Last night’s concert by the Canberra Symphony Orchestra was both challenging and instructive, containing, as it did, four works which are rarely, if ever, heard. After the concert, the audience must have felt it had had an educational experience.
The first work, Carl Vine’s Microsymphony, was a good deal longer than its title would suggest. Written over thirty years ago, it is obviously a product of technical skill and hard thinking. It is heavily scored for a large orchestra and somewhat pessimistic in its relentlessly harsh musical message. It is a great tribute to the orchestra that it was able to give such excellent performance of such a difficult and almost impenetrable work. Full marks to the conductor, too, for his clear and unflamboyant direction.
The second work on the program was Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto. This work requires great virtuosity on the part of the pianist and the orchestra. The soloist, Tamara-Anna Cislowska, fully met the demands of the solo part and gave a musical and technically assured performance, particularly in the long passages where the orchestras was silent. The orchestral accompaniment was well-high perfect and, as is often the case in Canberra, the solo winds and brass were first class.
Music of a completely different kind was offered by Kats-Chernin’ s Alexander Rag. This was a melodious work which was reminiscent of the music that Cole Porter and others wrote for films in the 1930s. It was very well played by the orchestra; the audience, now in a more relaxed mood, obviously enjoyed it. Whether music of this kind deserves a place in a symphonic program is a topic that could well be debated. The composer was in the audience and received a round of applause.
When it appeared in 1945, just after the war, Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony was a disappointment to his admirers and a boon to his detractors who claimed it was worthless trash. Both sides in the debate were expecting something in the nature of a victory symphony and not the comparatively light-hearted work which the composer offered them. The symphony has never recovered from its initial reception and is rarely heard on concert programs.
Heard now, more than 70 years after its composition and apart from all political considerations, the symphony emerges as a most enjoyable, well-orchestrated and professionally composed work. In the second movement it shows rare depth of feeling. Only in the last movement can be heard the trivial elements which many critics complain of in Shostakovich’s work.
Throughout the concert, the Australian conductor Dane Lam revealed himself as an excellent musician, setting sensible tempi and balancing the choirs of the orchestra very well and never letting it play to loudly. The first violins sounded somewhat scrappy in the Shostakovich symphony. He is now conductor of the Symphony Orchestra in Xi’an, China, the headquarters of the entombed warriors. He would be very welcome again in Canberra.