Rachmaninov – The Symphonies: Concert 3

Rachmaninov The Symphonies Concert 3 ASO 2024Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Adelaide Town Hall. 29 Jun 2024


In 2023 the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra presented Rachmaninov’s three piano concertos in a special series of concerts. They were outstanding. This year, the ASO has presented another special series, and this time Rachmaninov’s three symphonies have been featured. The third and final concert was tonight, and maestro Andrew Litton went out on a high note but perhaps a little bit wearied. He threw everything he had at the series, and tonight’s concert was especially challenging, in both a physical and a musical sense.


The program included Aaron Copland’s ballet suite Appalachian Spring, Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin, Op.14, and Sergei Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.44. Each of these compositions is plucky and insatiable in the demands it places on the musicians (as well as the conductor). Backs were arched and strained smiles appeared on faces as the ASO accounted for itself exceedingly well across the breadth and depth of the program, and, in the final exultant moments of the symphony, Litton was literally leaping into the air driving the orchestra relentlessly to the climax. It was exhilarating!


Litton must have felt at home with the program, for it had an all-American flavour to it, even Rachmaninov’s symphony, with the composer’s pathway to becoming an American citizen well on the way. There are even hints of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song Shenandoah in the first movement (at least according to this reviewer!).


Copland wrote Appalachian Spring suite for the dancer/choreographer Martha Graham and her company. It is driven and cheerful and remains one of his most popular works. Litton carefully managed the phrasing and rhythms throughout and the woodwinds (particularly the clarinet) and brass were especially fine.


Emily Sun performed Barber’s violin concerto with great style, apparent ease, and great respect for its lyricism. In three movements, the real appeal lies in the andante second movement with its long orchestral introduction, early oboe solo performed beautifully by principal oboe Joshua Oates, followed by melodic surge after surge from Sun. On occasion the melodic material from the solo violin ends with dissonance, but Sun made it sound particularly sweet. The final movement is a musical roller coaster, with a plethora of technical difficulties for the violin to manage. Sun performed the requisite spiccato without fuss, and at great speed, and her thunderous applause at the conclusion of the concerto was well deserved.


Rachmaninov’s third symphony is scored for a large orchestra, including celesta and harp, and the Town Hall stage was brim full to almost overflowing. A truly impressive sight! Like the Barber violin concerto, the symphony is also compellingly energetic and borders on being relentless. It is also ripe with melody and evokes rural and diverse sweeping landscapes with its changing rhythms. Litton established bold tempo and dynamic schemas from the outset, which ensured that the melodic material sounded fresh and never over-emotional. Principal horn Adrian Uren was at the top of his game and essayed the opening phrases of the first and second movement with a beautiful tone.


At the conclusion of the concert, Litton allowed the entire orchestra to receive individual accolades section by section from the large audience. Perhaps the orchestra’s greatest accolade came from Litton himself, and it was well deserved.


Kym Clayton


When: 29 Jun

Where: Adelaide Town Hall

Bookings: Closed