Rachmaninov – The Symphonies: Concert Two

Rachmaninov The Symphonies Concert Two ASO 2024Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Town Hall. 26 Jun 2024


Maestro Andrew Litton conducted Rachmaninov’s mighty and much-loved Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 26 from memory. This is no mean feat. The symphony comprises four movements, is scored for a large orchestra, is richly detailed, and comes in around sixty minutes. But perhaps it is not too surprising, as Litton has recorded it twice: with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1990, and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra more recently in 2015.


So, Litton knows the work well, and it shows. The capacity audience loved his interpretation so much they erupted in spontaneous and joyous applause before the final chord even had a chance to fade away into the expanse of the Adelaide Town Hall. As he was taking his bows, he accepted the customary bouquet of gorgeous Tynte Flowers and carefully removed a rich red rose and presented it to Concertmaster Kate Suthers, who richly deserved it. Litton then acknowledged principal clarinet Dean Newcombe, who beautifully played a solo in the third movement, timpanist Andrew Penrose, whose timing and intonation was impeccable throughout, Sami Butler and the rest of the percussionists who never faulted in adding sparkle, the brass players and horns who were bold and imperious, almost choral-like, the woodwinds who almost broke our hearts as they played plangent melodies, and of course the passionate but superbly discipled strings who ultimately shoulder the load.


The Symphony is so rich with glorious melodies that some of them have been quoted in film such as Birdman, starring Michel Keaton, and in pop songs like Never Gonna Fall in Love Again by Eric Carman, and If I Should Love Again by Barry Manilow. The melodies are so tuneful they become earworms and members of the audience were humming them as they were leaving the Hall, undaunted by the cold Adelaide winter evening. They are so tuneful that they risk being played in an overemotional and syrupy way, especially the iconic Dies irae theme so loved by Rachmaninov, but Litton had none of that. He demanded, and received, discipline and control, and the ASO performed and sounded as good as it ever has.


The concert began with virtuoso Konstantin Shamray giving a breath-taking performance of Prokofiev’s Concerto for Piano No. 3 in C major, Op.26. Shamray is well known to Adelaide audiences – he lived and worked amongst us for several years – and his virtuosic skills are almost the stuff of legend. His technique is phenomenal, and the clarity and depth of sound he produces stands in contrast to the efficiency and modest grandiosity he demonstrates at the keyboard. Litton frequently had his eyes on Shamray and between them they negotiated a cracking pace from the outset. At times I thought it was too pacy, but the aforementioned discipline of the orchestra and Shamray’s astounding ability to articulate regardless of how punishing the tempo and dynamics might be ensured success. It was so successful the audience spontaneously applauded at the end of the first movement. The flute and clarinet at the beginning of the second movement were quite blissful, and Shamray rode the wave and negotiated the difficult cross hand work with apparent ease. The turbulent third movement saw Shamray execute pianistic gymnastics with blistering arpeggios, with, I am told, an instance of playing two notes simultaneously with the one finger (not a thumb, which is much easier)! All in an evening’s work, and the audience lapped it up and showed their appreciation with thunderous applause.


There is one more concert in this Rachmaninov series, and it will feature Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 3. It plays Saturday 29 June 2024 at 7.30pm in the Adelaide Town Hall, and tickets will be scarce. Don’t delay.


Kym Clayton


When: 26 Jun

Where: Adelaide Town Hall

Bookings: Closed