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Heavenly - Queensland Symphony Orchestra

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by John Andrew (subscribe)
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Simply Heavenly

But they are all so young" said the elegant lady on my left. And, from our perspective, they were.

Daniel Blendulf, the Scandinavian conductor who stepped in when Alondra de la Parra (38) replaced the incapacitated Franz Welser-Möst in conducting a new production of Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at the prestigious Staatsoper Berlin, is also 38. Morgon England-Jones, who sang the solo role in the Mahler graduated from Brisbane "Con" in 2014. Which probably places her in the "not yet 30" category.

But when you read what they have already achieved, one could be forgiven for intimations of inadequacy.

Saltzburg, Singapore and Stockholm are just a few of Blendulf's most recently visited cities as a conductor, and England-Jones has already sung in HMS Pinafore, The Mikado, Faure's Requiem and Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

And then there was Paul Lewis, our artist in residence pianist whose youthful appearance belied his status as the old man of the three – at 47. Which explains how, as an early bloomer, he has managed to record so much music and played with orchestras including the Boston and Chicago symphonies and the Royal Concertgebouw.

Program notes were written admirably by Celia Casey, who has just submitted her PhD and is comfortably younger than either conductor.

For a beautifully detailed introduction to the music, you could hardly do better than access Celia's notes online here.

Mozart's final Piano Concerto triumphs over his personal financial and health issues, and was well served by the precision and dexterity of the soloist, and the interplay with the orchestra. Overall the impression was of reflective restraint, coming to a head in the passion and freedom of the third movement with its wild cadenzas. As with much of Mozart the music evoked "thoughts too deep for tears" and there was a reflective awed silence before the audience burst out in rapturous and sustained applause.

Then came the encore – Paul Lewis on piano with a silent orchestra looking on with intense concentration as he played Schubert's Allegretto in C minor, which is hardly a "jeu d'esprit" but which captivated us by its difficulty, its beauty and its intensity.

After the interval came the Mahler. This showcased, as Suzannah Conway writes,
some exceptionally fine playing from the orchestra, including solos from all the woodwind players – flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horns, alongside trumpet and percussion".

In the third movement came England-Jones' moment. Conway writes

"(She) injected a mixture of fun, joy, and wonder into the lullaby, her full-bodied lyric having just the right luscious, sweet-sounding edge to create the necessary sense of childlike awe."

I wonder if the fact that we were sitting in the "nose-bleed" section of the balcony is why we have a more nuanced response to the singing, where, unusually, it was the high notes that we heard perfectly, and with admiration, and the lower registers which at times were lost.

Which are small caveats in describing a truly heavenly evening.


Maestro Series 1: Heavenly

Conductor: Daniel Blendulf
Piano: Paul Lewis
Soprano: Morgan England-Jones

16 February 2019
Concert Hall, QPAC

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Why? A unique opportunity: unforgettable
When: 16th February
Where: QPAC Concert Hall
Cost: $49 - $119
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