International stars return to a storm of applause

Brahms and Tchaikovsky
Sydney Symphony
Sydney Town Hall
May 4
Final performance 7 May
★★★★

Peruvian conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Macedonian pianist Simon Trpceski arrived on stage to a storm of applause marking the return – at last – of international guests to the Australian concert hall. In Brahms’ symphonic Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, Trpceski took his place in the orchestra as leader among peers rather than a star battling to shine the brightest.

He extended that collegiate approach to an outstanding encore, a movement from Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3, with SSO players Andrew Haveron, Tobias Breder and – playing the melting opening melody – cellist Katie Hewgill.

Harth-Bedoya steered the ensemble with a light touch

While the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 feels like a strident declaration of certainty, it quickly gives way to slippery questions, ear-catching comments and charismatic distractions. Harth-Bedoya steered the ensemble through this wild debate with a light touch, giving solos space to unfold before setting brisk and sometimes breathless tempi.

This approach let the orchestra shine and, on several occasions, surprise itself – the pace of the scherzo earned guest piccolo Kate Lawson a congratulatory shuffle from the band, and the final blaze of trombones nearly stole the show. A thoroughly satisfying performance.

Uplift is composer Jessica Wells’ contribution to Sydney Symphony’s ambitious commissioning project, Fifty Fanfares. It sits with assurance alongside a mighty work from the heart of big symphonic music, using well-turned orchestration moves from the Tchaikovsky and John Williams playbook, plus new ones making the sound entirely her own.

It was acting principal timpanist Mark Robinson’s turn to give the player’s opening address, a pragmatic feature that has become an unlikely highlight of Town Hall concerts. In it he noted that, in his experience, unwelcome sounds from mobile phones were most likely to occur in the quietest moments and advised that we turn off ringers well before bar 34 of the Brahms.

Unfortunately, he didn’t repeat the message before the symphony and, yes, it was the quietest moment when the phone rang. Please. You know who you are.

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