RAPID and sparkling, crystal clear flurries from the clarinet of Alan Vivian and piccolo of Teresa Rabe immediately set the atmosphere for an exciting performance of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from “Prince Igor”, the opening to the third concert of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra’s 2017 Subscription Series.
Borodin was a medical doctor and a lecturer in chemistry as well as a gifted composer and these dances, from his opera, “Prince Igor”, capture the rich melodic lines and complex rhythms often associated with the fire and passion of Russian music. In an energetic performance the CSO players met the considerable challenges well. There was a moment of ill balance when the brass quite noticeably overpowered the strings but, led by excellent playing within the wind section, the excitement, which generated early was maintained throughout ensuring an appropriate enthusiastic response from a well satisfied audience.
Hector McDonald is somewhat of a legend amongst Australian classical musicians. He was head of brass at the Canberra School of Music and a member of CSO during the 1980’s before ultimately serving as principal horn for 27 years with both the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and Concentus Musicus, Wien, a period instrument group. His clean pitch and haunting, mellow tone resonated deeply during his interpretation of the Richard Strauss Horn Concerto No 1 in E flat major. There was none of the brash dominance often associated with the French Horn, this was a performance where, with excellent dynamic control, the horn blended beautifully with the orchestra. During the first movement there was some untidy rhythm between the winds and the soloist but clarity of tone and a unique gentleness made this a most pleasurable aural experience.
After interval CSO grew to some 70 players to play the Symphony No 5 in B flat major by Prokofiev. Sometimes described as the greatest symphony since those written by Tchaikovsky it is broad, expansive and monumental as it symbolises the victory of Soviet forces towards the end of World War II. Conductor Nicholas Milton was notably accurate here. He is known for his passionate, boisterous showmanship on the podium but here he also displayed a real depth of understanding as he guided his large ensemble through numerous spots of complex rhythmic entries, which required complete score knowledge and total confidence. He navigated all with total surety. Strings were excellent, particularly in the second movement, ballet like fast music with touches from Prokofiev’s well known “The Love of Three Oranges” and “Romeo and Juliet”. Of particular note was the rare and well controlled sound of divided cellos in the final movement.
Whilst the symphony did not perhaps capture the pure musical joy evident during the Polovtsian Dances this concert featured fine playing from all on stage and was a solid representation of the well credentialed performance standard of the CSO.