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Music review: Konstantin plays Tchaikovsky

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Crowd-pleasing repertoire, an adopted local creating sparks on the Steinway, and every section of the ASO being given their moment in the sun marked the second in the orchestra’s Masters series for this year – and again highlighted its need for a new permanent home.

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“Konstantin plays Tchaikovsky” at the Adelaide Town Hall last night, and again tonight at 8pm, was another reminder of the passion of South Australia’s classical music audience, who received the program with its usual enthusiasm.

Russian pianist Konstantin Shamray, who spends much of his time in Adelaide, was the key attraction, along with that most famous piano concerto – Tchaikovsky’s No. 1 in B flat minor.

The ASO began with Brahms’ exuberant Academic Festival Overture – a light-hearted entree to the main course.

It was impossible to avoid smiling in the concerto’s opening movement: the bold declaration of the horns, the soaring melody of the strings, and the crashing piano chords, with Shamray showing his power and dexterity from the start, with some expansive liberties taken. The second movement had the pianist in a glorious zone – languid, lyrical, lovely – before he once again broke out his virtuosic ease in the firecracker ending.

In an awkward quirk of the programming, he saved a demanded encore until 15 minutes after the end of the concert – the second half of which was Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. Why not have the Tchaikovsky in the second half and flow straight into the encore?

In any case, the ASO – under the baton of Eivind Aadland – was in finely-controlled form for the extraordinarily broad colours of the Bartók, from subtle percussive taps, to roaring blasts from the brass, to folk-inspired passages of great beauty. Brass and woodwind had their moments to shine – much lauded by the audience at the finish.

It wasn’t a groundbreaking concert, but hugely enjoyable – which again highlighted ASO managing director Vincent Ciccarello’s repeated plea for a permanent home for the orchestra.

In his program notes, he points out the weaknesses of the beautiful, but flawed, regular venue, and the potential strengths of a purpose-built concert hall: an acoustically optimum setting, “backstage facilities that would permit our 75 musicians to dress with privacy and not to have to share one bathroom”, and many others, not least of which would be a better experience for audiences. (These concerts always see snaking queues of women waiting for the inadequate toilet facilities at interval – it’s just not good enough.)

Ciccarello indicates a change in strategy to find a new home for music in Adelaide, presumably because attempts to get such a recital hall included in proposals for the old RAH site appear to have fallen by the wayside.

“The ASO is determined to make such a facility a reality and has been part of various proposals in recent years,” he writes. “We are taking a new tack and you can expect to hear more from me on this topic. I hope to be able to enlist your support.”

Based on the response last night, I reckon he can.

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