it numerous times before, and this presents a wonderful listening opportunity. Although it is being performed by the ASO, it is frequently done so under the direction of a different conductor. On this occasion, Luke Dollman is on the podium and he ‘does it his way’. Yes, the notes on the paper are the same, but the result is subtly different. With a slightly smaller orchestra and in the acoustic of the Elder Hall, the piece becomes more enunciated and precise. For the first time ever, one saw and heard the heavy sighing that is written into piece, and the French horn was more pronounced. Small things, but it was like hearing Pudnanthi Padninthi as if for the first time. This is the joy of live music.
Dean Newcomb is a superb clarinettist, and from the very start of the concerto he made the performance his own. The iconic benny Goodman commissioned Copland to write the work, and so it is unsurprising that it is jazz inflected and provides numerous opportunities for the clarinet to take centre stage, especially in the exciting cadenza that links the two movements. From the very start the clarinet announces a melodic theme that is evocative of sweeping American vistas. It is almost filmic, and the absence of percussion, brass and woodwind in the scoring, and the inclusion of harp and piano (which take on distinctive tumbling arpeggiated phrases), allows the solo clarinet to have a field day! Newcombe relished the cadenza and briefly wandered the front of the stage (not too far!) and was ‘squarely in the moment’. But the demands of the spiky syncopated rhythms and the frequent and changing dialogues with the orchestra in the second movement re-established more obvious and discernible communication between orchestra, conductor and soloist.
The applause for Newcombe at the end was generous, sustained, and deserved.
Schubert’s Symphony No.3 in D is youthful and uncomplicated. Even though Schubert had already written a dizzying number of compositions by the time he wrote the symphony, it has all the hallmarks of a composer who is still experimenting with and developing a symphonic style of their own. It is melodic, as would be expected from someone like Schubert, but it is impatient and moves quickly from one musical idea to the next without in-depth exploration. Arguably Dollman tries to make too much of this symphony by pushing the dynamics in the strings a little too far in the first and third movements which blurs the lightness of the dance rhythms. Again, the clarinet (this time from Mitchell Berick and Darren Skelton) has a significant role in laying out various melodies, and it’s delightful. American short story writer, journalist, poet and American Civil War veteran, Ambrose Bierce, was surely being mischievous when he infamously opined “There are two instruments worse than a clarinet – two clarinets!”
The audience reaction from hearing the Shubert was one of unanimous delight. Many could be heard saying afterwards that this was the first occasion they had ever heard it, which is not a surprise considering the last time the ASO performed it was back in 1978 under Israeli born Elyakum Shapirra, who was the ASO’s chief conductor from 1975 to 1979.
When: 9 Aug
Where: Elder Hall