“No story, nothing but sensation,” is how Ernest Chausson described his Poème, which – despite this assertion – was at one stage titled The Song of Triumphant Love, after a story by Ivan Turgenev. Sensation was certainly the name of the game in this performance by French-Serbian violinist Nemanja Radulović, however, his voluminous rockstar hair bouncing, with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Jaime Martín. From the violinist’s decisive first solo note – after the orchestra’s moody opening – to his final, whispering trill in the instrument’s stratosphere, Radulović gave a sinuous, distinctive performance that delivered very much on colour, if not always on the work’s swelling emotion. His vibrato was thoughtfully, and sparingly, employed, his double-stopping fierce in its intensity and his rapport with the orchestra – to whom he turned to duet with Martin and individual SSO players, such as Diana Doherty on oboe or Tobias Breider on viola – spoke of obvious pleasure.
Nemanja Radulović. Photo © Charlotte Abramow/Deutsche Grammophon
But it was in Ravel’s fiendish Tzigane that Radulović really caught fire, attacking the opening cadenza with gritty heft, before backing off suddenly for soft brushes of melody, the violinist embracing the improvisatory style of the composer’s gypsy-inspired work with natural showmanship and virtuosity. Ravel deliberately made a feature of the work’s technical demands – writing the set of free variations for Hungarian virtuoso Jelly d’Arányi – and Radulović was more than equal to the challenge, dispatching the wild pizzicato and furious runs with easy relish and plenty of smiles for audience and orchestra, particularly in the escalating frenzy of the csárdás-style dance passages. He’s obviously in his element in this repertoire. Paganini was one of Ravel’s influences in crafting his Tzigane, and it was with a screaming, electric-guitar-inspired encore, based on the virtuoso’s famous Caprice No 24, that Radulović took us to the interval.
Nemanja Radulović, Jaime Martin and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Photo © Tim Levy
Martín opened the concert with a series of movements compiled from the two suites of music from Bizet’s incidental music to Alphonse Daudet’s 1872 play L’Arlésienne (the first suite was by Bizet and the second put together by Ernest Guiraud four years after Bizet’s death). The SSO strings gave a robust account of the ‘March of the Kings’ melody that opens the Ouverture while saxophonist Christina Leonard brought a smooth, mellow tone to the ‘L’innocent’ theme, while flautist Emma Sholl and harpist Natalie Wong were the stars of the Minuetto from Suite 2, in music that recalls the third act Entr’acte from Carmen in its pastoral tranquillity, Sholl’s lustrous tone soon in duet with oboe, then saxophone. Martín brought the Farandole, which sees the return of the ‘March of the Kings’ music, to a joyous climax.
Bizet is certainly known for his tunes, but Dvořák, whose Sixth Symphony brought the evening to a close, was no mean melodist himself. Martín launched into the opening Allegro non tanto with a swift, flowing tempo, leaving behind the pastoral atmosphere for a robust, slightly anxious, mood. While it might have been on the fast side for some tastes, the strings met the challenge with aplomb, and there were some great wind moments throughout the Symphony. The section excelled particularly in the Adagio, whose opening tips its hat to the slow movement of Beethoven’s Ninth. The ‘furiant’ Scherzo had a muscular drive to it, but Martín took care of the bigger picture, giving the music a playful lilt before delivering a taut, vibrant Finale.