And we’re back once again! How wonderful it is to have regular West Australian Symphony Orchestra concerts on offer for the remainder of the concert season. Following her mainstage debut with the orchestra the previous week, conductor Jessica Gethin and WASO were joined by the young Perth violinist Emmalena Huning for a program of Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Dvořák.
In Mendelssohn’s concert overture The Hebrides, Gethin and WASO whisked the audience away to the islands of Scotland, beautifully calling to mind the roiling waves and natural caves of the Scottish Isles. The opening viola, cello, and bassoon theme against the floating wind and violin chords were beautifully voiced, if slightly unsteady, and the first big tutti gesture was gorgeously full and rich. From this moment on, it felt as if the winds were slightly overpowered by the strings, though it appeared Gethin and the strings were attempting to rectify this as they progressed. Fortunately, these strings did not stand in the way of the crisp brass fanfare moments that blazed through the orchestra, injecting moments of energy into what was otherwise a steady and measured take on Mendelssohn’s overture. Particularly lovely were the soft clarinet duets towards the end of the work, as well as the final delicate woodwind lines.
The audience was eager to witness the WASO debut of Emmalena Huning, wunderkind extraordinaire and current student of the Royal Academy of Music with a slew of awards and competitions under her belt. Technically assured and with a gorgeous singing tone, Huning showcased an impressive technical skillset and the unwavering confidence of a mature soloist. Particularly wonderful were the array of colours brought to the Adagio and the vigorous forward momentum of the Rondeau – the drama of the latter was especially well realised. However, the harmonic nuances of the solo line in the first movement seemed to be somewhat glossed over, some phrases ended quite abruptly, and the opportunities for the soloist to take some time and revel in Mozart’s clever writing weren’t taken up. Nevertheless, Huning’s artistry and technical prowess were highly commendable. A reduced WASO brought lightness and delicacy to the concerto, with the horns and oboes injecting some beautiful colours into the mix.
Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony, known for its subversion of traditional symphonic form and its ‘Bohemian’ flavour, is so cheerful and optimistic that it’s hard not to find yourself in a good mood whilst listening. Gethin and WASO opened the symphony with a sonorous singing cello line and a delicious descending brass line, and the ensuing textural build up was masterful. The orchestra navigated the shifting moods of Dvorak’s score with ease, and the sparkly wind solos were just as effective as the more dramatic moments involving insistent brass and emphatic percussion. The sunny second movement showcased the tight-knit wind section as they passed lines around, and the carillon-like descending string passages were particularly evocative. The third movement began with a texture slightly too thick for the rhythmic intricacies of the score, though this was quickly rectified and set the tone beautifully for the delightfully balanced flute and oboe duets later in the movement. Finally, the fourth moving was clean and rousing, with the lyrical middle section perfectly balanced to give the inner voices room to shine. After such a high octane, carnivalesque closing sequence, it was hard to walk away from the symphony without a smile.