The creatives from SOQ, Graham Sattler (baritone) and Stephen O’Connell (saxophone) joined TMO to perform the premiere of their song cycle, ‘Beauty’. Photo credit for this and  featured image : John B Chen

It was a thrill to have the performance and interpretative talents of The Metropolitan Orchestra back before us for the start of their 2018 and tenth anniversary season. We heard a work from the Finnish composer Sibelius and the well-known Symphony No. 9 ‘From the New World’ by Sibelius’ contemporary, Dvorak.
These works by great late nineteenth orchestral composers framed an Australian song cycle in its premiere performance.

Gliding effortlessly and beautifully before us to open the concert was An evocative tone poem, from the Lemmenkäinen Suite by Sibelius, in which tales of a Finnish adventurer are told. ‘The Swan of
Tuonela’, heard here, describes the dignified progress of a swan from the realm of Hell through surging water as it sings.

TMO brought this tale to life with delicacy and the provision of a precise and haunting atmosphere. Muted strings created a profound and chilling layer over which the singing of the swan from the Kingdom of Death could sing. The song of this swan was expressively rendered across the registers of the cor anglais by principal player Alex Fontaine. Interaction between this soloist and strings was  keenly balanced by conductor Sarah-Grace Williams, who ensured the creation of atmosphere was a successful priority.

The remainder of the concert’s first half was taken up with a premiere work. The song cycle ‘Beauty’ featured settings of original text across five movements for baritone, soprano saxophone and
orchestra. There was also a movement for orchestra and saxophone only.

This interesting new work contained very dense text written and sung by Graham Sattler. The words formed an earnest meditation
on nature and human relationships when surrounded by powerful parts of Australian scenery. The eloquence of Stephen O’Connell’s saxophone added moments of colour to the somewhat cyclical philosophy of the text. At all times, however, committed performances were produced from both creatives.

This pastiche was a showcase for TMO’s versatility and ability as a sympathetic accompanist. As the orchestra moved through the score’s accompaniment they uncovered references
to contemporary classical music, species of ballad, jazz and big band .

This song cycle could even work with accompaniment from a band or ensemble size rather than spreading the material across a
full symphony orchestra.

Following interval, TMO alone brought the concert to a stunning close with its performance of Symphony No. 9 ‘From the New World’ by Dvorak. This work has a stable and proven place in TMO’s
history of presenting major works from the orchestral repertoire. It was once more played with signature accuracy and effective layering of nuance as well as orchestral tone colour.

Alex Fontaine once more  graced us with fine cantabile playing in the cor anglais part for the  melody in the well-known Largo movement. The brass choir was fuller in this movement for including tuba with extended part in this performance. The chordal sequences were satisfyingly full and strong, with good voice leading.

What was a pleasure to listen to in this interpretation was the treatment of Dvorak’s Native American inspired fragments amidst the rest of the symphony’s material. Right from the opening
movement the melodies reflecting the style of American traditional or historical tunes were well placed within the texture. They were unhurriedly given space to resonate on their own and spoke
with a subtly contrasted timbre to separate the from their surroundings.

This symphony with its charming mix of nineteenth century structure and music from the pioneering  New World far from Dvorak’s Europe continued in a colourful way to complete this Met Concert #1.

The next Met Concert takes place at the ABC Centre on 14 April. Its programme promises to entertain with contrasts provided by the Arutunian Trumpet Concerto and works by Rossini, Ligeti as well as the Carmen