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Review: ASO's Winter Fire


If you want to enjoy a truly immersive experience at a concert recital, try sitting in the stalls close to the players. Make it Tchaikovsky and the technical expertise and intensity of effort on show alone is almost worth the ticket price.

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So it was with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Winter Fire offering at the Town Hall, with a world premiere to boot. But first…

Edward Elgar’sChanson de matin” (Morning Song) and “Chanson de nuit” (Night Song), conducted by Pinchas Zukerman, were perfect aperitifs for the longer and more dynamic works to follow. The former’s lilting phrases and the latter’s hints of sorrow were as engaging as the best of contemporary pop songs, which is more or less what they once were in classical music terms; salon pieces.

Very different fare arrived with the world premiere of Avner Dorman’s “Double Concerto”, in which the temperaments of solo violin and cello were deliberately pitted against and then harmonised with the rest of the orchestra. Benjamin Northey steered brilliant performances by Zukerman on violin and Amanda Forsyth on cello. For the record, Zukerman was all in black and Forsyth in a fiery Chinese red dress, a contrast that added a bit more theatre to moments when their instruments spoke quite differently with each other and the orchestra.

Double Concerto” is demanding, of players and the audience. It is anxious and pastoral by turn, with intriguing dialogue between the solo players that blended into harmony and then fragmented. It was helter skelter and frantic one moment, defying the orchestra before merging with its surging energy. Zukerman and Forsyth sinuously wound their playing around each other’s with invigorating changes in pitch and volume. It was fascinating to observe such a level of control and technical mastery at close quarters.

Dorman was on hand to receive the accolades of the audience for this new and vibrant composition.

Zukerman resumed conducting for the final work, Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op.64”. Familiar to many listeners, especially its sweet third movement, “Valse (allegro moderato)”, this is a work of many moods. The orchestra shifts from mellow contemplation to swelling anger, with Zukerman stomping his foot along the way. Transporting elements included a focus on the oboe and, later, a burst of subterranean sound from the double basses.

Sitting in the stalls can mean you are near enough to smell the mint in the floral tribute as it is brought on stage, and to observe the sheer physicality of, for example, the double bass players at their craft. It’s evident in their faces as well as their arms; the players’ discipline and enjoyment is obvious. Go see the ASO!

Winter Fire was the fourth concert in the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s 2019 Master Series. The next Master Series concert, Faith & Beauty, will feature violinist Grace Clifford, with performances at the Town Hall on July 12 and 13.

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