Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms (Western Australian Symphony Orchestra)
I had two surprisingly different interactions with WASO this week. To participate Leon and the in-between with my son’s school we heard this exuberant piece from Paul Rissman as well as fabulous offerings from Samuel Taylor-Coleridge and Elena Kats-Chernin, with accomplished bandleader Jen Winley and a WASO in searing form. This concert was markedly different territory. I couldn’t help but think it was a shame to hear such a diverse and thoughtful program as the educational program, and one for the general public with such a conservative background of European male composers. At the very least, I believe most patrons at last night’s concert are able to be delighted by the two incarnations of WASO, one showing a much more thoughtful attempt at programming diversity.
Nevertheless, even if I feel like I know a piece well, a live performance is always an ongoing process of recreation and on this point I will not be one to quibble. It was playing of the highest caliber, and Asher Fisch – barring some odd and arguably unnecessary decision to conduct the Haydn Sinfonia Concertante from the harpsichord – was in particularly good shape.
There is certainly a pleasant chemistry that takes place between WASO and Fisch. His leadership brings out a slightly different WASO organism than any other conductor I’ve seen in the last year, and I think that has a lot to do with both Fisch’s musical depth and his ability to vary his physical movement and communication style on the podium. When it’s minimal, as is often the case, it communicates a real sense of confidence in his player’s abilities to lead and contribute; when he is authoritative and overt, he exudes a sense of ferocity and self-assurance from the whole. It is a pleasure to witness this creative synergy.
The night started with the Brahms Variation on a Theme by Haydn, a festive piece full of chewable delights. Dipping his toe in the orchestral waters for the first time with this piece, Brahms attributed some interesting instrument combinations and experimented with meter. Always excellent Andrew Nicholson on flute, the lively piccolo stylings of Michael Waye and sonorous guest oboe Kyeong Ham were notable mentions in this performance. The chatter and lively interaction of the Inner Variations horn with the woodwinds was a particular highlight, as well as the grand final passacaglia.
The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the collective and nuanced performances of Semra Lee-Smith (violin), Liz Chee (oboe), Jane Kirchner-Lindner (bassoon) and Eve Silver (cello) in the magnificent Sinfonia Concertante in B flat by Haydn. . Having made the above statements about Fisch’s good leadership, he should have ceded control of this piece to the soloists. Experienced concertmaster Lee was certainly more than capable of leading this ensemble, and practical considerations (such as choosing their own tempos in blindly difficult virtuoso sections) would have found the soloists less shy and the ensemble tighter. Nevertheless, this performance brought to light tremendous virtuosity and accomplished leadership from these four soloists with particularly sensitive chamber skills, especially in the delightful duet sections and inventive cadenzas. This music isn’t primarily for virtuoso show pony playing (although there were plenty of those), with the quartet demonstrating serious musical pedigree while making smart, nuanced musical choices. They continually paid excellent attention to each other and made musically generous offerings for the greater good of the whole ensemble. Lee’s leadership on the violin was by turns accomplished, sensitive and gloriously sweet (especially in the upper register) and Chee’s ever-delicate tone charmed, often making me gasp at his iron lungs for interminably long phrases. Kirchner-Lindner’s playful, personality-filled phrases were a joy and Silver’s sonic solos and exploration of the cello’s upper end were beautifully rendered.
Fisch led the second half of the program, including LeonoreBeethoven’s third stroke at the overture of the very restless opera Fidelio, from memory. Clearly in his comfort zone, Fisch and the orchestra had a lively conversation. Exhibiting the aforementioned variable flexibility and ferocity of movement, this opening unfolded at a sparkling pace, with more wondrous bends from the woodwind sections and a dramatically confident backstage trumpet solo from Brent Grapes.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in F followed, with much playful invention and rhythmic driving force by a composer at the peak of his ability. The beautiful woodwind sections of the first movement have given way to the playful pizzicato of the strings and staccato horns of the second movement. The triumphant return of timpani and trumpets in the third movement invigorated, giving way to magnificent horn and clarinet duet figures, accompanied by lush low strings. Finally, the strings chirped above the orchestra in the fourth movement as WASO struck the home stretch with confidence, with perfectly rendered dynamic variations and seamless section changes directed by Fisch.
It was just joyful to experience that supreme orchestral sound all over the auditorium.
Visit the WASO website to see more information about upcoming performances.