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ASO’s Great Classics: Simone Young & Mahler


The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra flexed its virtuosic muscles at the Festival Theatre on Saturday night, delivering Mahler’s epic hammer blow after a light Schubert entrée.

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The late-classical Austrian composer Franz Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony was a good choice to begin the concert because it is a lovely, contemplative but rarely exciting piece.

A pared-down orchestra of about 50 musicians performed Schubert’s graceful, repetitive eighth with the ASO’s typical excellence. Overwhelmingly, the musicians glided through this work – which, as the name suggests, sends the audience to interval faster than expected.

By the time the crowd had re-entered the theatre, the orchestra had doubled in size. The stage was so packed that a lone percussionist was exiled to tinkle cowbells in an upper-level box.

From the first, Gustav Mahler’s colossal Symphony No. 6 was a display of power and musical brilliance from the ASO, under the direction of celebrated Sydney conductor Simone Young.

The late-romantic Austrian composer’s marathon, 90-minute opus is full of thunder and chaos, divided by short, intricate patches of sorrowful tranquility.

You can hear some of the inspiration for John Williams’ magnificent Star Wars film score in it; there’s prodigious, rapid-fire runs on the strings, booming brass, explosive percussion (including the work’s famous wooden mallet “hammer blows”), marching themes and buzzing trills – almost always with six or seven musical motifs battling for supremacy at any one time.

It must be said that the cowbells set up in box five were distracting, and there appeared to be some minor synchronisation issues, but overall the orchestra proved equal to Mahler’s majestic, powerful composition.

There was an excellent, mournful solo from concertmaster (first violin) Natsuko Yoshimoto, and exquisite solos by oboist Celia Craig, the standout performer among the hundred-or-so on stage.

This third “Great Classics” concert in the ASO’s 2016 season was an impressive performance.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s next performance will be Cirque de la Symphonie, a fusion of circus and live orchestral music, on July 29 and 30 at the Festival Theatre.

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