Friday morning with Richard, Wolfgang, Carl and Felix

April 24, 2022 by Fraser Beath McEwing
Read on for article

A music review by Fraser Beath McEwing 

Umberto Clerici

This was an opportunity for me to revisit Umberto Clerici’s conducting and Diana Doherty as oboe soloist in the Richard Strauss concerto. However, Diana called in sick, and the program had to be hastily changed. The concert then comprised two overtures, an opera suite and a symphony.

Where better to start than Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro overture, one of the most popular short pieces in the orchestral repertoire? It bounced along with foot-tapping pleasure, an ideal warm-up for this much-loved opera, to say nothing of a smile-starter for the Sydney eleven o’clockers. It took just over four minutes to perform, although originally it had a melancholy oboe solo in the middle – which Mozart culled. Umberto Clerici pushed the SSO along at quite a clip for that time in the morning – which might explain the brass being a tad tardy here and there.

The overture made an ideal curtain-raiser for the substitute work, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.3 in A minor (Scottish). Mendelssohn began work on the symphony in 1829, inspired by a walking tour of Scotland but didn’t get around to finishing it until 1842. He wanted the four-movement symphony to be played without breaks – and Umberto obliged. To those in the know, there are apparently many references to Scotland throughout the symphony, although my companion, Henry, who is Scottish, said they were difficult to find. As an aside, Henry told me how he’d shared an umbrella after the concert with one of the SSO players, and asked: ‘how long do you think it will take Umberto Clerici to become a star?’ The reply: ‘he already is.’

After the cuppa break came the overture to Weber’s opera Der Freichutz, probably his most performed work these days – although he was quite prolific throughout his life of only 40 years and deserves better popularity. A virtuoso pianist, guitarist and critic, Weber was regarded as a leader of the crossover from German classical to romantic styles of composition. You can hear the romantic asserting itself in the overture – which finishes brightly, but only after it has served its audience up a good helping of majestic misery and tragic drama as it follows the opera’s unlikely supernatural story. For this work, the orchestra needed additional forces which brought the bull fiddle count up to six. The extra players added a richness to the SSO sound that hadn’t been there before.

Even more players were added for the final work, especially in the brass and percussion departments. The SSO was about as big as it could be, filling the stage right up to the organ keyboard. By committing so much firepower to the pen of Richard Strauss, we had to be in for a treat.

The suite from Der Rosenkavalier begins with Strauss’s unmistakable musical signature. You can’t miss the zipping horns and rushing strings that typify the drama in his music. After what amounts to a fanfare, it settled down to recalling and exploring six scenes from the opera, with many opportunities for brief solos to be uncovered.  Because Strauss set the opera in 18th Century Vienna, it naturally evoked the waltz – which appears in many guises throughout the suite, unleashing some mighty skirmishes, with a rapturous finish that ignited resounding applause. We all wanted to get up and waltz in Strauss’s vast, smoky ballroom, notwithstanding the physical limitations of advancing years and covid masks.

I’m not sure where the magic came from but I’d credit much of it to Umberto who threw himself into the suite with abandon, sometimes becoming airborne as he lived the music.

SSO April 22 Sydney Town Hall

Fraser Beath McEwing is a pianist, commentator on classical music performance and is a founding member of The theme & Variations Foundation which assists talented young Australian pianists. His professional background is in journalism, editing and publishing. He is also the author of five novels and a Governor of the Sir Moses Montefiore Home. A body of his work can be found on

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

Got something to say about this?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.