High quality powers through first CSO concert

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Music / “Canberra Symphony Orchestra”, Llewellyn Hall, April 3. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN

Conductor Jessica Cottis guided CSO through an excellent first concert… Photo: Kaupo Kikkas

INTERNATIONALLY renowned and lauded conductor Jessica Cottis, who recently made her debut with the London Symphony Orchestra, lived up to her growing reputation as a “charismatic figure on the podium” when she guided CSO through an excellent first concert for 2019.

She was clear, definitive and precise and players responded enthusiastically to her confident and most competent direction and interpretation.

Major work was the demanding Mendelssohn Symphony No 3, “The Scottish”. Composed when he was in his 20s and touring Britain as a concert and salon pianist, the work was inspired by the wildness of the Scottish countryside. It is therefore a particularly descriptive piece with lyrical imagery of countryside, a rapid movement with hinted references to folk song, a dream-like third movement and a triumphant finale. Playing was impressive. A change of personnel in the wind section has resulted in fine balance, blending both within the eight-player wind group and with the orchestra. Their playing was precise, exciting and exact, particularly in the fiendishly difficult second movement. Strings here, as throughout the concert, were tight and neat with dynamic control and contrast a highlight. Players appear to be responding well to the influence of newish concertmaster Kirsten Williams. The brass were powerful in the swaggering finale with horns and trumpets clean, clear and rich in tonal quality.

The two shorter pieces on the program were most contrasting. Beethoven’s overture to his only ballet, “The Creatures of Prometheus”, opened the concert with a vibrant performance featuring those well drilled strings and lovely fluffy winds. The brass were slightly overpowering with their accompaniment “stabs”. The chant-like “Ecstatic Dance” by Ross Edwards is music of quite non-Western character with influences from Indonesian, Japanese and Indian music. The versatile CSO made an easy transition to the necessary different performance style.

Highlight of the concert was the appearance by brilliant oboe player Diana Doherty to perform a concerto written specifically for her, “Spirit of the Wild” by Nigel Westlake. What a coup by CSO management to bring her to Canberra! She is an outstanding player and simply mesmerised the audience. Initially her playing was eerie and atmospheric as she soared over a gently pounding bass rhythm before descending to guttural sounds of the wild which were quite spooky. This was accompanied by intricate percussion accompaniment from a large and precise section. Some mournful high register playing with beautiful interplay between oboe and harp led to a joyful ending with the soloist expressing her sheer enjoyment in the music she was creating as she paced the stage like a cat whilst maintaining her amazing virtuosity.

This was a concert of real interest and high quality.  

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