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Perfectly Performed Paganini and Planets Just the Beginning
It Was Great to Hear the Concert Hall Pipe Organ in Action.
When Queensland Symphony Orchestra announced Ray Chen and Simone Young would be performing as part of their 2017 program, the crowds at the season launch party went wild. Having witnessed their performance on 21st of July I totally understand why. QSO Morning Masterworks series had Ray Chen performing Paganini's ridiculously difficult Violin Concerto No 1 in D with conductor Simone Young at the helm.
Ray Chen's work on the violin was emotional, technically impressive and had the audience breathless with awe. His fingers moved so fast I was amazed his violin didn't catch fire. Rumour had said Paganini must have made a pact with the devil to elicit such amazing tones from just four strings and a bow. Mr Chen also has one wondering whether some devilish or Godly or other worldly force guides his hands. His virtuosity was undeniable from start to finish. Realistically speaking of course, it would have to be the result of talent and years of dedicated rehearsal and study.
Simone Young's energetic and enthusiastic conducting kept the piece bouncing along with vitality. The Queensland Symphony Orchestra were on point. They played with such heart and soul and worked as if they all shared one mind. Their moments in the concerto were often like parenthesis to the trilling, tripping soloist with his mercurial double and triple-stopping, harmonics and jaw-dropping runs.
Conductor Simone Young, soloist Ray Chen and the QSO
After Mr Chen blew our tiny minds with his epic skills, we were treated to Holst's The Planets with full orchestra including the Concert Hall's gigantic pipe organ and a choir of The Australian Voices led by Gordon Hamilton. The Planets is one of those suites that lets every part of the orchestra shine. It's scored for two flutes, two piccolos, an English horn, clarinets, three oboes, three bassoons, one contrabassoon – and that's just the wind section! Brass boasts two tubas, six horns, three trombones and four trumpets. Keeping the beat are six timpani, drums, cymbals, triangle, tubular bells, xylophone, glockenspiel, tam-tam and tambourine. Then there's a celesta and a pipe organ and two harps. Plus, a full range of strings, not to mention the women's chorus, that the composer says should be located in an adjoining room that is screened from the audience.
Brisbane is so Lucky to Have Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
A couple of things about this composition really struck me during this flawless rendition: the composition is so ahead of its time. It sounds like something written in the 1950s at the earliest, but it was actually penned between 1914-1917. The other is how wonderfully evocative each movement feels.
It starts with Mars the Bringer of War and those ominous oboes and the war like beat of the strings. It's bombastic and dramatic as it marches on into letting the pipe organ, timpani and brass shine. It becomes bright, thrilling and energetic before the horns call us to war. Cymbals crash, strings flurry and timpani strikes an almighty blast. Then you have those eerie bass and oboe tones as more strings join and momentum builds again. The perfect soundtrack for epic adventures and mighty battles – it's no wonder this movement has been such a massive influence on film scores through the years.
After your ears are bombarded by the battle planet, you're treated to the cool grace of Venus the Bringer of Peace. It's wonderfully soothing after the Mars frenzy to be seduced by the sweet strings and harps. This movement sounds like a romantic trying to woo you. Feather light flutes, violin tones that grab you by the heart and won't let go and a sweet clarinet all help create the starry-eyed sounds you'd associate with a fifties romantic movie. The glockenspiel twinkles like stars as tender Venus fades, making way for Mercury the Winged Messenger.
Woodwind kicks off this movement with frenetic tripping trills. It's soon joined by speedy strings and a magical celesta. This is the sort of music that should play if you're late for the bus, with its little hurried runs and instruments echoing one another. Simone Young's energy really shone in this movement as she had such epic control of the pace and volume required to really take it to the next level. That said, she was wonderful throughout the whole performance, putting her whole body into the 'dance' of conducting.
Piers Lane Appears in Morning Masterworks in October.
Then it was on to my favourite movement, Jupiter the bringer of Jollity. The busy strings at the beginning had me imagining flocks of birds. As the movement went on it reminded me of opening title sequences by Saul Bass and bustling New York City streets. This movement had the fabulous pipe organ of the concert hall on show. It also featured wonderfully dramatic timpani and tambourine rattling like a bejewelled gypsy dancer.
Next the orchestra tackled Saturn the Bringer of Old Age with such lovely tenderness and subtlety. Again Ms Young's control of the orchestra's volume was paramount in building that mood this movement demands. Lumbering, deep-throated Saturn shone, with its gentle wind and timpani like giants' footsteps, walking into bold brass shouts juxtaposed against whisper quiet strings and woodwind, and tubular bells like old clockwork, all supported by rhythmic plucking of the harp.
Queensland Symphony Orchestra then moved onto Uranus the Magician which announces itself with a blare of horns before picking up the pace again with bright strings, xylophone, brass and wind. This thrilling, rhythmic march bounces along merrily before hitting you with ominous brass pronunciations and rumbling drums. Woodwind tries to keep things bright, but the brass and drums continue to cause drama until finally it crescendos and you're left floating in space with hushed strings and harp. The contrast of blaring brass and dramatic drumming leading into gentle strings is repeated and you feel you're drifting off, quietly.
In the final movement, Neptune the Mystic the orchestra really created an eerie mood with the wind instruments and harp putting us on edge, waiting for something to burst forth and surprise us. It was then that we were transported to a magical fairy land with tinkling of the celesta. The harp, pipe organ and angelic disembodied voices hidden from audience view added an ethereal quality.
This was a stunning and stirring performance that required amazing teamwork and collaboration. The Queensland Symphony Orchestra and Simone Young did a wonderful job in transporting the crowd into space with these works that required so much talent and skill to perform.
There are more Morning Masterworks coming our way, so I'd encourage you to get along and experience one for yourself. QSO is creating world class music right here in our home town so we would be mad not to attend.
Alondra and Duo Lechner Tiempo are Next to Join QSO on Stage for Morning Masterworks.
QSO, Alondra and Duo Lechner Tiempo
Friday 4th August 11am
"A compelling stand-off between dynamic brother and sister prodigies, Karin Lechner and Sergio Tiempo, under the baton of QSO Music Director Alondra de la Parra."
Duo Lechner Tiempo will perform the Australian debut of Jusid's double concerto Tango Rhapsody. Alondra de la Parra will bring to the stage the passion of two Revueltas masterpieces Sensemayá and The Night of the Mayas. If that's not enough for you, there'll also be a performance of Márquez' Danzón No.2.
QSO and Piers Lane
Friday 13th October 11am
"If you love Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Chopin then this is for you!"
Conducted by Enrique Arturo Diemecke, QSO and pianist Piers Lane will treat us to Moszkowski Piano Concerto No.1 and then QSO will present Dvořák Symphony No.7