A Cunning Blog

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Review: Divine Dances


Written for SMH but the Arts Page ran out of space again. (Pesky artists! If only they wouldn’t perform so much…)

Sydney Symphony, Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, August 11

Alexander Scriabin was a synaesthete: his brain’s perception of pitch somehow overlapped with his perception of colour, leading him to associate certain keys with specific colours. In his third symphony, The Divine Poem, therefore, the first movement is a red C minor, while the second is a whitish-blue E major. According to Scriabin’s lover, the symphony also embodies a pantheistic program of self discovery, leading from conflict to sensual intoxication to ecstatic freedom. In this performance, however, the massive gestures and dense-patterned passages swept away a need for structural and harmonic explanations. The music just happened.

Sydney Symphony powered through the fifty-minute work with impressive stamina and virtuosity. Much credit for this must go to conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, who seems to anticipate every twist and turn of the score with a tiny gesture here, or an encouraging glance there. With this little power pack at the heart of the ensemble, every musician was on song. The horns were a mighty force, the trumpets soared valiantly and concertmaster Michael Dauth gaves a mesmerising solo, rising clear and fresh up out of the melee.

Writing music must seem like a thankless task at times: you invest all your creativity into a work, hear it once then, in most cases, see it sink without trace. The music of Ross Edwards, however, bucks this trend. His violin concerto Maninyas was written back in 1988, and has become a signature work. To hear the dedicatee, Dene Olding, playing it with the original orchestra, Sydney Symphony, twenty years on, is a real treat. Edwards’ writing for the violin is satisfyingly idiomatic, and Olding played with a flamboyant ease which made it sound almost like he was inventing it on the spot. The orchestra handled the elusive, tricky rhythms with assurance in this fine performance.

The concert opened with a high-energy orchestral rumpus, Dvorak’s Carnival Overture. In spite of the festive atmosphere of the music, this was a tightly controlled and largely impeccable reading, with piccolo and percussion highlighting the frantic rush of notes.

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