A Roman Trilogy…a music review by Bill Brooks

September 10, 2015 by Bill Brooks
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The title of this Sydney Symphony Orchestra APT Series concert refers to the three symphonic poems by Respighi, Roman Festivals (Feste Romane, 1929), Fountains of Rome (Fontane di Roma, 1916) and Pines of Rome (Pini di Roma, 1924), which made up the second half. .

Charles Dutoit

Charles Dutoit

Introducing the Roman theme in a very substantial way was the Roman Carnival Overture (Le Carnaval romain), Op. 9, by Hector Berlioz. Between these two pillars of orchestral exuberance and colour we returned north of the Alps to spend 25 minutes with a more reflective and introverted composer, Robert Schumann, whose Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129, was performed with lyricism and musicality by Daniel Müller-Schott as soloist with the orchestra.

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) is a composer hitherto known to this reviewer largely through recordings and broadcasts, and through his work Il tramonto for mezzo-soprano and string quartet. It was quite a revelation therefore to experience the full panoply of his orchestral creativity in the concert hall.

Evidence of his studies with Rimsky-Korsakov in St Petersburg, where Respighi as a young man played the viola in the opera orchestra, was to be heard in the textures reminiscent of that composer’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

He also studied in Berlin with Max Bruch and was a contemporary of Richard Strauss and of Mahler, whose musical language he spoke, though in a distinctly less introspective manner. The three symphonic poems were composed (and are usually performed) separately as self-contained pieces, but are sufficiently varied and interesting to form a coherent program lasting about an hour. Each consists of four sections played without a break.

Daniel Mueller Schott

Daniel Mueller-Schott

Together they show the range and brilliance of orchestral sound, with plenty of opportunity for solo performances, in this case allowing artists including Andrew Haveron (violin and concertmaster), Umberto Clerici (cello), Emma Sholl (flute), Francesco Celata (clarinet), Shefali Pryor (oboe), Alexandre Oguey (cor anglais) and David Elton (trumpet) to demonstrate their musicianship in individual passages of beauty and sensitivity. Unusual contributors were Stephen Lalor playing the mandolin (in Feste) and a recording of nightingales chirping (in Pines of the Janiculum).

In contrast, there were also opportunities for the orchestra to unleash the full power of its large forces, including ten percussion players, splendid brass section with extra players at the far corners of the choir gallery (and a wonderful offstage trumpet solo from the door behind the circle) duo pianists and organ (David Drury in top form).

Berlioz’ overture Le Carnaval romain was actually music reworked by Berlioz from his opera Benvenuto Cellini, which was set in Rome during the carnival season. It finds Berlioz in his sunniest mood and testifies both to his mastery of orchestration and to his individuality as a composer. Here it received a spirited and accomplished performance by the large forces assembled for the concert.

Schumann apparently said “I cannot write a concerto for the virtuosos”, however the solo part in his cello concerto sounded virtuosic enough for my taste, without being showy. The young German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott played with sensitivity and restraint in this unfamiliar work, which seems to be more in spirit with Schumann’s wonderful lieder than his symphonies.

All in all, this was a concert of rather less familiar works that delivered unexpected delights. Highly recommended.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conductor Charles Dutoit

Daniel Müller-Schott, cello

Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, Wednesday 9 September 2015


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