Four musos shine through a concert of blemishes

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Andrea Lam takes a bow in the CSO concert.

Music / “ACTEWAGL Llewellyn Three”, Canberra Symphony Orchestra, at Llewellyn Hall, August 21. Reviewed by TONY MAGEE.

FOUR musicians shone brightly in Wednesday night’s concert at Llewellyn Hall, presented by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra.

Benn Sutcliffe played a superb saxophone solo and integrated himself in the wind section beautifully during the Mussorgsky/Ravel piece, “Pictures at an Exhibition”, which closed the concert.

Harpists Rowan Phemister and Jo Baee played lush and swirling glissandos of voluminous proportions during Ravel’s “La Valse”, which opened the concert.

Katherine Day on celeste was outstanding in her moving and beautifully respectful deliverance during Matthew Hindson’s wonderful piece, “The Stars Above Us All”, which opened the second half, as well as her contribution in the Mussorgsky.

In a brilliant piece of programming, conductor Nicholas Milton held the fading moments of the Hindson piece and then let silence speak for itself, allowing the audience to reflect on the themes that inspired it – the unstinting, unrelenting devotion of the parents of children undergoing treatment for long-term health issues. The orchestra then segued seamlessly into “Pictures at an Exhibition”.

“The Stars Above Us All” was the highlight of the evening for me. Every single musician in the orchestra seemed at one with the purpose and sensitivity of the piece. It was beautiful.

But the standard of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra as a whole has dropped considerably.

The woodwind section was frequently out of tune, the brass section variable in success. The second violins and violas were sometimes out of tune, often delivering a scraping, whining sound. The cello section was acceptable but with some tuning blemishes and missing their usual richness of tone and ensemble sonority. The double basses, first violins and percussion sections were all excellent.

Nicholas Milton is a superb conductor, but despite his best efforts, the orchestra failed to deliver the climaxes necessary to make the opening piece, Ravel’s “La Valse” blow the roof off the hall. The string section did, however, achieve some of the rich, sweeping lushness, almost of Mantovani proportions, that this piece needs and is famous for.

The “Piano Concerto No. 1” by Rachmaninov followed, with piano soloist Andrea Lam.

Ms Lam is a highly experienced pianist and has a sparkling and very accurate technique. This work, as with most Romantic concertos, needs a pianist of massive weight technique to deliver a sound of richness and intensity when required, but the power was not there.

Even so, it was a creditable performance. In particular she played the second movement with sensitivity, beauty and grace. The orchestra, once again, did not deliver on climaxes and still had some tuning blemishes. At the conclusion, an audience member sitting next to me whispered “brak miesa”, – no meat.

The only part of “Pictures at an Exhibition” that really worked well, was the final movement, “The Great Gate of Kiev”, where the orchestra did start to hit their straps and deliver an earth-shattering climax and conclusion to the concert.

In a city of almost half a million people and one of the most affluent societies in Australia, Canberra currently has an orchestra which is not full-time and not up to scratch.

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