Per­cus­sive heaven, from Beethoven’s Sev­enth to a mod­ern mas­ter

The Australian - - ARTS - MUR­RAY BLACK

MU­SIC Syd­ney Sym­phony Orches­tra Per­cus­sion: Claire Ed­wardes. Con­duc­tor: David Robert­son. Con­cert Hall, Syd­ney Opera House, Novem­ber 7.

Rhythm is one of mu­sic’s most pow­er­ful gal­vanis­ing forces. So it was clever pro­gram­ming to make it the theme of this con­cert by match­ing Beethoven’s most rhyth­mi­cally driven sym­phony (No 7) with a new con­certo for per­cus­sion in­stru­ments.

Scot­tish com­poser James MacMil­lan’s first per­cus­sion con­certo Veni Veni Em­manuel (1992) pro­pelled him to in­ter­na­tional fame and has been per­formed hun­dreds of times.

His sec­ond per­cus­sion con­certo, writ­ten 22 years later, is a dif­fer­ent work: less con­tem­pla­tive, more overtly rhyth­mi­cal, scored for a larger orches­tra and em­ploy­ing a wider range of per­cus­sion in­stru­ments in­clud­ing the newly in­vented alu­phone (a met­al­lo­phone com­bin­ing the ef­fects of a vi­bra­phone and bells). Its ded­i­ca­tee, Colin Cur­rie, de­scribes it as a fas­ci­nat­ing way of show­ing what can be done with “an up-to-theminute use” of per­cus­sion.

He’s right. Aus­tralian per­cus­sion­ist Claire Ed­wardes was kept busy mov­ing swiftly be­tween dif­fer­ent bat­ter­ies of per­cus­sion in­stru­ments and gen­er­at­ing an in­trigu­ing and imag­i­na­tive range of ef­fects, colours and sounds.

Although cast in a sin­gle move­ment, the con­certo has a dis­tinct three-part struc­ture. It starts off with fre­netic en­ergy and clan­gor­ous force, even­tu­ally evolv­ing into a ru­mi­na­tive sec­tion dom­i­nated by a soul­ful string mo­tif be­fore grad­u­ally gather­ing steam for an ex­plo­sive close.

MacMil­lan of­ten set the soloist up in du­els and dis­cus­sions with the orches­tra. Ed­wardes pe­ri­od­i­cally did bat­tle with dis­so­nant for­tis­simo or­ches­tral out­bursts. The per­cus­sion­ists reg­u­larly re­sponded to her marimba so­los, her funky steel drum se­quence fea­tured an ex­pres­sive duet with Roger Bene­dict’s solo vi­ola, and muted brass chords men­aced her gen­tle tuned cow­bell mus­ings.

Robert­son per­formed Beethoven’s Sev­enth Sym­phony with the SSO in 2014. It was an ex­hilar- at­ing and brac­ing ac­count. This time, his slightly more mea­sured in­ter­pre­ta­tion clev­erly bal­anced Apol­lo­nian el­e­gance with Dionysian en­ergy. Tem­pos were still swift, the per­form­ers’ zest­ful rhythms and em­phatic at­tack en­livened the three fast move­ments, and their steady tread and ex­cel­lent dy­namic con­trol cre­ated a per­sua­sive re­al­i­sa­tion of the pop­u­lar sec­ond move­ment Al­le­gretto.

What stood out was a stronger sense of re­fine­ment. The or­ches­tral sound was lean yet smoothly con­toured and Robert­son’s crys­talline tex­tures and well-de­fined bal­ances re­vealed a range of in­ner voice de­tails. Tex­ture and tim­bre rather than rhythm dom­i­nated the con­cert’s other work — a new ver­sion of Aus­tralian com­poser Brett Dean’s En­gels­flugel ( Wings of An­gels).

Orig­i­nally com­posed for wind en­sem­ble, Dean has re­cast it for full orches­tra. He used the ex­panded sonic pal­ette with del­i­cacy and so­phis­ti­ca­tion, evok­ing the eerie, un­set­tling ex­pres­sion­ist sound-world of Schoen­berg and Berg’s pieces for orches­tra.

Con­cert re­peated tonight and Mon­day. Tick­ets: $39-$132. Book­ings: (02) 8215 4600 or on­line.

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