WASO plays Haydn’s Miracle, Schumann’s horn Konzertstuck and Beethoven’s Fifth at Perth Concert Hall.
Whoops and cheers welcomed WA Symphony Orchestra’s horn section centre-stage at the Concert Hall on Friday; David Evans, Robert Gladstones, Julia Brooke and Francesco Lo Surdo entering like gladiators for Schumann’s Konzertstuck for four horns and orchestra.
They answered with a glorious fanfare, picked up in full orchestra, before the first sustained passage for the quartet; voices blending perfectly, rich in the lower register and deftly agile in the upper reaches.
As the Lebhaft (“Lively”) first movement gave way to Romanza in the second, Brooke and Lo Surdo took the lead from Evans and Gladstones.
Lush strains were complemented by ethereal strings before mournful and mindful melody was suddenly interrupted by trumpet to ignite the finale.
The dramatic promise of the opening was echoed in a Sehr lebhaft (“Very lively”) display, the quartet skimming feather-light through breakneck measures before blending beautifully in triumphant chords, then tumbling carillon-like through the range.
Guest conductor Johannes Fritzsch kept a close hold on dynamics so this smooth-as-silk combination wasn’t challenged; eloquent in counterpoint and close harmony, turning up the octane for a rousing climax and huge ovation.
Too often horns labour away obscurely at the back, their finest endeavours like an arm wrestle with one hand tied; yet here was an oh-so-brief moment in the sun.
Fritzsch cut a dapper figure from the start with Haydn’s “Miracle” Symphony, a delicate touch evincing the sweetest of introductions to this late classical masterpiece.
A magical oboe solo from Liz Chee — the first of several through the night— unleashed the full majesty of the orchestra; horns, trumpet and timpani punctuating the stately progress of strings and woodwind.
A suitably languid Andante second stanza gave voice to leading violins Riley Skevington and Zak Rowntree in duet; and to the two guest horn players, Doree Dixon and Julian Leslie, standing in staunchly for the regular fourship on solo duties.
Powerful attack into the Menuetto third stanza, crowned by German trumpets, drew another exquisite oboe moment; Fritzsch’s deft directions capturing the delicacy, alternating with bold brass for the lead.
In the finale, a skittish violin theme echoed by Mary-Anne Blades on flute, followed by flourishes in full orchestra, drove towards a decisive finish.
After the interval, Fritzsch gave a clear downbeat and flourish to grip up the “hand-of-fate” entry to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, then maintained the intensity as horns tolled out repeats of the motif with aplomb.
Chee’s oboe cadenza stopped the flow briefly before the movement progressed with light and shade; the hand of fate — not judgment — allowing drama to build in the development.
Mellow lower strings opened the Andante second stanza with affirmative echo in violins and woodwind, unhurried even by triumphal trumpet as Fritzsch held his form; backed to the nth degree by temperate timpani.
A woodwind trio of clarinet (Allan Meyer), flute and oboe, joined by bassoon Jane Kircher-Lindner, led multiple lines into the climax, warm and hopeful.
Pulsing lower strings struck the mood of the scherzo third movement, horns again sounding the hand-of-fate motif as Fritzsch held a measured tempo.
Some recent readings return to Beethoven’s faster tempi; yet the richness of modern instrumentation probably supports more sustained playing here, and the reward was a sublime slow build towards the exuberant explosion of joy in the C-major finale.
Augmented brass infused the hall with energy as momentum gathered; woodwind cooling the ardour briefly before the last charge, still measured but bearing down surely on the last double-time romp and exhilarating final chords.
WASO repeats the program on Saturday night, 7.30pm at the Concert Hall.
Next week, WASO and Johannes Fritzsch return with Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante and Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, Friday and Saturday, December 3 and 4, 7.30pm, at the Concert Hall.
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