Review / Suddenly, music calmed the savage breast!

Music / Canberra Symphony Orchestra. At Llewellyn Hall, May 2. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN

MANY audience members (and players) were held up on the Tuggeranong Parkway “car park” after yet another tailgate accident en route to the city, so the atmosphere was a little tense and testy for the start of this concert.   

Then, suddenly, music calmed the savage breast!

Out of nowhere came the most delightfully soothing pianissimo chord as the strings of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra commenced a wonderful performance of the Vaughan Williams “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis”.   

The sound was sublime with excellent dynamic contrast and control.   Phrases were held to the very end beautifully filling the hall with unbroken high tonal quality.  A now totally relaxed audience enjoyed a spell-like moment of silence at the end until broken by an excited (and well deserved) “bravo” from an appreciative gentleman in the audience.

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Double bass soloist Phoebe Russell… a rare treat to hear this extraordinary young player performing live.

, principal bass with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, delighted with a commanding performance of the Vanhal “Double Bass Concerto in D Major”. This was the first double bass concerto to be performed in Canberra in more than 40 years with Phoebe playing a 300-year old instrument (putting that into some sort of context, JS Bach was just 15 when it was built!).

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen or heard a soloist so completely immersed in their work or so totally in control of their playing. Difficult cadenzas, encompassing the complete instrument range, were handled with seeming ease and articulation and tonal quality were of the highest standard. Phoebe has recently returned from a stint with the famed Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. It was a rare treat to hear this extraordinary young player performing live.

Paul Stanhope’s “Morning Star” was programmed to complement the earlier Vaughan Williams work. Phrase endings weren’t as tight as in the earlier piece but it did evoke strong imagery with its use of Aboriginal idioms and I could certainly easily picture kangaroos courtesy of a solo 2nd violin.

The concert was conducted by German born Johannes Fritzsch who was chief conductor of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra from 2003 to 2013. Unsurprisingly, he had absolute understanding of the Beethoven 2nd Symphony. His control of dynamics was excellent and he commanded precise balance both within and between orchestra sections as he swept the symphony along with lovely gestures and a happy smile.   Except for a little French horn moment this was a most enjoyable, bright performance with well-controlled winds neatly complementing the strings.

In many quarters the CSO strings have been maligned in recent years with blame for a perceived lessening in string standards directed towards changes at the ANU School of Music. This concert was very string based and there was absolutely no evidence of diminishing ability.

Praise of the CSO strings has been too rare of late but, with magnificently controlled playing throughout this concert from the loyal CSO stalwarts, praise of the highest order in this case was most worthy and very justly deserved.

A lovely concert, attendance at the second performance is highly recommended.

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