Two lines in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms highlighted the remembrance theme of WASO's ANZAC day program. “Why do the nations rage”, laments one line, evocative of the anti war feeling in the pieces performed. The other phrase, which aptly concludes the performance reads; “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”
Conducted by Martyn Brabbins, the orchestras’ excellent performance created a powerful and emotional evening. Four pieces made up the program; Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Peter Sculthorpe’s Sun Music III, and Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. The highlight was Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem.
Written in 1940 for the Japanese government (which caused uproar in his native England), it is his anti war piece, full of despair and tragedy. Ironically, upon conclusion, it was rejected by the Japanese for being ‘too Christian’; as there is evidence that it derived from the Mass for the Dead. I found myself almost in tears as it conjured up the ominous feeling of war, and I imagined soldiers trudging through the mud as artillery shells fell around them.
Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor is one of my favourite concertos. Cellos are deep, warm sounding instruments, equally able to convey utter sadness and light, wondrous happiness. Written in 1918 towards the end of WWI, the concerto broke from his previous pieces, focussing on the emotion rather than the grandeur and virtuosity of previous works. It is full of sadness and wonderfully simple, elegant phrases. The orchestra excelled, with Brabbins able to bring the emotion to the forefront.
Natalie Clein stood out in her performance of the concerto, having a smoother and more relaxed nature than I had heard before. However, her extreme facial expressions causing her to look tortured or in pain, ensured that I did not enjoy this as much as I had expected. I was unable to concentrate on the music whilst watching her perform, which was a disappointment. She did redeem herself somewhat when she returned to perform Bach’s Prelude in D, a simple, melodic well played piece.
Sculthorpe’s Sun Music III, which hasn’t been performed by WASO since the 1970’s evoked the sounds of birds, nature and heat, as well as elements of Asia (Sculthorpe was inspired by Bali when composing). Compared to the other works in the program, this was non traditional for the orchestra, but I enjoyed the depiction. I was impressed with the percussion section, which had multiple instruments to play at any one time.
The last piece, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalm, used the full force of the WASO chorus. A 100 strong group under the direction of Marilyn Phillips, they brought the joy of the piece to the audience. The diction was not brilliant from where I was sitting, but I am unsure if that is due to the language (Hebrew, which I have not heard sung before). There were times where I struggled to hear the choir over the orchestra, as I did with Liam Green, the boy soprano. Green’s performance was clear and tight if a little nervous. It was a good piece to end with, as the audience went out on a positive note.
This was by far the best program of works I have seen WASO perform this year. Although different in orchestrations, type and structure, the pieces worked well together. I left feeling reflective and moved by the evening.
West Australian Symphony Orchestra presents
Elgar's Cello Concerto
Venue: Perth Concert Hall
Date/Time: 8pm, Thursday 24 & Saturday 26 April
Tickets: $47.00 - $73.00
Bookings: WASO on 9326 0000 or www.waso.com.au