Concert of thumping moments and introspective parts

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Jessica Cottis conducting. Photo: Martin Ollman.

Music / “Longing and Desire”, Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Llewellyn Hall, ANU, May 12. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

LONGING and desire as a theme permeates the art world, but in music, especially that of Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, it reaches its zenith.

It certainly did in this concert. Conducted by Jessica Cottis, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) began with “Viridian” by Australian composer Richard Meale (1932-2009). This twisting mystical work floats high and drifts low. The orchestra had a palate of many colours, and not just green. Delicate solos seep out above the body of this composition.

It has thumping moments and introspective parts. The only section that has little to do is the percussion. It maintained a high-toned, edgy nature all the way through. And yes, it’s danceable. At least the Australian choreographer Graham Murphy thought so when in 1992 he set “Viridian” as a contemporary dance work. The CSO made a great show of this colour-filled piece.

Australian-born, New York-based pianist Andrea Lam has been noted internationally for her “melting lyricism” and “thrilling virtuosity”. In her performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No.2”, the audience saw and heard why her reputation is so glowing.

Andrea Lam. Photo: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.

Lam is the real deal. She can and has held her own on concert stages in several countries and across Australia. She caresses the piano with a sensitivity that would make a lot of pianists jealous. And, she has fire, passion and a focus that creates all the elements of a professional musician.

Cottis, choosing to conduct with a baton for the Rachmaninoff, unlike the Meale, drew every drop of passion from the orchestra, and that’s what this piece requires and got. If this music was a movie, it would be a sweeping romance. It was more than warmly applauded.

After the third encore call for Lam, she gave one. Chopin’s “Nocturne No.20 in C sharp minor”. Lam said it would change the mood completely, it did. She played with all the finesse and delicacy that it has ever been played.

After the interval, for the final work a selection of pieces from Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” ballet score. Few dance works are more thrilling than Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Knights”. But in this work, the colours, the play, the orchestral timbres from the bank of percussion, with five players, along with the sax, harp, piano, celeste and organ make this perhaps the most dynamic ballet score ever.

The CSO were equal to the task of this robust music with a splendid balance and stunning individual dynamics from every section. Cottis led with her baton and her body. Jumping at hit points, the orchestra fed off her enthusiasm and huge smile.

Everything worked splendidly. Their sound, and the whole concert, exhilarating.

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