Adelaide Town Hall
April 19, 2018

Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, performed by Konstantin Shamray, was clearly the audience’s favourite work on the program in this concert by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and conductor Eivind Aadland. The work is well suited to Shamray’s strengths as a musician, with plenty of pyrotechnics, dramatic gestures, and dense chordal passages. He also showed much sensitivity in the cadenza in the first movement, with exquisite balance and phrasing in the upper registers of the piano, but without too much overwrought rubato. The second movement is one of the most lyrical movements in the piano concerto repertoire. There occasionally seemed to be some tension between the interpretation of the orchestra and conductor, and that of the soloist in this performance, but there was some lovely, nuanced playing from the woodwinds, and mellifluous sonorities from the strings. The final movement was performed with a great deal of gusto, but both orchestra and soloist seemed to be taking the movement a little too seriously, and perhaps a little more levity and playfulness could have been injected into the lighter moments.

Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra provided an excellent contrast to the Tchaikovsky. This work is stylistically quite different to most of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s core Master Series repertoire, with its often-angular melodic contours and less predictable internal structure. Throughout the work, Bartók uses the woodwinds to great effect. The ASO’s woodwind section were in fine form, particularly in the second movement. The lower strings really captured the dark, foreboding character of the Elegia, which also featured some superb playing in the plaintive piccolo and oboe solos.

Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, which opened the program, is a light but entertaining work. Unfortunately, this performance was not entirely cohesive, and it felt as though it took the orchestra time to really settle into this piece.

Following the Thursday night concert, the ASO presented a new offering called Coda. The ASO described this as a mini-recital, but as it was only a single, relatively short work (Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz) performed by the soloist, it really felt like a transplanted encore. While it is great to see the organisation experimenting with different concert formats, this one was not entirely convincing. Apart from the practical issues of having two major stage changes to move the piano, the Mephisto Waltz felt a little anti-climactic after the grand scale of the Concerto for Orchestra. That said, Shamray was once again in his element, playing with power and virtuosity.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra performs Konstantin Plays Tchaikovsky again tonight.