Left – Conductor Andrew Grams
A fine Schumann Overture, a World Premiere from a local boy, and one of the greatest of all romantic Symphonies, with a masterful orchestra, a lithe saxophoniste and an energetic young conductor makes for a memorable concert in anyone's language.
From the first three rich chords which open Schumann's Manfred Overture it was clear that the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra was in good hands. Newcomer to the Australian podium, American conductor Andrew Grams led the ASO comfortably through the sublime legato introduction, the developing pace and complexity of the middle section, with its alternate frenzies and sighs, to the peaceful finale of this stand-out piece.
After the rearrangement of the packed stage (this concert demanded huge orchestral forces), bringing the harp centre stage, and providing three positions for the soloist, came the treat of the World premiere of Ross Edwards' Full Moon Dances: a somewhat programmatic, 5-movement saxophone concerto. Soloist Amy Dickson, for whom the concerto was written, appears spot-lit upstage left in a blue hooded cloak over a long white gown with the lights dimmed and the organ bathed in moonlight blue for the atmospheric first movement.
Ominous drones in the strings provide a platform for a harp/saxophone conversation, punctuated by some eerie percussion, representing sounds of night, which, as the composer says, dissolve into "moon-drenched phantasmagoria".
Then (with red lights, red cloak) comes an up-beat and complex movement which kept the percussion section busy, with flowing passages from the sax, as a three note phrase is tossed about at increasing volume, until another change. The soloist at stage front in the all white gown, plus a golden halo engages in a mellifluous conversation with the harp and strings and percussion.
From the next position upstage right, the 4th movement features the bell and peaceful strings supporting a Respighi-esque sequence on the saxophone which demands great breath control and considerable subtlety, which Amy Dickson produced beautifully. The work ends after recalling the calmness of the first movement with a vigorous and rhythmically complex finale, which was enthusiastically received by audience and orchestra alike.
Then the piece-de-resistance: Saint Saens' Symphony No 3 with Peter Kelsall at the Town Hall organ. This favourite of so many never fails to please, and it doesn't matter how good your stereo system is, there is nothing like hearing it live, with such a fine big orchestra and a fine big organ, and in a wonderful acoustic such as that of the Adelaide Town Hall.
The quiet opening belies what follows. It was beautifully effected by the ASO as the rustling urgency builds in to majestic driving rhythms, and the music arcs down to the tip-toe preparation for the organ to sneak in – almost too subtly on this occasion to balance the veritably visceral vibrations of its 64 ft. rumble. But soon the strings sing an adulatory obeisance to the King of Instruments, and the real excitement of the second half takes over. A very tightly executed fugue section built superbly and relentlessly up to the crashing finale. Orchestra and Organ merged to do complete justice to this most exciting conclusion, which sent us all home smiling and delighted.
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra presents
Master Series Five
Conductor Andrew Grams
Venue: Adelaide Town Hall
Dates: June 7 – 9, 2012
Tickets: $61.00 – $51.50