After the generosity of program three which included both the Second and Third Beethoven piano concertos a mere two days before, Nicholas Carter’s Adelaide Symphony Orchestra concluded their piano cycle with the most popular of all of five, and the only named one, the fifth, known as the ‘Emperor’. Although one may assume that this follows on from the composer’s initial wish to name his ‘Eroica’ symphony after Napoleon (he withdrew his desire to do so after Bonaparte called himself Emperor), the concerto was given its name by Beethoven’s London publisher who felt that it would take a truly regal place amongst all concertos – and it has indeed done that.
Jayson Gillham. Photograph © Benjamin Ealovega
Commencing the concert with Schubert’s youthful yet assured vernal Fifth Symphony, Carter presented a work which, though it was written only a decade after the concerto and at the early age of 19, looks both forward and back. Structured in a very Mozartian style as a four-movement Classical symphony, it omits some brass, clarinets and percussion and is only scored for one flute. Although the orchestra looked large in number on the small Elder Hall stage, it is the smallest of Schubert’s symphonies in terms of personnel, and as elsewhere in this concert series, it was a performance which was fleet of foot and youthful in outlook. And yet in the outer movements of the work particularly, it was possible to attain just how much influence Beethoven was having on his fellow composers and just how promptly.
It was an interpretation to be praised for its warmth, incisiveness and sweetness of string tone and, as in the Beethoven, their tautness and legato continued Carter’s search for clarity and chamber music-like intimacy. But it was the ever-popular ‘Emperor’ that this sold-out audience had travelled to hear.
Carter and pianist Jayson Gillham went for a rather martial approach with tassels-at-the-shoulder sort of performance – one with circumstance and flair. And from his open flourishes, it was evident that here was a pianist who was well experienced with this work, with a great sense of balance maintained throughout by both the soloist and orchestra. Carter proved an admirable foil supporting the orchestra in a manner which supported Gillham without drowning him out in the tuttis. It was an approach which seemed closer to the idea of the ‘Emperor’ as an ‘Eroica’ with piano obbligato. And in terms of pianism, Gillham brought to bear an appropriate incisive musculature to those left hand runs whilst maintaining the crystal clear delicacy demanded of the right, and this was all achieved with a broad palette of colours. The Steinway, when placed front and centre on the stage, left little room to manoeuvre and, as elsewhere in this cycle, left the maestro to conduct behind its substantial, open lid. So while it was generally impossible to see how Carter achieved such a sympathetic response from the orchestra, the audience were certainly able to clearly hear the impressive results, which brought the capacity crowd to a freely given standing ovation.