Music critic Peter McCallum reviews some of the most recent performances around the city.
Australian World Orchestra
Opera House Concert Hall
The Australian World Orchestra sprang back to life with a surge of libidinous impulsiveness in the opening flourish of Strauss’ tone poem Don Juan, after barely a flicker – a superbly well-timed flicker – from conductor Zubin Mehta’s venerable baton.
There is always a particular kind of unstoppable energy behind this occasional, always welcome, gathering of Australia’s global musical diaspora – one imagines Henry V greeting the happy few at the Agincourt reunion – and Strauss’ lusty tale of sexual adventure released it explosively in one sardonic wink.
This time there was the additional vividness of colour that the Opera House’s newly refurbished concert hall brings. Suddenly, courtesy of Strauss’ brilliance in orchestration, it was all there – the warmth of the horns, the golden sheen of the upper strings, the brilliant miniature glistening of the woodwind, the triumphant blandishments of the brass and the sharp elbows of raucous percussion.
Beneath all this were the visceral stirrings of the basses whom Mehta placed behind the first violins to create a particularly impressive blend of brilliance and power. As concertmaster in the first half, Rebecca Chan’s tone in the violin solo was sweet and distinctive like fine silk and Nick Deutsch’s oboe sound mixed creamy roundedness with a tiny kick of salty sourness.
The second piece in this all-Strauss program, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, was a change of tone, presenting, as this piece always does, the problem of making a light musical statement with a massive orchestral apparatus. The 86-year-old Mehta led Australia’s happy few through a shifting parade of colours, where the whole orchestra had to spin in a moment, all the time driven by fantastical energy, maniacal caprice and malevolent mischief.
The second half was given over to another of Strauss’s jokes, simultaneously self-mocking and self-aggrandising, Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life). The hero, of course, was none other than Strauss himself but the performance was also a tribute to the never-aggrandising ABC broadcaster Margaret Throsby who was making her broadcasting swansong offstage from the recording booth.
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