First, favourites

QSO Favourites – Beethoven to Bolero

QPAC, Concert Hall

February 6

It’s a full house in the Concert Hall for the first show of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s 2021 season, appropriately so given that the program represents a selection of classic orchestral favourites suggested by the audience. Under the baton of internationally acclaimed, conductor Dane Lam, the crowd-pleasing concert of conventional orchestral favourites not only reignites the passion of live performance, but whets the appetite for the year that lies ahead.

Our hearts dance along with the introductory number, Mozart’s sprightly, self-contained overture from “The Marriage of Figaro”. The thrilling presto tempo of the beloved work’s infamous swirling opening strings motif is perfectly executed and balanced, allowing different sections of the orchestra their respective opportunities to shine amongst its gloriously-uplifting, enthusiastic representation of opera characters, beyond just its initial burst of frivolous energy. And while its sheer speed makes the passage entertaining it is playfully comic approach, it also, obviously, becomes a technically demanding task, particularly for the upper strings, which makes the overture even more satisfying.

Following this spectacular start, the sensitive second movement of Beethoven’s “Symphony No.7 in A”, creeps in sombrely before offering audiences some soft violin touches and a richly melodic float of flute. It is majestic in its measure and another memorable listening experience. Before long, however, we are floating into Tchaikovsky’s sublime third movement from his elegant Fifth Symphony. Its compelling bassoon sounds amongst the light waltz frolic of its opening and its following range of instrumental colour are equally exquisite, yet some of the moments most worth savouring are those that command attention by their absolute silence, which feels fitting for its theme of fate.

Gershwin’s passionate “An American in Paris” orchestral tone poem represents a kaleidoscopic toe-tapping change in pace through its jazzy brass celebrations, which are not only infectious in their vigour, but interesting for the way in which the colourful energy and city sounds of the French capital are evoked, taxicar horns and all (courtesy of klaxon horns) in contrast to the solo violin representation of the American of its title. The evening’s saxophone players Emma Di Marco, Pierce Hurne and Matthew Christensen add much to the personality-filled work, and it clearly stands as a highlight of the concert, especially when the bluesy melodies of trumpets and trombones take flight above the double base score that journeys us through the bustling streets of Paris.

After the simple melody of Dvořák’s “Largo from the New World Symphony”, it is on to “Bolero”. First time experience of Ravel’s triumph is certainly something special and subsequent listens only serve to remind of this magic. As always, the landmark work is dominated by a snare drum building in repetitive rhythm from the softest of standing starts, thanks to the skill of principal percussionist, David Montgomery. Indeed, the entire orchestra works with striking clarity to deliver the one-movement orchestral piece with aplomb. As things gradually build in volume and intensity, with the additions of different orchestrations of flute, clarinet, bassoon and oboe et al harmonising the melody, its sounds crescendo with the power and drama that befits a concert’s conclusion…. until the encore piece of, Johannes Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 6”. 

In “QSO Favourites – Beethoven to Bolero”, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra has curated a diverse and eclectic collection of pieces, which only adds to the show’s experience, adding a vitality beyond the often-seen composer-centred focus of concerts. Indeed, the demanding cross-century coverage of great works allows for an excellent show of the orchestra’s versatility as a whole and the impressive skills of its individual players.

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