MSO – sweet here, fiery there, mysterious when required

by | Jul 19, 2022 | Ambassador thoughts, Bassoon, Brass, Composer, Orchestras, Strings

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra | Vasily Petrenko Conducts Elgar

July 14, 2022, Hamer Hall, Melbourne

Vasily Petrenko conductor
Jack Schiller bassoon

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS The Wasps: Overture
MATTHEW LAING Of Paradise Lost first performance
ELGAR Symphony No.2

I expect a large percentage of the audience for Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s concert featuring Edward Elgar’s Symphony Number 2 were rusted on subscribers and thoroughly enjoyed the performance of this expression of early 20th century English symphonic music. The first movement, with its nostalgic plodding bass line and gradually developing overlaid melodies and orchestral textures, was a perfect opportunity for the lush string section, led by the wonderful concertmaster Dale Barlthrop, to shine. Elgar’s intelligent music was absolutely matched with the magisterial eloquence and power from not only the strings but from the entire orchestra. The music in the Second Movement can easily make one feel as if there is an inherent longing for a time lost deeply embedded in the score. There was much beautiful playing from the horns the string section could play with an ethereal quietness. Playful and energetic in the scherzo third movement the orchestra was at home in the post Brahmsian finale.

Vasily Petrenko conducted with an assuredness that comes from a deep knowledge of the score. A treat to watch and to listen to his interpretation. The orchestra obviously enjoys working with Petrenko and the results were evident in these fine performances.

At times it was hard to hear the woodwind, trumpet, and horn sections as, and possibly because where I was seated, the low brass dominated the sound excessively. Pity as when playing softly and in balance with the orchestra the low brass sounded wonderful and none more so than the skipping tuba line in the scherzo from Tim Buzbee. Principal trumpet Owen Morris and principal horn Nicolas Fleury lead sections that give warmth and harmonic brilliance to the orchestra’s overall sound and they, like the superb woodwind section deserve to be heard.

The concert had opened with Ralph Vaughan Williams overture ‘The Wasps’ which is frequently an amusing work and seems so old-fashioned to 21st century ears. The MSO strings, with their sumptuous playing and the brilliance of the woodwind and upper brass made light work of this oddity of English music.

A new work on the program was a concerto written by Matthew Laing, the MSO young composer-in-residence in 2021 for the orchestra’s principal bassoonist Jack Schiller and his advocacy of this new work, which owes much to the music of Bartok and other music from the mid 20th century, was truly astonishing. Schiller stunned everyone with a versatility that was matched by his incredible palette of tonal colours – sweet here, fiery there, mysterious when required. What a star.

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