How good it was to hear live music again

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Cello soloist Julian Smiles. Photo: Keith Saunders.

Canberra Symphony Orchestra, “Live at Llewellyn”, Llewellyn Hall, November 26. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN.

THE audience was restricted to 50 per cent capacity, spaced at one-seat intervals, and the orchestra numbered only 42, but how good it was to hear live music again and, even better, how good to hear live music played so very well.

“Live at Llewellyn” marked the CSO debut for incoming principal guest conductor Simon Hewett, and he made a fine impression. He was warm and engaging with his spoken introductions and conducted with confidence, passion, clarity and obvious deep understanding of his programmed works. He appears to have established immediate rapport with the CSO musicians who responded to his clear direction most enthusiastically. Body language was good!

Principal guest conductor Simon Hewett. Photo: Penny Bradfield.

The concert opened with a short piece by Matthew Hindson, “The Stars above Us All”. It is a most atmospheric work built around the tinkling sounds of the celeste and was written to honour the unrelenting devotion of parents of children undergoing treatment for complex health issues. The musical sentiments expressed could easily have been interpreted as a tribute to health care workers everywhere who have been so dedicated to their duties throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The piece is calming and peaceful and a perfect example of the healing power of music, as it so easily evoked empathy and compassion for those who care so much about others.

Cello soloist Julian Smiles is a graduate of the Canberra School of Music who has enjoyed a stellar international performing career spanning over 30 years. The Tchaikovsky “Variations on a Rococo Theme” is perhaps one of the favoured works for virtuoso cellists with its charm and elegance where light, neat accompaniment allows the soloist to soar easily above the orchestra. Tone was wonderfully rich and clean and command of often complex rhythms was outstanding.

The Beethoven “Symphony No 7 in A, Op.92” was a joy to hear. Excellent balance was most evident during the long, slow introduction then quite amazing dynamic contrast and control featured. Playing was energetic, precise and tight with horns and strings particularly effective.

The second movement is so often associated with suffering induced by war. The imagery created certainly tugged at the emotions, particularly difficult for members of the military who have had reputations tarnished due to the awful actions of a few. The third movement dance was joyful, at one moment light and fluffy then suddenly exuberant and pulsating. Dynamic contrast again was a real highlight. The powerful finale was huge, resulting in five curtain calls from a most appreciative audience.

If this concert is indicative of what lies ahead for the CSO, Canberra is in for an abundance of classical music riches in 2021.

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