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Music review: ASO’s Firebird

Music

Featuring violin soloist Natsuko Yoshimoto and guest conductor Karina Canellakis, this Adelaide Symphony Orchestra Master Series concert takes audiences on a journey that is by turns romantic and emotive, dramatic and unsettling.

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Getting New York’s Karina Canellakis to conduct the ASO for this performance was an inspired choice. An accomplished violinist herself, she is a delight to watch as the orchestra responds beautifully to her animated guidance through three compelling works.

The featured pieces have markedly different characters and make corresponding demands on the players, which they handle with aplomb.

Initially anchored by horns, Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 “Haffner” is a varied work, sinewy and exhilarating one moment and tender the next. These alternations, with vigorous phrases and a kind of shadow repeat, create a graceful wave effect but always with the feeling that an eruption awaits.

The second movement, for instance, is lyrical, a series of soft rising and descending passages that lull before the dynamic third with its surging moments. The final passage brings that musical chiaroscuro to the fore.

While that makes for terrific listening, Max Bruch’s “Violin Concerto No. 1” is a triumph. This is essentially due to the ASO’s concertmaster, Natsuko Yoshimoto, with her command of the central instrument and her rapport with Canellakis.

The Bruch concerto is an emotive work, a romantic narrative with a dialogue between violin and orchestra — the former often plaintive and suggesting a near-human voice and the latter much more robust, sometimes storming by comparison.

Yoshimoto ekes out the high notes, fast or sustained, with eerie polish, and brings a raw feeling to energetic moments through doubling. It is wonderfully articulated. The move from the adagio to finale introduces a quicker tempo and a dramatic finish with the orchestra in full power mode.

Then there is Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird: Suite (1945 Version)”, a ballet score from 1910 and thus another narrative work. After a grave rumble from the cellos, “The Firebird” moves through a series of intricate variations, frequently dark and foreboding. The complexity is challenging. When a melody is held, you wonder how it will resolve. Will it be mellifluous or erupt into jangly dissonance?

At times the suite is savage and unsettling, and at others it is lush. The charismatic Canellakis brings it all together in a slowly mounting and resounding end.

This concert has a bonus with an enchanting coda performance for violin, clarinet and piano in the form of “Dances from The Soldier’s Tale” by Stravinsky.

A brilliant night out, with perhaps the Bruch work producing the warmest crowd response. No wonder, too, with Yoshimoto’s elevated playing and the ASO’s embrace of some wonderful conducting. The Master Series has proved a reliable delight.

The ASO will present a second performance of Firebird, its ninth Master Series concert of the year, tonight at the Adelaide Town Hall.

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