Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Town Hall. 22 Sep 2023
What’s in a title? The ASO’s seventh Symphony Series concert in the current season is entitled Dreams, and it’s almost a perfect description. The title refers to the outcomes of dreaming at a subconscious level rather than consciously wishing for particular things to eventuate. With that understanding in mind, it was interesting to observe so many members in the audience taking opportunities at various times to close their eyes and let the music transport them to all manner of places.
In what has now become the ASO’s traditional musical Acknowledgment of Country, Pudnanthi Padninthi transports one to distant places in this vast country known best to our indigenous brothers and sisters. As we listen, we are briefly introduced to the mystery of the connection to country, and ….. the ‘dreams’ begin.
In a première by any Australian orchestra, American composer Grace-Evangeline Mason’s The Imagined Forest is an orchestral tone poem that is very pleasing to the ear, and uncomplicated to listen to. It comprises a dizzying fusion of melodies and rhythms that wash through and around you. No sooner does one instrument introduce melodic material, which is quickly seized upon by the wider orchestra, than it dissolves away and is replaced by something else. The auditory experience is ephemeral, as are dreams. It is fascinating to hear so many instruments foregrounded that often are not, such as xylophone, other percussion, and piccolo.
Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.1 in D, Op.19, begins eccentrically. The solo violin enters almost immediately and announces a languid, pensive, and preoccupied theme. Indeed, the score is notated ‘sognando’ which translates as ‘dreamily’. Atypically, the usual fast-slow-fast movement structure of a concerto is switched around and replaced with slow-fast-slow, and it finishes as abruptly and unexpectedly as it begins. Virtuoso Ilya Gringolts plays with clarity and coaxes the most transcendent tones from his Stradivari violin as he expertly navigates the technical difficulties of the composition and makes it look easy. It is fascinating to watch concertmaster Kate Suthers while Gringolts plays: she clearly loves and understands the concerto and knows precisely how to lead her fellow violins, and the appreciative glance Gringolts gives her at the end of the scherzo movement speaks volumes. At the conclusion of the concerto, both Gringolts and guest conductor Mark Wigglesworth both acknowledge Suthers. It is a sign of mutual respect rather than duty.
After the interval, the temperate dreaming of the first half is put to the sword and replaced by feverish and tormented fantasising in a no-holds-barred reading of Sibelius’ Symphony No.1 in E minor, Op.39. Like the tone poem luxuriously performed earlier in the program, the Sibelius is redolent with lyricism. It begins with heroic yet plaintive tones from Dean Newcomb’s sublimely played clarinet which is soon engulfed by the full might of the orchestra. Wigglesworth is unafraid to let the orchestra erupt and inundate the audience with heartfelt and enthusiastic acknowledgment of the melodic material, and it is awe inspiring to see timpanist Andrew Penrose in full flight. Harpist Kate Moloney is inspiring in the opening of the second movement, and Wigglesworth is able to extract almost vocal tones from the violins in the finale, almost as if the symphony is a choral symphony.
At the end, the feverish dreaming is well and truly over as the highly appreciative audience gave generous and deserved applause.
When: 22 Sep
Where: Adelaide Town Hall