★★★★½ Nicholas Carter brings electric zeal to a banquet of symphonic fireworks.

Adelaide Town Hall
June 24, 2016

Just six months into his tenure as Principal Conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Nicholas Carter is already proving to be a rejuvenating and inspirational force, heralding an exciting new era of music-making as the orchestra celebrates its 80th anniversary. At just 30 years of age, Carter has proven successful across a wide variety of repertoire, and this concert, comprised almost exclusively of works from the 20th century, was no exception. The apparent ease with which Carter and the ASO navigated through this formidably taxing programme could not have been easily replicated by even the most experienced of conductors.

Opening with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas, the cohesion and flair of the orchestra was immediately impressive. This was sorcery of a different kind: Carter’s baton commanded a magician’s control over an astonishing diversity of dynamic contrast, and the orchestra responded to each carefully nuanced inflection with a display of unity that propels them into the highest echelons of orchestral playing in the country. Perhaps most striking about this performance was how clearly and vividly the work’s programmatic premise sprung to life in such competent hands. Carter was able to conjure all the magic inherent in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, capitalising on the dramatic silences and moments of comic relief. Although it was difficult to single out a particular section of the orchestra to applaud – they were all so good – the bassoons were particularly effective at depicting the recalcitrant broomstick, and Jackie Hansen on contrabassoon was genuinely amusing. It was impossible not to get swept up in the imagination and wonder of this enthralling account.

The standard did not slip even for a moment as the Russian pianist Konstantin Shamray took to the stage to perform Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3, Op. 26. Eight years may have passed since Shamray won the Sydney International Piano Competition in 2008, and yet his exceptional form has remained undimmed. Carter, Shamray and the ASO gave a truly scintillating performance, one that proved the concert’s title – Dazzling Prokofiev –- was not hyperbole. Throughout, Shamray’s electrifying virtuosity was underpinned by an irrefutable clarity of musical logic and an unerring understanding of character. In the Andantino second movement, the pianist is afforded only the briefest of respites before launching into a set of five variations. Despite the monumental difficulties, Shamray remained unperturbed, navigating a treacherous maelstrom of hand-crossing arpeggios with cool elegance. After the stunning incandescence of the finale’s coda, Shamray offered an unusual encore: Chopin’s Nocturne in G Major, Op. 37 No 2. A welcome contrast to the exhilarating Prokofiev, the thirds and sixths in the right hand were rendered with effortless grace, warmth, and a tonal richness that projected right to the back of the hall.

For the orchestra, the second half was no less ambitious. Ross Edwards’ White Ghost Dancing made a surprisingly effective prologue to the most challenging work on the programme, Stravinsky’s Petrushka (1947 version). Once again, Carter brought a refreshingly youthful exuberance to the orchestra, who responded to the work’s notorious difficulties without the faintest hint of insecurity. Particular plaudits must go to Michael Ierace on piano, who excelled in one of the most prominent and difficult keyboard parts in the orchestral repertoire. Likewise, Owen Morris was superb on trumpet in the Dance of the Ballerina. But perhaps the highest praise should be awarded to Janet Anderson, who exchanged her violin with Concertmaster Natsuko Yoshimoto’s in order to repair a broken string with lightning efficiency. Such vexations only served to highlight the resolve of an orchestra that were soaring to new heights. What a shame we have to wait until September to hear Carter conduct the ASO again – this time with pianist Nelson Freire in Brahms’ Piano Concerto No 2. I for one, can’t wait.