Sydney Youth Orchestra-Legends of Past @ City Recital Hall

Actor Paul-William Mawhinney performed a moving monologue by Morris Gleitzman
Actor Paul-William Mawhinney performed a moving monologue written by Morris Gleitzman

LEGENDS OF PAST from the Sydney Youth Orchestra (SYO) was a bold start to this year’s season. With later concerts this year including an opera, opera music and other highly dramatic programmes, this concert’s tribute to the ANZACS in a commemorative year was a colourful, collaborative and meaningful start to 2015.

The programme included an exciting world premiere work, ‘Cathedra’, by Andrew Howes, a Sydney-born composer aged in his early twenties. Written for large forces and containing penetrating effects, it made for a stunning opening. Its soundscape, intended to commemorate fallen soldiers at Gallipoli, fitted in well with the concert’s extra-musical agenda.

Following this work came a break from pure orchestral entertainment with a monologue by Morris Gleitzman, the Australian author of ‘Loyal Creatures’. This monologue was given a poignant performance by Australian actor Paul-William Mawhinney. His measured and genuine portrayal as the ghost of young soldier Frank alternated beautifully between rollicking anecdote and moments of choking heartbreak. It was a touching reminder of the sacrifices made during the Gallipoli and Egyptian campaigns by soldiers of the Lighthorse Brigade.

The following performance of the ‘War Horse Suite’ by Andrew Sutton was well played under the clear baton of Stephen Mould. This suite’s evocative and filmic quality was handled with great poise and maturity by the SYO. It was enhanced by the stunning monologue preceding it.

Some movements of this suite contained atmospheric folk music as sung by John Thompson. The entire sequence was a substantial and successful realisation of the advertised ‘Legends of the Past’ theme, with great combination of spoken, sung and orchestral performance.

After interval the remainder of the concert presented two legendary composers of the past. In a delivery of the Brahms Double Concerto in A minor Op 102 this versatile orchestra showed a mastery of the technical and emotional elements to bring us the disciplined Romanticism of Brahms.

The inspiring string players Dimity Hall (violin) and Julian Smiles (cello) from the Goldner quartet mirrored this work’s nineteenth century premiere, which featured violinist Joseph Joachim and the cellist from his string quartet. They shone as soloists and as part of the extended orchestral group. Communication and balance between the two and with the orchestra was strong. The SYO proved themselves to be a formidable accompanist where needed.

To conclude this concert, the orchestra performed ‘La Mer’ from pre-WWI France by Debussy. Atmospheric rather than programmatic with a strict narrative, there were many shapes, sounds and colours of the sea suggested through a neat interpretation of this work.

The Angel Place venue once more was a fantastic acoustic but its stage lacked the width for the large orchestra including four percussionists and two harps to comfortably stretch out across the stage. The resulting layout for much of the concert was a little cramped.

Considering the theme of this commemorative event and the high calibre of the performance, a second concert of this ANZAC tribute special, especially in a matinee timeslot, would be well worth considering.

The SYO performed its concert LEGENDS OF PAST at Angel Place on March 28.