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Music review: ASO's Love & War

Music

This latest performance in the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s delightful Master Series offered two works on opposing themes: a sweet and joyful Chopin concerto before a Shostakovich symphony that was both discomforting and thoroughly enthralling.

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In the initial Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op.21, Benjamin Grosvenor was the star at the keyboard. Multi-award-winning and internationally renowned, Grosvenor began playing the piano at age six.

His phrasing was impeccable. His precise touch showed a lyrical approach to the work, whether it was with trills and rapid runs or allowing more isolated notes to shine, pearl-like, in the slower passages as strings hovered gently behind.

Grosvenor knows when to let the detail – the embroidered accents, so to speak – come to the fore, and conductor Mark Wigglesworth made sure that the ASO was right with him. It was masterful playing at all levels, offering restraint and energy in turn for this lyrical piece.

If the Chopin is light and littered with sparks, a lilting ride, the remarkable Shostakovich Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op.65 is very much the opposite—confronting stuff from the first uncompromisingly grave strains. The very earthed tones of cellos and basses lift, moving to lighter but in no way ethereal strings.

Shostakovich was writing a requiem for the millions of dead in Russian pogroms and during World War II, a poem on horrible suffering. Merely wanting to represent an idea does not guarantee moving an audience but it seems impossible to remain unaffected by this dramatic piece.

Tension ebbs and flows as it shifts between visceral moments of destruction, with gunshot percussion and squalling terrors, on the one hand, and deceptive lulls on the other. There is still melancholy in the latter moments that provide temporary respite from the immanent re-emergence of massed, explosive sounds. It is very much music as metaphor and one of the best performances I have heard from the ASO.

Leaving the Adelaide Town Hall, I felt the contradictory moods of the Chopin and Shostakovich sharply. Most of all, it was the Shostakovich that gripped and stayed on in my mind. Any chance of a repeat in, say, the 2020 program?

The next concert in the ASO’s Maser Series will be Sibelius Ablaze, to be presented at the Adelaide Town Hall on October 12 and 13.

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