Fantasy, tragedy and passion at Perth Concert Hall with WASO, Harry Bennetts & Thaddeus Huang
A week’s a long time in pandemic politics – from lockdown on May Day (irony intended) to a bustling Concert Hall on Saturday for WA Symphony Orchestra and rising violinist Harry Bennetts.
Fittingly for Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, the soloist wasted no time addressing the main theme; a relaxed, full tone from first entry dissolving into virtuoso runs, clear in all registers.
Bennetts proved expressive in music and gesture, moving dramatically to the rhythm, shaping the sound with a gracile quality, fluid and rich in timbre.
In the cadenza, soaring flurries of notes fell to a pin-drop moment, then fired up again in flourishes rising to barely-there harmonics, with delicacy in the exit.
Successive duets with woodwind and strings were cantabile to a T, before racing away to the conclusion, the ensemble suddenly exploding in gravity and strength.
And that was only the first movement.
A wistful bassoon (Adam Mikulicz) sustained the mood attacca into the Andante, Bennetts serenading the masked audience with sweet, sonically complete delivery, notes flowing one to another like a voice with boundless breath.
A sense of awe in the auditorium seemed to be reflected in the orchestra, figures in the violin echoed dutifully in the ensemble, matching tone and dynamics; final moments lush and languid in the attacca bridge to the third movement.
A bold but neatly tapered fanfare summoned one of the repertoire’s most playful passages; perhaps too playful at times for the accompaniment, which left some skid marks on stage.
Bennetts barely missed a beat, however, dancing lightly over lush strings before the frantic climax came together in a mellow musical maelstrom, igniting cheers and applause from more than a few dedicated fans.
As encore, Bach Partita No.3, Gavotte en Rondeau, calmed the farm. Played with the same limpid quality and full tone, intricacy now inspired intimacy.
Earlier, Carl Vine’s fanfare-like V – the Roman number five, as in five minutes’ duration – punched the air with plangent brass chords, picked up in strings over ominous drumming to launch the evening in full voice.
A second jazz-like figure with off-beat rhythm and breezy melody a la Gershwin featured cameos from violin (Riley Skevington), oboe (Liz Chee) and clarinet (Allan Meyer), offering light relief before driving rhythm returned.
WASO assistant conductor Thaddeus Huang directed calmly with deft, clear strokes, especially when demanding sudden silence; whipping his charges to a vigorous ending.
After the interval, Bizet’s Carmen Suite No.1 matched mystery in frenzied strings with glowering brass and doom-laden timpani (Alex Timcke) before a jump cut to the main theme, pizzicato strings supporting poignant oboe (Chee) and fluttering flutes (Andrew Nicholson and Michael Waye).
Nicholson and harpist William Nichols led the second, Aragonaise, movement, folkloric over schmaltzy strings.
Flute led again in the Intermezzo, a more distinctly Spanish dance, throwing to oboe and agile trumpet (Brent Grapes), blossoming in full orchestra.
Bassoons (Mikulicz and Chloe Turner) led out the march, Les dragons d’Alcala, over pizzicato strings and feather-light percussion, progressing to clarinet, cat-like in gait.
Finally, Les Toreadors erupted with all parts blazing, crisp and taut with good dynamic contrast; strings jaunty for the song, and dynamic in the death.
Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture closed the program, bassoon and clarinet again prominent in the chorale-like opening, strings chiming-in nicely with harp highlights.
Given the story line the mood could not hold, with conflict reflected in jagged phrases echoing the brutal clash of rival blades.
Pre-concert speaker Jen Winley, a percussionist and conductor, spoke of the long wait for sudden action in irregular slashes of brass and percussion, all delivered with precision here.
Finally, the lushest of love songs emerged, lavish in strings, swelling to brass and on to woodwind, with first one then two horns (David Evans and Julia Brooke).
Sadly, conflict returned, fading to funereal drums, with hints of love in the mournful conclusion.
For never was a story of more woe …
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