WASO breaks drought with Asher Fisch, Konstantin Shamray and Olivia Davies’ premiere at Perth Concert Hall
An imperceptible rustling of strings and bowed percussion emerged from the depths of WA Symphony Orchestra as a new season opened last night with Stratus, a world premiere by Perth composer Olivia Davies.
Hints of wind, wave and wonder presented a canvas of white noise on to which Davies invited the audience to project their own interpretations, perhaps also reflections of the glowering clouds — Stratus — overhead.
Dischord and harmony were in close competition as woodwind swelled the theme, rising in volume with the injection of brass.
Broad gestures from conductor Asher Fisch evoked a proto-dance rhythm, rising and falling to a trance-like flutter in muted trumpet, hypnotic, febrile yet fertile; timpani rumbling like the first rains after drought.
Strings swayed in the musical breeze as sterner tones in brass and horns summoned thunderous drums before subsiding to a crystalline cadence.
There was a timeless quality to match the welcome to country by Walter McGuire, a voice of ancient culture ringing out in a space reborn through a year of disruption.
Fisch’s return from COVID exile brought wild cheers: “I’m not a mining engineer, but for WA I’m considered an essential worker,” he quipped before launching a long-awaited program.
Konstantin Shamray, the Adelaide-based pianist who was part of 2020’s on-again, off-again plans, finally took the stage for Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2, plangent chords breaking the enforced silence, dissolving into a fluid rumble in solo and strings, echoing portents of doom.
Shamray brought a gracile quality to the keyboard, a little muted at first in a mesmeric minimalist style, to which Fisch brought the rich melodrama of the ensemble in counterpoint, piano waxing rhapsodic.
Warm brass triggered a more lyrical mood, morphing again to drama as Fisch summoned great gouts of ensemble sound; an almost aching familiarity in the lead picked up in David Evans’ horn, a pin-drop moment evincing rich chords and a meditative lead, running as if in neutral to a sudden close.
Piano and Andrew Nicholson’s flute traced the same haunting melody in the second movement, picked up by Alex Millier’s clarinet before the solo held sway; eddies and rivulets of sound only briefly punctuated by the ensemble, the whole a prelude to a scintillating cadenza, schmoozing with strings before the faintest of fade-aways.
In the finale, folkloric stirrings in woodwind and strings with brass highlights released rollicking phrases in piano, running like mountain streams over smooth pebbles, levelling out in a Slavonic serenade, restless and relaxed in equal measure; distinctive tones echoed in the accompaniment as if goading the soloist to a grandiloquent conclusion.
Shamray had been rostered for Beethoven’s Emperor concerto last year, and there were shades of that in his reading of Rachmaninov.
Blowing away cobwebs, he rattled through Prokofiev’s Quarrel, from Cinderella, as encore; frenetic measures leaping around the keys like an elite athlete coming off a layup.
After the break, Elgar’s Enigma Variations felt like a warm down; stately and reflective, the calm assurance of the Victorian Empire written through like a stick of rock candy.
Alex Timcke’s timpani offered glimpses of drama to come as the iconic Nimrod variation arrived almost by stealth, the best known of Elgar’s kaleidoscope of characters just drifting into view.
Organic interaction between players and conductor released lush emotive expression building to the climactic “great fall”, Timcke driving the ebb and flow.
Variation 12 “BGN” was another highlight, a richly sonorous tribute to Elgar’s cellist friend deftly delivered by principal cello Rod McGrath.
Finally, Elgar’s self portrait “EDU” erupted in grandiose chords and bountiful theme, Fisch lavishing encouragement on a willing ensemble; richly content as was the crowd.
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