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Federation Concert Hall, Hobart
March 30, 2014
There was a definite buzz in the air for the headline act at this year’s Hobart Baroque. The reputation of the 24-year-old Russian coloratura had clearly preceded her and this was an audience expecting something a little bit special. As the diminutive figure of Julia Lezhneva walked onto the stage in a modest pink gown, the crowd held their breath. Fortunately for them, Lezhneva didn’t hold hers. Off she went at a tremendous pace, a dazzling stream of notes pouring forth in the show stopping Agitata da due venti from Vivaldi’s Griselda. Her intense concentration gave way to more relaxed manner as the concert progressed and by the interval the packed house had already given Lezhneva one standing ovation.
Hers isn’t an enormous voice, though it’s certainly larger than the body that seems to contain it, but it has a crystalline clarity that you imagine could cut through a steel door if required. Allied to this is a coloratura technique, second to none in the world today, that is quite simply breath taking. It’s not a flawless instrument yet – more attention could be paid to trills and a few more optional high notes wouldn’t go amiss – but for sheer beauty of tone it’s pretty damn impressive. Top and bottom are well connected too (although the former is stronger than the latter), ensuring that there are never, ever moments of ugliness.
Elsewhere in the first half Lezhneva gave a wrapt account of Zeffiretti, che sussurate from Vivaldi’s Ercole sul Termodonte, a ravishing aria with two violins obligato and delicious flute echo effect (here cunningly placed on a Federation Concert Hall balcony). This pastoral masterpiece allowed Lezhneva to show off her pure, silvery legato, every word crisp and clear. The sound of the voice unaccompanied was quite exquisite too.
Two arias from Handel’s Alessandro followed (Lezhneva recorded this work a couple of years ago for Decca). Aure, fonti was a heavy-hearted lament, allowing the voice to really open up to fine impassioned effect. By contrast, Brilla nel’alma saw another virtuoso display of ornamentation, the voice hitting home with laser-like precision. “Unbelievable!” shouted the fellow sitting next to me with an involuntary spontaneity.
The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra was her partner in crime, made up of between 20 and 30 players depending on the musical period. Under British conductor Oliver Gooch they produced a warmer string sound than the Orchestra of the Antipodes on the previous night but Gooch’s care in shaping phrases and building the dramatic arc in the opening Vivaldi concerto ensured that they yielded nothing to their period rivals in tonal excitement.
The second half featured a Haydn symphony (No 49, known as La Passione). Gooch is something of a Haydn specialist and the TSO are probably our finest ‘Classical to early Romantic’ band at the moment with a string of notable recordings to their name, so it was nice to hear them in this repertoire in the flesh. This F Minor work of sturm und drang is a little gem and Gooch ensured the whole thing had a excellent sense of theatrical ebb and flow. The TSO responded with warm, dark string tone and some lovely pianissimos. The second movement had great energy; the minuet with its protracted first beat was shaped to perfection; the finale was bursting with drama.
Julia Lezhneva then returned for the last item on the agenda, a textbook account of Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate, ringing out loud and clear despite the enhanced orchestral forces. Phrasing here was particularly effective, and the voice seemed to have grown a degree to match the period. The Alleluia would have been a fitting end to a most exciting Australian debut but we were lucky enough to get two encores – a beautifully decorated Lascia la spina and the final da capo of Son qual nave – a Farinelli blockbuster written by his brother Riccardo Broschi. The crowd, needless to say, went wild.
Leo Schofield and Jarrod Carland are to be congratulated for their foresight in giving Tasmanians the exclusive opportunity to hear a talented artist in an orchestral concert at the start of what looks set to be a major career. As the late, great Freddie Mercury used to sing, this particular queen was most definitely "dynamite with a laser beam".