Melbourne Symphony Orchestra: Shining Strings

“Chosen” actions from Purcell’s semi-opera The Fairy Queen opened this Melbourne Symphony Orchestra live performance – however, alas, we weren’t enlightened relating to which of them had been chosen; Concertmaster Dale Barltrop in his program observe tells us solely that the suite was made up of actions that had been his personal “private favourites”. Through the first piece I need to say that Mantovani and his orchestra got here to my thoughts, as we heard such a wealthy and full blooming sound from a strings-only band. As now it appears de rigueur to have the higher string gamers standing relatively than seated for Baroque efficiency, I had anticipated and hoped for an actual Baroque snappiness within the sound. The sight of a brilliantly crimson open harpsichord on the rear of the ensemble additionally held promise of a jingly Baroque twang, however in actual fact not one tinkle from John O’Donnell’s splendid-looking continuo harpsichord on the again might be heard.

What we did hear was a good-sized string ensemble play Purcell’s dance actions and interludes extraordinarily nicely, with antiphonal passages right here and there offering the occasional change of texture, and a few pretty solo moments from the primary violin and first viola. The ensemble performed with modest ornamentation, the sound settling in fortunately between the glittery sound world of the “pure” Baroque and Elgar. Three double basses powering alongside within the again nook in entrance of reflecting partitions made for a relatively bottom-heavy general sound, however maybe that was helpful within the pretty ultimate Chaconne, with its repeated bass line.

Britten’s music cycle Les Illuminations, comprising 9 of Rimbaud’s prose poems, was written for soprano or tenor and string orchestra in 1939. On this event the dramatic opening vocal declamation appeared to come back from someplace behind the orchestra. We quickly realised nevertheless that it was extra particularly from the double bass part. Common MSO bassist Stephen Newton, waving his bow as he abandoned his instrument, then started a round peregrination across the perimeter of the orchestra – singing every motion’s solo from a unique place on the stage.  A brand new and theatrical which means was being given to the title “a music cycle”!

Transferring considerably erratically, on events a bit of like Chaplin or Mr Bean, he teased, harangued and urged us to watch the “savage parade” of 9 vividly colored, unique dream-world prose poems. And what pictures Rimbaud offers for a musician! Britten’s ever-inventive and daring accompaniment was given its full due. Cellos grew to become zithers when essential, and crimson, russet, opaline, copper and silver colors sparkled earlier than us.

Because the orchestra labored its magic Stephen Newton stalked the outskirts and engaged particular person members of the orchestra most intriguingly as he sang – at one stage even gazing longingly at chief Dale Barltrop. For what purpose we didn’t know as a result of, as earlier than, we had no itemizing of actions or the texts of the poems in this system – nothing which may have cued us even a bit of into the temper or the subject material of the music. It felt such a severe omission to not have the texts, one which lessens significantly our appreciation of the musicians’ arduous work.

Stephen Newton’s voice is a pleasing, correct and versatile tenor, and there have been moments of extremely convincing theatricality, and emotional outbursts with actual effort put into his articulation. Nonetheless, it was solely when he was singing on to us from the centre of the platform that there was a totally resonant stability between voice and orchestra. Whereas he was cheekily ducking in among the many gamers, turning to sing throughout the stage, or lurking in a nook of the stage, the wondrously evocative textual content – so stuffed with thrilling imagery and color – misplaced a few of its power and focus when heard in opposition to the thirty or so gamers. On the finish, he creeped off to the doleful dying strings, however his re-appearance introduced rousing and well-deserved cheers for his efficiency.

Discreetly however masterfully led from the primary desk by Dale Barltrop, the orchestra after interval took us on an thrilling journey by way of Ravel’s early and solely String Quartet, in an adaptation for string orchestra by Gail Aitken, principal second violin of the Queensland Symphony. Barltrop famous that he had at all times been “fascinated by the quartet’s compositional ingenuity and beautiful tapestry of tonal colors”. In his spoken introduction he stated that he was positive the variation to a bigger orchestral drive efficiently amplified its beautiful colors. I can fortunately say that this proved to be the case. The Elisabeth Murdoch Corridor’s excellent acoustic gave the second motion’s many rhythmic Spanish-style pizzicatos an thrilling high quality, and enhanced the third’s quietly lush harmonic progressions and its tender melodies. Soulful solo viola and cello recitatives had been superbly realised. The ultimate motion’s full and relatively violent outburst of a gap led to a whirlwind of virtuosity from all gamers. Demanding soloistic technical challenges had been excitingly met and the piece ended with an important sense of pleasure and celebration.

Now MSO, can we please have some live performance applications with notes to assist us pay attention to those terrific performances a bit extra meaningfully!

Picture equipped.


Bruce Macrae reviewed “Shining Strings” carried out by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on the Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Corridor on July 23, 2022.