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Review: ASO's Magical Tchaikovsky


Billed as Magical Tchaikovsky, the ASO’s latest Master Series performance incorporated Wagner and Mozart, too, and that isn’t a bad road to travel. In fact, it produced a lively program of contrasts and masterful music-making.

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When the orchestra, that large, intricate engine, began to stir with faint strains of the overture to Wagner’s Die Feen, its lyrical breath was enchanting. Energy and suspense were then wrought under the baton of Mark Wigglesworth through repeated breaks as it escalated towards an odd combination of violence and harmony; a strange and rewarding achievement. Very Wagner.

And then Mozart. Here the Sinfonia Concertante in E flat highlighted the talents of four key players. Standing at front of stage, all engaged in a dialogue of repeated phrases, with Celia Craig (oboe) and Dean Newcomb (clarinet) particular highlights. Adrian Uren (French horn) and Mark Gaydon (bassoon) were much more than accompanists, though, as they also had their moments to shine.

The opening is like an invitation to a dance, and a light, even whimsical air was evident as they played in conversation; repeating, layering and interweaving. The players swayed and bent their legs, licked their lips, cradled their instruments; clearly engrossed with their efforts.

The second movement is almost sleepy by comparison, cycling through swapped phrases, light and elegant, but not superficial. The third had extra verve, especially from Newcomb’s clarinet, which alternated phrases with Craig’s oboe as the piece moved towards a sweet confluence and a finish that kicked.

Ah, but the Tchaikovsky? Contemporary artists might complain about audiences always expecting their greatest hits and not much else, so how would Tchaikovsky handle cries for The Nutcracker? We’ll never know, of course, but we were well served by the ASO’s vibrant rendition of The Nutcracker Act II.

The individual pieces might seem disconnected, relating as they do to different characters in a ballet, but altogether they offer an exhilarating exhibition of Tchaikovsky’s versatile composing. You listen for the celeste and it “intrudes” in a magical way. The harp announces itself like a creature in its own right, and there is always a light but essential accent on percussion throughout. Swirling waltz cadences appear and dissolve.

In all, the ASO’s performance of The Nutcracker Act II showed exquisite delicacy and power. I look forward to the next show. The audience’s applause demonstrated that this sentiment is widely shared.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra presented Magical Tchaikovsky at the Adelaide Town Hall on Friday and Saturday. It’s final concerts for the year will include Mozart at Elder 4 (December 4), The Little Mermaid in Concert (December 7), Classics Unwrapped 4: ‘Tis the Season (December 11) and Christmas Favourites with Your ASO (December 12 and 13).

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