Left – Eivand Aadland
The title of this concert didn’t quite describe it. Yes, the concert included Richard Strauss’ sublime epitaph for the Romantic era, Four last songs, but the remainder of the concert was purely orchestral. Indeed, both Brahms’ Variations on theme by Haydn and Bartok’s Concerto for orchestra focussed specifically on the abilities and sometimes virtuosities of various sections of the orchestra, thereby inhabiting a decisively instrumental rather than vocal milieu.
The concert began with the Brahms. I was instantly riveted by the playing of the theme, scored for wind with pizzicato cellos and basses. Too often these variations are played almost without rehearsal by good orchestras, as they are so well-known, but it was clear from the immaculate intonation and carefully detailed phrasing of the theme that this was not the case last night. And so it proved; as each variation expounded new scoring possibilities in this, Brahms’ orchestration exercise in preparation for his four symphonies, the conductor Eivind Aadland allowed no detail to escape attention.
I am currently preparing the Four last songs for performance with the soprano Lecia Robertson, and so it was an especial pleasure for me to hear these songs last night. Faithful to every detail of this complex and difficult score, the British soprano Katherine Broderick’s voice has a combination of lyrical flexibility and emotional warmth that suits this music admirably. She sang the songs not as a grandiose valediction, in the manner of Jesse Norman for example, but with a fresh immediacy and wonder that brought their beautiful texts, by Hermann Hesse and Eichendorff, into a direct relationship with the audience. Many phrases, especially in the final song, Im Abendrot (sunset), were deeply touching in their liquid sensuousness.
The orchestral accompaniment to the songs, under Aadlands’ clear yet poetic direction, contained some wonderful moments of its own, such as the exquisite horn passage at the end of September, played by Malcolm Stewart, and the melting violin solo in Beim Schlafengehen, played by the concertmaster Warwick Adeney.
After the interval came Bartok’s remarkable Concerto for Orchestra, once a favourite of orchestras who wanted to strut their stuff, but now a comparative rarity in symphonic programs. It’s interesting to compare it with that other ground-breaking symphonic score of the early 20th century, the Rite of Spring. Whereas Stravinsky’s score still sounds as vivid as ever, Bartok’s music, with its heavy reliance on fourths, has perhaps dated more. However, all the sections of the QSO showcased by Bartok’s brilliant if sardonic scoring rose to the occasion – the three oboes sounding really reedy, the heavy brass sounding threateningly incisive, the double-basses surprisingly velvety. But the wow moment for me was (and in how many reviews do you ever read this?) was when the violas played on their own in I think the third movement. Their leader, Yoko Okayasu, welded a sound so focussed, so intense, and so powerful I was left gasping. No viola jokes here!
A fine concert, testament to the prowess of a first-rate orchestra under a wholly excellent conductor.
Queensland Symphony Orchestra presents
Conductor Eivind Aadland
Venue: QPAC Concert Hall
Date/Time: 8pm Saturday 19 July, 2014