Looking around the 300-seat Eugene Goossens Hall in the ABC Centre at this concert there were not many empty places, proof that even on a cold night with key sports fixtures on televison, people will still turn out for a night of fine music played by an excellent band.
The Metropolitan Orchestra – TMO for short – is celebrating its 10th year since being founded by its dynamic artistic director and chief conductor Sarah-Grace Williams. A not-for-profit registered musical charity, TMO is one of Australia’s busiest privately run orchestras putting on five major concerts a year as well as interactive cushion concerts for young people and special events, including a Pacific Island cruise on which it accompanies some of the country’s top vocal talent.
For their fourth concert of the season, Fever, Williams chose a troika of Russian composers and works that highlight the considerable depth of talent in an orchestra which boasts well over 100 musicians on its books. This was nowhere more evident than in Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnole, a sizzling showreel dedicated to the composer’s favourite musicians in the St Petersburg Imperial Opera Orchestra.
TMO concertmaster Victoria Jacono-Gilmovich got a couple of solo passages, admirably handled, and there were excellent contributions from Neill O’Donnell on horn, flautist Svetlana Yaroslavskaya and clarinetist Andrew Doyle in the slow second movement.
The ABC hall’s excellent acoustic emphasised the all-round strength of the Met, although the shallow performing area meant the excellent percussion team was a little too intrusive with just a phalanx of six bassists to act as buffer.
Williams is an expansive and impressive conductor, paying great attention to detail and setting well-judged tempi. It’s a tribute to her and her band that they can attract fine soloists and for the next piece, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 2, we had one of the best in Sydney pianist Tamara-Anna Cislowska.
This short three-movement work is an uncharacteristically sunny piece, written to show off the talents of the composer’s son Maxim. The two outer movements feature long octave runs, giving the music a bright and youthful sound, and the slow middle movement is atypically romantic in character. The work sits comfortably under the fingers of Cislowska, an expressive performer with a fine poetic sensibility.
Her encore of a piece by Sergei Rachmaninov led neatly to the second half, which featured that composer’s final orchestral work, Symphonic Dances, composed in 1940 shortly after he and his family moved to the United States.
Like the Rimsky-Korsakov this is a finely orchestrated work, featuring some interesting timbres and textures produced by unusual instrumental combinations.
It was the only time Rachmaninov included a saxophone in his orchestral palette, and Carmen Nieves combined nicely with the fine woodwind department in the middle section of this three-movement piece.
Rachmaninov told a newspaper that he added “symphonic” to the title lest people thought he was writing dance music. He also inscribed the word “Alliluya” to the last page of the score. A fitting imprimatur on a night of well-played Russian masterpieces.