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Majestic music soars with force and commitment

James Monro, cello. Photo: Peter Hislop

Music / “Dvořák”, National Capital Orchestra, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, April 10. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

MONUMENTAL works get that way not just because a vast number of people love them, but because they move us and speak to the human condition. Dvořák’s Cello Concerto is one such work.

Canberra cellist James Monro and the National Capital Orchestra performing the “Cello Concerto” by Antonín Dvořák, opened the concert.

Leading the NCO in just his second outing as conductor, Louis Sharpe now has them sounding the best this reviewer has ever heard them. While essentially a community-based orchestra, the NCO comprise local players, music teachers, doctors and even 12-year-old musicians.

The pensive and dark opening to Dvořák’s “Cello Concerto” soon unfurled into light and drama. Sounding warm and full, the entire orchestra was on song from note one. Being just 10 metres from an orchestra of about 50 players, you can hear exactly where things are going right and wrong. And in this NCO performance, nothing was going wrong.

Monro made an intense start with his cello. Every note clear, expressive, and emotionally warm. This player of just 18 years is capable of a beautiful singing tone on his instrument. His concentration and connection to the music is powerful; many times, he does not need to read the notation. Working as one, the NCO created a deep and glowing range of tone colours. Every section blended well.

Louis Sharpe conducts the NCO yesterday. Photo: Peter Hislop

There’s a lot to like about Sharpe’s conducting. He’s passionate when he needs to be and direct and guiding all the time. He also engages well with the audience.

The slow movement expressed a refined beauty and power. Monro’s cello oozed out tenderness. In the solo passages, his ability shone through.

The rousing final movement capped off an excellent all-round performance. But Monro was not finished yet, an encore followed of György Ligeti’s demanding “Sonata for Solo Cello”. It gave all a show of Monro’s technical prowess. Outstanding stuff.

After the interval came “Festival Flourish”, by Australian composer Dulcie Holland. This jaunty short work full of bright and bouncy tunes flourished and shined in a polished performance.

The “Adagio for Strings”, by Samuel Barber, came as a letdown after the orchestra played so well. The strings lacked pitch accuracy. In a piece, as the conductor said, “can stop time”, it’s of utmost importance that such well-known music is played as good as possible, and this wasn’t.

The final work on the program was the Symphonic Poem “Les Préludes”, by Franz Liszt. With 13 symphonic poems to his name, Liszt showed his orchestral skills matched his pianistic talent.

The orchestra had this majestic music driving with force and commitment. It’s a soaring work with subtle moments of individual radiance. The orchestra was right on the money for this final piece, producing a fine tone and strong dynamic.

A full loud finish had the audience clapping and cheering wildly in an extended response to this fine concert.


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