This Masters Series was odd combination of pieces; Shostakovich’s 1st Symphony followed by Mozart’s Requiem (his last piece). Regardless of the juxtaposition, the excellent quality of the pieces and the players was evident in the performance, arguably one of the best I have seen over the last year. Conducted by Principal Conductor and WASO Artistic Advisor Paul Daniel, it was a dynamic and passionate concert.
Dmitri Shostakovich was only 19 when he composed the 1st Symphony. Indeed, the piano duet form was written as a final thesis for his undergraduate composition studies at the Leningrad Conservatory. Undoubtedly, his experience as a pianist accompanying silent films in cinemas, where he had worked since 1922, was an influence on the Symphony. The jovial first movement vividly conjures up Charlie Chaplin and his farcical situations. The whole piece has a distinct 1920’s feel about it.
Unlike many 20th century composers, Shostakovich does not drown nor bombard the listener with layers and layers of contrasting sounds. Instead, there were wonderful moments throughout the piece where one could pick out the theme played by a single instrument. The wind section was prominent in the piece, especially the flutes and oboes. Also of note was the pianist, trumpets, timpani and first violins. Although the second and third movement are slower, and to me felt a little too slow, the final movement was full of energy and life. During the false finish, followed by timpani moving towards the “real” conclusion, you could have heard a pin drop in the audience.
I’m not normally one for watching the conductor, preferring to let my eyes roam over the orchestra dependant on the piece. However, I found my self consistently drawn back to Daniel’s conducting; the precise yet passionate sweeping of his arms and stance was visually compelling. His masterful movement of the orchestra and chorus showed in the precise timing and dynamics of both.
Mozart’s Requiem is one of his more popular pieces, both uplifting and tragic. After being commissioned by an anonymous patron to write the Requiem, the incurably ill Mozart died before finishing the piece. His student Franz Xavier Sussmayr completed the piece, but mystery still surrounds as to how much of Mozart’s ‘draft’ he had to work from. It is easy to imagine that Mozart was writing his own requiem, adding more poignancy to what is already a brilliant piece.
The WASO Chorus, admirably directed by Marilyn Phillips, joined the orchestra for the Requiem. Soloists Penelope Mills (Soprano), Fiona Campbell (Mezzo), James Egglestone (Tenor) and Paul Whelan (Bass), balanced each other well and stood out against the orchestra (often the fault is not being able to be heard). The 110+ chorus were outstanding with sharp vocals and excellent dynamic range.
If Daniel can coax such performances out of an already great orchestra, I await eagerly his next concert. It was a superb performance that was over too soon.
Conductor Paul Daniel
Venue: Perth Concert Hall
Dates: 7.30pm, Friday 29 & Saturday 30 May