Kirill GersteinLeft - Kirill Gerstein. Photo - Manfred Esser

Brahms is a salve for a weary soul on a Friday night. As you sink into the soft seat at the concert hall, those deft-handed WASO musicians wrap you up and let you float for two hours in a musical experience guaranteed to make the working week all but disappear.

The end of the Brahms Piano Concerto No1 in D minor was met with such rapturous applause and hails of “Bravo!” that it’s difficult to imagine it receiving the hisses and boos that it did when it was first performed. Although not the first to do so, Brahms wrote the concerto with the effect of musical integration in mind, where the piano becomes a part of the orchestral effect. In other words, this is a symphony with piano, rather than a concerto with a piano solo where the piano features and the orchestra demurs quietly in the background. Too progressive for its day, it’s now hailed as a masterpiece, and it was certainly received as one by a rapturous audience on Friday night.

Russian-born pianist Kirill Gerstein was brilliant, and despite this, seemed to have no desire in making a show-piece out of the piano concerto. There wasn’t a hint of exhibitionism. (He didn't even wear tails.)

The concerto is a string-lover’s delight and WASO’s string section was terrific. The concerto also reveals Brahms' interest in scoring for the French horn. The horn part is notoriously difficult, with or without the piano, and apart from one or two unfortunate errors, the horn section did extremely well.

To say that Gerstein and conductor Alexander Briger enjoyed themselves is a huge understatement. I haven’t seen a conductor sweat so ecstatically in a long time, and the warm hug exchanged onstage between the two was a sincere expression of joy over a job extremely well done.

The second half of the program was Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. This is the composer’s most popular work, written in the middle of the ‘Great Terror’ (the years of political repression and persecution orchestrated by Stalin in the late 30s), and first performed in 1937 in Leningrad. It’s a grand and hauntingly beautiful work. The third movement, said to be a memorial for Mother Russia and all those who were sent to the labour camps, is one of the most despairing pieces of music ever written.

Remarkably, the music in this symphony appealed equally to both the official Russian critics and the public. The Russian authorities found in the symphony a rejoicing of a regime, while the public heard it as an articulation of the suffering by which it had been subjected by Stalin.

A highlight of the third movement was the superbly performed oboe and flute solos with the hauntingly quiet tremolando of the violas and violins underneath them.

The stirring percussion in the finale of the 5th Symphony is a grandiose parody of the Russian military regime and is a percussionists dream I would imagine. My previous claim that WASO Principal percussionist Tim White has the best job in the world still stands: at the end of the Symphony he gets to bang as hard as he likes on a massive drum that looks like a tambourine on major steroids (we’re talking about as big as a small car here). What’s more, he gets to end the entire, enrapturously received, evening’s program.

Brahms & Shostakovich | Gala

Venue: Perth Concert Hall
Dates/Time: 8pm, Friday 10 & Saturday 11 October
Tickets: $20.00 - $85.00
Bookings: WASO on 9326 0000 or

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