PASSION : This latest marvellous concert by the Willoughby Symphony was passionately , energetically conducted by Dr Nicholas Milton was unusual as it began with the encores ( because of the atmosphere of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6 which was the second half of the concert).
So to start with , we heard a zippingly breathlessly fast trepak from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker at breakneck speed ( impossible to dance to at that tempo – almost impossible to play ! ) hugely enjoyed (and repeated) .
First was Shimmering Blue by this year’s Composer in Residence Nigel Westlake. It was written in 2003 for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra’s 75th birthday celebrations. It has a glittering pulsating opening , becomes turbulent and swelling , volcanically crashing towards the explosive finish.
The main bulk of the first half was a dazzling performance of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 2 in F Major op102. written in 1957 for his son Maxim’s birthday and including some in-jokes . With special guest soloist the amazing David Fung. ( who was slinky in a discreetly glittering black suit) .Fung’s playing was sensational ,ravishing and compelling.
The first movement has a rather jaunty opening on woodwind and piano .For this section , Fung’s playing was crisp and pure. There was a sudden , menacing ominous change ( symbolic of the rumbles of the Stalinist regime? )- the piano skitters , trying to escape and voiciferously protests as the Orchestra looms.Fung’s solo was darting and defiant.
The second movement , rather romantic and tender , began with weeping soft strings. Fung’s solo was a floating tender and lyrical lament.
The third movement saw a sudden change , Fung’ s solo mocking and teasing the grumbling Orchestra and including balalaika like pizzicato strings .This led to a fast dynamic dialogue between Orchestra and piano, with Fung emphatic and darting in his virtuoso solo .
There were screams of bravo and thunderous applause .
Fung played two encores, the first being Moszkowski’s scintilating bouncy “Sparks” (Etincelles) , the second a fiery ,emphatic and dynamic Scarlatti Sonata .
The second half was a wonderful very expressive performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6 in B Minor Op 74 ( aka the ‘Pathetique’ ) in four movements , written just days before the composer died in 1893.
The Orchestra was slightly reconfigured for this and Dr Milton pointed out that it was arranged in the way that would have been familiar to Beethoven , Tchaikovsky etc at the time of writing their symphonies – things changed in the early 20th century because of the requirements of recording .
The first movement of the work , in sonata form , began with a plaintive mournful bassoon and some strings ( divided double basses ) . The melody was stated repeated and gradually developed , alternating in mood , key and tempo to encompass the whole Orchestra .Lyrical strings were blended with vibrant dynamic sections expressing the turbulence of Tchaikovsky’s life. The second part of this movement was off to a crashing furious start with hints of the composer’s 1812 Overture and if you listen closely Swan Lake. The music broiled and bubbled furiously towards the soft , delicate conclusion.
The second movement, mostly waltz like featured aching yet dominant strings that stated and repeated the circular melody .
The third movement was a scherzo in sonata form but not expanded and developed , with energetic scurrying , whirling and fizzing – some sections were reminiscent of The Nutcracker others a military march.
The final movement slow in sonata rondo form ,again featured lush aching strings , that shimmered , eddied and flowed to the heartbroken , fragile ending.
Nine days after the premiere,Tchaikovsky died. His death was officially attributed to cholera, but rumors and theories have consistently persisted, perhaps driven in part by the idea of this work as a musical suicide note, as to whether the infection was an unfortunate accident or not .
There was stunned , hushed silence and then tumultuous applause .
Willoughby Symphony in Passion is at The Concourse Chatswood 15 and 16 September 2018.