Music / “ActewAGL Llewellyn Series: Four”, Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Llewellyn Hall, Wednesday, October 23. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN.
THE old musician’s line “that was a big blow” was certainly applicable for this excellent concert as chief conductor and artistic director Dr Nicholas Milton led the Canberra Symphony Orchestra through an entirely pleasing concert of three well known and loved works.
“Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius is regarded somewhat like the national anthem of Finland, though it does not contain any particular references to Finnish folk song and is more like a concert overture in structure. The powerful brass fanfare opening was solid, rich and well-balanced. It also set the platform for a tight, disciplined and exciting performance. Conductor Milton used no score instead concentrating his boundless energy on directing the piece through its ever changing moods and maintaining playing of high energy and precision. The famous hymn was particularly moving in its grandeur.
Umberto Clerici‘s performance of the Elgar “Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in E minor, op. 85” was simply classy in all respects. He is a most passionate and exact player, every note was clearly defined and of wonderful tone and his spacing of rhythmic phrases was absolutely exact. As he played his eyes danced between conductor and concertmaster, the three seemingly in perfect sync and understanding. Orchestral accompaniment was light and delicate and was never overpowering. Entries in the slow second movement were quite sublime, absolutely “on the stick” in time and played with impeccable tuning.
As well as being a world renowned soloist Clerici is a teacher, conductor and orchestral principal cellist and it was announced during the concert that he has been appointed “CSO Artist in Focus” for 2020. Exciting times lie ahead as he curates concerts as well as conducts and performs throughout the coming year.
Nicholas Milton employed a different orchestra layout than usual with violas and cellos centre stage, first and second violins opposite each other on the front edges of the stage and a bank of six basses sitting high at the rear behind the wind section. It was visually and aurally pleasing to see and hear the basses playing in perfect unison and no more evident than through the Tchaikovsky “Symphony No 6 in B minor, op 74 Pathetique”.
Once again conducting the entire symphony from memory, Maestro Milton demonstrated his deep knowledge and his ability to draw emotional playing from the orchestra. From the opening moments, the sonorous bassoon playing from Matthew Angus, over lower strings, set a brooding atmosphere. This was a beautifully controlled reading. All entries were clean and clear, the second movement was delicate and accurate and the loved third movement “Allegro Molto Vivace” drew spontaneous applause before the gut-wrenching andante ”Finale” could begin.
When it did end Milton held the audience transfixed in silence for at least a spellbinding 20 seconds. There was not the slightest of sounds, which is testimony to a fine concert performance of great musical riches.