Review / Enjoyable evening of difficult music

Music / “Llewellyn Series” concert one, Canberra Symphony Orchestra. At Llewellyn Hall, Wednesday, February 21. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN

CSO guest conductor Dane Lam.

A PROGRAM of primarily Russian music opened the CSO’s 2018 “Llewellyn Subscription Series” and there was fine playing of demanding repertoire to get the concert year under way.

The one non-Russian connected work, “Microsymphony” by Australian composer Carl Vine, began the evening with a big and brassy opening. The work was impressive for the balance achieved within the orchestra. There was never any difficulty detecting the orchestral colours be they piccolo sitting on top of solid lower brass or mysterious piano and oboe in combination interrupted by constant and forceful trumpet and wind “stabs”.

The gifted Tamara-Anna Cislowska is well known to Canberra audiences, particularly for her appearances at the smaller venues, so it was a thrill to hear her on the big Llewellyn Hall stage with a complete orchestra performing the technically demanding Prokofiev “Piano Concerto No 2 in G minor”.

She has wonderful control and contrast in her playing style – one moment delicate and sublime then suddenly heavy, solid and demanding and in powerful control of her keyboard.

Musical moods changed from dark and foreboding at the beginning through to relentlessly pounding towards the end. The tutti sound from the orchestra was terrific but phrase endings were annoyingly ragged at times and tempo “gear changes” between conductor and soloist were not always smooth.

Pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska. Photo by Steven Godbee

After interval, the delightful Elena Kats-Chernin’s “Alexander Rag” featured excellent trumpet leading from John Foster. A happy gentle atmosphere spread throughout the hall, the pretty melodies and simple rhythms had the audience relaxing easily and being whisked away to various imaginary locations. It was the West Indies for some reason for me!

Guest conductor Dane Lam provided an insightful description of the Shostakovich “Symphony No 9 in E flat major” and its historical context before launching into a spirited and, at times, most exciting performance. Balance again was excellent with solid strings providing the platform for delightful wind playing highlighted by sublime piccolo work from Teresa Rabe.

The demands on her, particularly in the frighteningly difficult section at the end of the 2nd movement , were met with confident assurance and clean tonal quality. Clarinets, bassoons and oboes also displayed most competent solo and section moments as did the brass with tuba and bass trombone enjoying rare opportunities for concert prominence.

Making his CSO debut Dane Lam had a mixed evening. While very clear with beat patterns, he initially seemed to lack emotional involvement and connection and was somewhat wooden and robotic.

He certainly became more excited and flamboyant during the symphony but then suffered some lack of clear and confident direction, which resulted in the ragged phrasing mentioned earlier.

Overall though a most enjoyable evening of difficult, but most listenable music, highlighted by fine overall orchestral sound, some fantastic instrumental solo moments and great playing from a pianist of world-class standard.

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