Passion, but not all Russian – an SSO review

August 17, 2012 by Fraser Beath McEwing
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While we’re suffering nervous breakdowns over our electricity bills, it is softened a little by the knowledge that power distributor, Ausgrid, is putting some of our money into sponsoring classical music, writes Fraser Beath McEwing.

Ausgrid is behind two SSO series, ‘Master’ (for the serious eight o’clockers) and ‘Meet the Music’ for the half past sixers – which attracts a much younger and enthusiastic audience. They get an introduction from the stage to the upcoming music as a bonus.

Alexander Gavrylyuk

Normally, I report on the Master Series, but the chance to hear pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk drew me to a night of Ausgrid’s Meet the Music.

Peter Sculthorpe

Billed as Russian Passions, it presented a stimulating program – although not all Russian. Peter Sculthorpe’s Sun Song (1984) somehow got a guernsey albeit for only five minutes. However, Peter added to the profile by taking an arms-raised bow from his seat in the middle of the stalls. Moreover, his picture in the programme was the only composer to appear in colour. I am a great fan of his music and I believe that our incoming conductor, David Robertson, will present some Sculthorpe as part of his vow to include more Australian music in the repertoire.

The concert began with Liadov’s Kikimora, a tone poem based on a folk legend. This, and The Enchanted Lake, are Liadov’s best-known pieces. And that’s a pity because his talent was up there will the best of the Russians. It turns out that he didn’t like work, so that the few pieces he did finish were all relatively brief before he ran out of puff.

Kikimora employs a big orchestra, with extra woodwinds, brass and celesta. It is straight program music, tracing the life of a weird girl who is brought up by a sorcerer and told stories by a magic cat. This provides a rich background for imaginative music and Liadov does it justice with some wonderful orchestral colours.

With sorcerers and magic cats out of the way, the orchestral seating had to be re-arranged to make room for the Steinway Model D as it was wheeled into the centre front.

When all was quiet Alexander Gavrylyuk and conductor Thomas Sanderling entered from stage left, bent upon the Rachmaninoff second piano concerto.

Thomas Sanderling

From the opening F minor chord, Gavrylyuk owned this concerto, although the orchestra often threatened to drown him out with some raw playing in the first movement. The second, adagio movement, seemed to settle the orchestra down as it threaded around the soloist to produce a gentle, romantic fabric, interrupted only by an occasional outpouring of passion from the piano, especially in the cadenza.

The third movement, containing the famous theme, was triumphant for both soloist and orchestra. Gavrylyuk’s astounding technique was matched by his feeling for the emotion of the music. Just when you might have expected him to lay heavily into rich, upper register chords he would back off and played them pianissimo. It was a mesmerising performance.

For the record, Ukraine born Alexander Gavrylyuk spent many of his formative years in Sydney and is an Australian citizen.

After Interval, the stage introduction at one end of the piece and Sculthorpe’s acknowledgement of the applause at the other took longer than Sun Song itself – which focused on the odd, squashed sound of a minor second for much of the five minutes.

The orchestra then powered up to handle Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, subtitled a Symphonic fantasia after Dante. This was a fine, fiery visit to hell and back, offering the best of Pytor Ilyich’s trademark passages, many of them sounding like visiting cousins from his three last symphonies. The conductor, Thomas Sanderling, drew the best from the orchestra in this work. Cutting a rather avuncular figure in his long coat/jacket and curt conducting movements he made an already exciting piece even more so.

At the end, he stood at player level with the orchestra to take the applause and then pointed to various musicians for special recognition. Unfortunately he overlooked the cymbal-playing percussionist who I think did the most work. He had to clash so often and with such force that I he’d surely need physio after the performance and maybe some panel-beating for his cymbals.

Fraser Beath McEwing is an accomplished pianist and commentator on classical music performance and is a founding member of The theme & Variations Foundation Advisory Board which provides assistance to talented young Australian pianists. His professional background is in journalism, editing and publishing. He is also the author of three novels.He is a Governor of the Sir Moses Montefiore Home.




2 Responses to “Passion, but not all Russian – an SSO review”
  1. Valuable information. Fortunate me I discovered your web site unintentionally,
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  2. Otto Waldmann says:

    Yep, Francesca da Rimini with the motto inserted at the top of the score from Dante’s Inferno.
    “There is no greater pain than remembering happy times while in misery “. Nessum magior dolore….

    music just as devastatingly beautiful………..

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