The Sydney Symphony pays tribute to the ANZACs through two Antipodean commissions.

Sydney Opera House, Concert Hall
April 24, 2014

Two new compositions on one programme is something of an event; especially when, in tribute to ANZAC Day, one is by a New Zealander and the other by an Australian. Kiwi, Michael F Williams’ Letters from the Front, Symphony No 1, had its moments, and the idea of using excerpts from soldier’s letters was effective, even though soprano Ayse Göknur Shanal sang under the note in the third movement. The inclusion of George Butterworth’s beautiful song Is My Team Ploughing in the first movement was very moving; that Butterworth was killed in the war adding poignancy.

More effective for me was James Ledger’s War Music, the other commission to mark the event. Even though both composers write in more conventional styles than the hard line academics prefer, Ledger is resourceful enough to keep our interest, offering many rewards during the course of the work. With his imaginative orchestration, Mr. Ledger is becoming one of our best composers.

An eclectic programme like this allows for unusual programming. The concert began with a stunning performance of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man (later used in his third symphony) giving the orchestra’s famous brass section a chance to shine. Similarly, it is rare to hear the 16th century psalm upon which Vaughan Williams’ based his masterpiece, the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, on the same programme. It is also unusual for this glorious string work to conclude a concert. It acted as a memorable postlude after the more energetic musical upheavals elsewhere in the programme.

This leads me to praise Lyn Williams’ splendid Gondwana Chorale, with singers on this occasion drawn from France, Turkey, New Zealand and Australia. In addition to their other contributions, they sang three songs a cappella, ranging from the liturgical through a Turkish folk song to Parry’s moving, My soul, there is a country. The three works contrasted well.

Conductor, Richard Gill, presided diligently and effectively over the whole concert. The Vaughan Williams, in particular, was beautifully realised.