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Battling the acoustics, the orchestra shines through

The NCO with soloist Mia Stanton. Photo: Frank Ingwersen

Music / Firebird, National Capital Orchestra. At The Q, March 24. Reviewed by DANTE COSTA, himself a flautist who, on Monday, was awarded a CSO Kingsland Fellowship, which offers professional development for advanced musicians at the tertiary and postgraduate level.

National Capital Orchestra has always been keen to champion local musicians and composers. This concert was no exception.

Its first concert for the 2024 Visions series, Firebird was conducted by musical director Louis Sharpe and presented a jam-packed program of Prokofiev and Stravinsky alongside the works of two esteemed local composers.

The full NCO. Photo: Frank Ingwersen

First up was Starry Night Over Ubud by composer and NCO horn player Thomas McConochie. Inspired by Balinese gamelan, the piece opened with a beautiful flute and harp duet. An ostinato begins in the winds and is gradually developed and weaved into a glorious orchestral tutti where the musical ideas come to full fruition.

Soloist Mia Stanton – currently with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, but has her roots in Canberra – performed Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.2. Stanton’s tone was clear and pure as she weaved her way through technically difficult passages with precision and ease.

Although the strings struggled a bit with intonation in the beginning, the whole orchestra was visibly engaged and responsive under Sharpe’s baton. The second movement andante assai was particularly enjoyable with an endearing staccato passage in the strings that provided a sound anchor for the solo violin.

Following an interval, the orchestra resumed its position on the stage for the premiere of Canberran composer Sally Greenaway’s orchestral arrangement of Scriabin’s Etude in C-sharp Minor Op.2, No.1. Encompassing a considerable amount of material in only about three minutes, this piece was a delight to experience. Its ballet of sound was thoughtfully orchestrated, combining different instruments to explore a variety of tone colours. It was clear that the orchestra enjoyed performing Greenaway’s arrangement just as much as the audience enjoyed listening to it. This emphasised the importance of promoting local composers in the vitality of the music scene in Canberra.

Concluding the concert was Stravinsky’s notorious Firebird Suite (this was the 1919 version and probably the most well recognised) which, although tested the orchestra, was played stunningly.

While the ensemble did struggle with gauging volume at times, I believe the acoustics of the room had something to do with this – I thought it a bit too dry for an orchestra of this size.

L’oiseau de feu et sa danse ,while perhaps just a tad on the slower side, was still secure and the orchestra (particularly the woodwinds) executed some of the most challenging lines with accuracy and conviction. A highlight was the horn section whose intonation was excellent in the powerful fanfare-like motifs.

The piece concluded with a fantastic finale; a powerful and triumphant fanfare from the lower brass followed by a breathtaking crescendo leading to the final cadence.

Although the acoustics of the venue were arguably not the most suitable for this large ensemble, the orchestra was able to deliver a commendable and overall enjoyable performance.


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