Many years ago I worked for a conductor who used to say, “You always need to be coming or going in a phrase. Never just stand still.” His spirit of musicianship glowed in this ensemble of musicians from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, both individually and collectively. The music was alive, it ebbed and flowed, it spoke, it laughed, it cried.
Musicians from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in Magnificent Seven. Photo © Virtuosi Tasmania
The outstandingly beautiful tone and virtuosity from Lucy Carrig-Jones on violin, the liveliness of the inner voice work from violist Anna Roach and cellist Martin Penicka’s ensemble skills and responsiveness all contributed to a cohesiveness that created space for individuality. Double bass player Stuart Thomson brought an awareness of harmonic structure that shaped the performance and guided the listener. Clarinettist Andrew Seymour’s phrasing was sublime, while bassoonist Tahnee van Herk both shone and supported with unique character.
The horn was enormously important in this concert, and Greg Stevens elicited from me a silent and joyful “wow” with his every utterance. From the discombobulating effect of Till’s opening theme in Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks – in which the rhythmic displacement is something of a merry prank upon the audience – right through until he dies his ignominious death on the scaffold, the players captured the humour, the gleeful malice, and the effervescent fun of the piece. Hasenöhrl’s arrangement is remarkable. Reducing a full orchestral score to a quintet is no mean feat, but I was rarely left longing for the original scoring. Even the timpani roll which heralds the scaffold was given full dramatic effect by the double bass. The translation of Till’s name is “owl mirror”. The interplay between the voices is indeed a mirror, as one after another they reflect and play with Till’s antics. And there is, perhaps, the wisdom of the owl in a prankster who can laugh to the end, finding humour even in his own death.
After such a promising opening, Beethoven’s Septet, Op. 20, was all I could have hoped for. By turns eloquent, reflective, dramatic, lyrical and fun, Beethoven’s mercurial youthful emotions were faithfully expressed. Despite the occasional blemish, it was on the whole a polished performance that brought the sunshine of the beautiful Hobart day into the Town Hall.
This concert was first presented by the TSO in the north of the state, and then presented by Virtuosi and recorded by the ABC so that Hobart and mainland audiences did not miss out. COVID-19 has presented enormous challenges to both musicians and orchestra managements. All over the world we have seen examples of arts professionals bravely making their creative best of heartbreaking circumstances. This afternoon’s concert was a testament to musicians’ triumph over adversity. Players have grown in stature to fulfil sometimes unexpected potentials in themselves, and our profession can only be the richer for it.