Rumsey bedazzles in world-premiere performance

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Andrew Rumsey at the piano, with Leonard Weiss and the NCO. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / “Rach & Rumsey”. The National Capital Orchestra. At The Q, Queanbeyan, June 16. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

A WORLD premiere of a new piano concerto is something to be celebrated, especially an Australian one.

Acclaimed pianist Andrew Rumsey and the National Capital Orchestra under Leonard Weiss performed Michael Dooley’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” along with Rachmaninoff’s “Symphony No 2” that made for a concert of parallel music.

When the piano came in after several minutes in Michael Dooley’s “Piano Concerto No. 1”, an accompanying string section played the same notes, making this a distinctive opening. This concerto maybe even more unique as it had another (electric) piano in the orchestra, something this reviewer has never seen or heard before in a piano concerto.

The clear tonal sounds of Dooley’s music stands out against the contrast of atonal music that still pervades the contemporary classical music world. The first movement had passages of dynamic and rapid development and some lovely touches for the oboe. Most of the music is song-based, which fits Dooley’s style, and he does it so well.

Pianist Andrew Rumsey played the whole concerto from memory, making this a rare feat for a first concerto from anyone. His lyrical playing showed a great understanding of the work, even through the scalic and technically challenging sections Rumsey had no issues with making it sound just right.

The opening of the second movement was particularly effective with a passionate theme for piano and solo cello. This slow movement as in much of the concerto gave off the feeling of movie music that is set in a classical style.

Composer Michael Dooley. Photo: Peter Hislop

The final movement was a rhythmic and complex, fast-paced section full of colour and contrasts. It stood out for its technical brilliance that led to a sparkling finish and standing applause from many in the audience as the composer, conductor and pianist all joined up on stage.

Then, Rumsey played a short but challenging work as an encore that sounded like a Chopin Polonaise, which showed off the pianist’s considerable skills. The new piano that was especially gifted to the NCO for this concert was a handcrafted Shigeru Kawai. This stunning instrument gleamed in presence and sound quality.

After the interval, we heard Rachmaninoff’s “Symphony No 2”. The deep emotional yearning that opens this symphony is the sort of music that can make people’s hair stand on end. It takes around six minutes for that emotional aching largo to resolve into a fast, rhythmic style that is so characteristic of 20th-century Russian orchestral music.

Written in 1906–07 the premiere of his second symphony was conducted by the composer himself.

The emotive expression does not let up in the long first movement. The undulating tension that fills this work is capped off by the tune in the third movement made famous in popular music by American pop rock artist Eric Carmen and his song “Never Gonna Fall in Love”.

Under conductor Leonard Weiss, who is a passionate advocate for bringing contemporary Australian music to the concert hall, the NCO brought all this music together in a fine performance of two pieces of music that can rightly stand side by side.

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