Thomas DausgaardLeft - Conductor Thomas Dausgaard. Photo - Marianne Grondhal. Cover - Simon Trpceski.

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s program Toward the Light presents three varied and interesting works, Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel, Saint-Saens’ Second Piano Concerto, and Symphony no 5 by Carl Nielsen.   

The Strauss work, composed in 1895, is a musical distillation in rondo form of the life and adventures of the 14th century German folk hero and prankster Till Eulenspeigel. I have never been really persuaded that orchestral music alone can convincingly depict a narrative, but, conducted with energy and precision by Thomas Dausgaard, the score is nonetheless suitably jaunty, playful and varied, and the listener is engaged throughout. Excellent performances from the horn and clarinet players were a strong feature.

Saint-Saëns’ Second Piano Concerto (1868) featured the brilliant virtuosity of Simon Trpceski, whose speed, accuracy and feel at the keyboard have recently won him worldwide fame. The work itself was apparently written in 17 days, and shows signs of diffuse focus and lack of coherence. There are passages of great beauty, others of wit and charm, but the sequence between is frequently obscure, and its quality of loose versatility has been well summed up as ‘beginning with Bach and ending with Offenbach’. The work seems to attract admirers and critics in about equal numbers; the San Francisco Chronicle was recently unkind enough to describe it ‘as lamentable a stretch of thunderous treacle as any composer ever penned in the name of clattery keyboard virtuosity… chase-me-Charlie up and down the keyboard’. Despite promising much more than it delivers, it remains popular precisely because it gives a great opportunity for pianistic showing off, and Trpceski, acknowledging the warm response to his evident skill, followed it with two brief and striking solo encores.

The final work, Carl Nielsen’s Symphony no 5, premiered in 1922 and is the composer’s response to the horrors of the 1914-18 war. Again conducted with unflagging energy and conviction by Dausgaard, its two movements chart (in the words of the program notes) ‘an emergence from battle and destruction to triumphant regeneration’. However, brilliant playing by the percussion section, violins and wind instruments, and later by brass and flutes, could not conceal an impression that it is a work more to be admired and respected, than warmed to or liked. It would be good to hear more of Nielsen’s work, even so, and in this item, as with the others, neither the playing nor conducting could be faulted.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Venue: the Arts Centre, Hamer Hall
Dates/Times: Thursday 17, Friday 18 and Saturday 19 July at 8pm
Bookings: or Ticketmaster on 1300 136 166

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