It was great to be part of a well-attended concert on a balmy Friday at Verbrugghen Hall, the first of two performances of this innovative program in the Greenway Series.
After introductions by the Chancellor and Matthew Hindson, we began with the Australian premiere of the latter’s “Marathon” movement from his ballet “Faster” which was originally written to coincide with the London Olympic Games. Starting with three Beethovenian repeated chords, the music flows to a passage for winds and percussion and then to a highly rhythmic section. The overall impression is Stravinsky-esque with dissonance not prominent and the only hint of break with convention being a scripted gasp from the violinists at half time. A wilder episode with piano and percussion leads to a tutti and then piano triplets and percussion presaging a pleasantly abrupt ending. An energetic piece played sensitively and accurately by the resident Symphony Orchestra under the enthusiastic baton of Eduardo Diazmunoz.
Elena Kats-Chernin introduced her own recently completed work Macquarie’s Castle explaining its relevance to the Conservatorium’s origins. It is good to be close to musical roots but actually sitting above the original stables transcended this!
I feel the saxophone is not heard often enough in classical music and it was refreshing to hear Michael Duke demonstrate the wide range of the instrument. The piece is in four sections and in the first, “Palace for Horses“, fast, jazzy runs by the soloist were augmented by interesting percussive episodes including four cracks by the instrumental “whip”. “Training” linked the work of the horses with that of the students and featured Chinese blocks and pizzicato strings representing the respective groups. Waltzes are the composer’s forte and “Stable Music” is no exception with its heavenly slow tunefulness and frequent departure from strict waltz time. The “Spring Carnival” finale celebrated the superb achievements of the “Con” of which this work was clearly one. The soloist shone throughout handling difficult and sensitive passages with aplomb and the orchestra played its part superbly. The overall effect was of joyfulness and optimism.
After the interval, the audience was well prepared for the more intense mood of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, labelled the “Romantic” by the composer because of its affiliation with great Wagnerian heroes rather than any thoughts of love letters. A stuttered entry by the horns was soon forgotten as the symphony in its revised extended version gained momentum following the opening four note motif which is repeated in many forms throughout the work. In fact, it was the brass and wind sections that became particularly impressive in the difficult passages where moulding with the strings is so essential. I particularly enjoyed Diazmunoz’s interpretation of the playful scherzo which transcribes the opening theme so cleverly and the sharp contrast of the slow Trio. Even what might be the longest coda ever written seemed appropriate and the conductor didn’t even appear out of breath!
I enjoyed this concert immensely, well programmed and well-performed by the ever reliable SCM Symphony Orchestra under its enthusiastic regular conductor. Michael Duke shone on the saxophone, the two modern works regaled in the presence of their composers and the Bruckner provided a suitably serious ending for a fulfilling evening.