As an opener to the first Maestro Concert of its 2021 season, Concertmaster Warwick Adeney made two important announcements. The first that Natsuko Yoshimoto, formerly the Concertmaster of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, was the newly appointed Co-Concertmaster of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, and would be leading the orchestra for the evening’s performance. Following his successful period as Chief Conductor between 2008 to 2014, Conductor Laureate, Johannes Fritzsch, was also appointed Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser to the orchestra for the next three years. The well-respected maestro has been one of the major influences on the artistic development of the orchestra over the past few decades. News of both appointments was greeted with rapturous applause by the audience and the concert was off to an exhilarating start before even one note had been played.
Johannes Fritzsch, Natsuko Yoshimoto and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Photo © Peter Wallis
With Maestro Fritzsch in firm control of the evening, the QSO served up a deliciously exotic program of Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite, Scheherazade, alongside Ravel’s apotheosis on the waltz, La Valse. Inspired by a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales, One Thousand and One Nights, the freshness and brilliant musical imagery so prevalent in Scheherazade seemed to resonate in the darker, but no less colourful, rendering of the Ravel, who was an admirer of Rimsky-Korsakov. The choice of program seemed both apt and complementary, highlighting the wide-sweeping talents of the orchestra at the start of a new musical year.
Representing the domineering Sultan, the dark, brooding opening of the first movement of Scheherazade set the tone for a wonderfully colourful interpretation of this work, offering excellent solos for many orchestral instruments, which they attacked with alacrity. It was swiftly followed by the major leitmotif, representing the storyteller herself, the sultana Scheherazade. The predominant melody of the piece, a tender and sensuous solo violin, supported by a mellifluous harp, was played exquisitely by Yoshimoto through its many repetitions. The tone and sweetness of her instrument rose hauntingly above the orchestra, full of poignancy and longing. A very fine interpretation.
With its references to the sea in all its glory, and Sinbad’s ship, the first movement was colourfully played by strings, woodwind and brass, with a sweeping legato from the violins and some delightful solo playing from flute, clarinet, oboe and French horn in particular. The rolling and crashing waves were well delivered and there was first-rate orchestral precision in the subsiding of the sea at the end of the movement.
An impressively played melody for solo bassoon in the second movement, representing Prince Kalender, also included an equally lovely duet for cello and bassoon. Lively and bright, with a range of contributions from wind and brass instruments, the composition allowed strong eastern flavours to emerge, assisted by a snaking clarinet, some tinkling percussion, melodious strings and a gorgeous marrying of flute and harp.
The slow third movement, with its beautifully crafted solo flute and clarinet melodies representing a young prince and princess, was charming and prettily played, linking well with the violin and harp solo. Pizzicato strings and some additional percussive work with tambourines and excellent trumpets completed a thoughtful and well-paced, quasi dance-like movement.
The fourth movement, Allegro, brought this marvellous narrative to a commanding and strong conclusion. The forceful sonic imagery of the sea in all its might was gloriously portrayed; energetic and exciting, the clash of cymbals with the added lustre of tambourines was perfectly delivered. While the shipwreck built frenetically to a mighty crescendo, with powerful brass and percussion, the peaceful coda at the end returned to Scheherazade with her gentle, haunting theme, musically succeeding in winning over her dictatorial husband.
Johannes Fritzsch and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Photo © Peter Wallis
Ravel’s La Valse, a short but perfectly composed work, was originally conceived as a ballet, subtitled by the composer as a ‘choreographic poem’. Demonstrating the Frenchman’s appreciation of the Viennese waltz, it has dismissively been described as a parody or a pastiche. Rather it is a modern impressionistic twist on the dance itself, the old-styled waltz struggling to break through a modern sonority. This is achieved by a glorious palette of musical colours in the orchestration, well managed by an orchestra in first-rate form.
Perhaps influenced by the sombre memories of the First World War, the work starts with rumbling double basses, trumpets and dark strings, producing some interesting wayward sounds through which the traditional sound of the waltz gradually takes hold and dominates. The violins then drove the Viennese dance along until more anarchy breaks out in the percussion and brass, with elements of jazz competing for space. This exciting section was exceptionally well played by strings, woodwind and brass with colourful, sweeping sonority. Building to a cacophony of almost reckless sounds, the strong beat and underlying dance elements were kept on track by the strong baton of the maestro.
This concert was exceptional on many levels – program choice, ability to offer orchestral players some excellent solos and the addition of a new co-concertmaster whose interpretation of the Scheherazade violin solo was exemplary.
But the evening also belonged to Conductor Laureate, now Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser, Johannes Fritzsch, whose management of his orchestral forces brought out the many colours of the various instruments with clarity and a remarkable attention to detail, allowing solo instruments to shine with confidence. A master of his craft, his energy and assured command of the orchestra is always a pleasure to watch and the QSO certainly rise to the occasion when he is on the podium. This was music-making at its very best.