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Review: ASO's Symphonic Dances

Music

French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie’s performance of Ravel’s ‘Piano Concerto in G’ – by turns jaunty, melancholic and electric – was a highlight of this Master Series concert by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

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The ASO’s Master Series has consistently offered intriguing compositions interpreted by masterful conductors and musicians. Some inevitably appeal more than others, but exposure to even challenging works is always worthwhile.

In the sixth concert of the 2019 series, guest conductor Dalia Stasevska revved up the orchestra for an enchanting version of “The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestra”, by John Adams. This work from the Nixon in China opera begins chirpily with woodblocks, chimes and pizzicato strings embellishing an insistent rhythm. The sudden transition to lush “movie score” swoon and soar would be repeated. Newcomers to this piece might not have expected the imaginative duet of contrasting high piano notes and bass drum as Adams’ piece slowed in clip-clop style to its conclusion. Very pleasing.

Ravel had Gershwin and jazz in mind when he composed “Piano Concerto in G”. At the hands, literally, of French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie, its languid opening waltz shifted into jaunty passages incorporating complex runs through the allagremente. The dialogue between piano and harp was especially satisfying. The piano alone was next, melancholic and slow, and mostly featuring the left hand only, before the presto gave us a race, full of electric moments. It was a delight to be close enough to see Lortie at work.

Rachmaninov’s “Symphonic Dances” might normally have been the evening’s highlight, with its bold introduction and vigorous movements. The massed waves of sometimes squally strings produced a sense of immanent drama rather than dance. An alternating attack-and-lull approach, with bells, added to this feeling of the ominous before a frenetic powerhouse finish. It was definitely darker than the other works.

A night of delights, with a bit of a question mark thrown in. Still, you can’t dance to everything.

Symphonic Dances was presented at the Town Hall on Friday and Saturday night. The next Master Series concert, Idyllic Visions, will be on September 6 and 7 at the Town Hall. The orchestra is presenting Last Night of the Proms this Friday and Saturday at the Festival Theatre.

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