Mussorgsky, Poulenc and Rachmaninov turned out to be a delightful combination for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and energetic guest conductor, Radoslaw Szulc, who is making his mark in the conducting world. This modern/romantic trio proved a triumphant and powerful opportunity for orchestra and conductor alike, before a large and enthusiastic audience in the wonderful acoustic of the Adelaide Town Hall.
The peaks and swells of the romantic passages in all three works invited expansive and flamboyant gestures from the conductor, but even if these made bar lines and beats indecipherable, they did not belie his vitality and control which drew out the best in this fine orchestra.
Opening with Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” (arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov), the concert started big and got bigger. This piece has a topography of crests and troughs, depicting a black Sabbath. Strident brass portends the building of frantic climaxes followed by contrasting valleys which then rise to greater peaks, all of which are finally calmed by the bell and the harp, into a peaceful day break, while the shadows of the spirits still hover and disperse.
The scene was then set for the centrepiece of this concert – the organ Concerto in G minor by Francis Poulenc, played by Melbourne’s Calvin Bowman. In his hands the magnificent Town Hall Organ did its stuff superbly, and the strings and tympani teamed with it, almost - but never completely - being drowned out in the wall-shaking crescendos of this wonderful combination.
The rich dissonances of the opening phrases on the organ were nicely answered by lush strings, and this conversation continued through a range of emotions and volumes, never losing the tension and under-lying excitement, all masterfully managed by maestro Szulc. Surely organ and strings must be one of the most luscious marriages in music, and the combination of Szulc, Bowman and ASO showed this union to great effect in this wonderful work, which received an enthusiastic reception from audience and orchestra alike.
The audience and the brass and wind returned for the finale – Rachmaninov’s Symphony No.2 in E minor, op. 27. This is an expansive work redolent of Mahler in its soulful sonorities and mellifluous melodies. Again the power and delicacy of the orchestra were shown off to great effect in this acoustic, as they mastered the majestic fortes, danced through jolly scherzos, and luxuriated in rhythmic and tonal surprises. Noteworthy in the gorgeous adagio movement was the clarinet solo by principal clarinettist Dean Newcombe, accompanied by all except the first violins. The rousing final movement left us in no doubt as to who the composer was, with its abandoned verve and succulent harmonies, culminating in a rousing coda.
A wonderful and noisy concert with the ASO at is best.
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra Master Series
Conductor Radoslaw Szulc
Venue: Adelaide Town Hall
Dates: Friday June 25 and Saturday June 26, 2010
Tickets: from $47.90